Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.


Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Support

Bluesky Facebook LinkedIn Mastodon MeWe

Twitter YouTube RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe

Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...

New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts


South Scores 11th-Hour Win on Climate Loss and Damage

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Guest Author

The following article is reprinted by permission of its author, Stephen Leahy, who writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency. To access the article as posted on the IPS website, click here.

 Photo of COP19 delegates in Warsaw

COP19 delegates huddle to resolve the issue of loss and damage. Credit: Courtesy of ENB

WARSAW, Nov 24 2013 (IPS) - The U.N. climate talks in Warsaw ended in dramatic fashion Saturday evening in what looked like a schoolyard fight with a mob of dark-suited supporters packed around the weary combatants, Todd Stern of the United States and Sai Navoti of Fiji representing G77 nations.

It took two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations to get to this point.

At issue in this classic North versus South battle was the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. Countries of the South, with 80 percent of the world’s people, finally won, creating a loss and damage pillar to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

Super-typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines just days before the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) amply illustrated the reality of loss and damages arising from climate change.  Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Saño made an emotional speech announcing “fast for the climate” at the COP19 opening that garnered worldwide attention, including nearly a million YouTube views

His fast would only end with agreement on a loss and damage mechanism – an official process now called the “Warsaw Mechanism” to determine how to implement this third pillar. Much still needs to be defined. Climate impacts result in both economic and non-economic losses, including the growing issue of climate refugees, people who are forced to move because their homelands can no longer support them.

“This Warsaw decision on loss and damage is a major breakthrough,” said Bangladesh’s Saleem Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK.

“There is a long way yet to go for an effective climate treaty,” Huq told IPS.

Overall, the results from COP19 are mixed, said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, who has attended all but one of these climate negotiations over the past 19 years. 

“Loss and damages is big but we have the bare minimum in the rest to keep going,” he told IPS.

The U.N. talks known as COPs are part of a complex and acronym-laden process to create a new climate treaty to keep global warming to less than two degrees C, and to help poorer countries survive the mounting impacts.

In 2009 at the semi-infamous Copenhagen talks, the rich countries made a deal with developing countries, saying in effect: “We’ll give you billions of dollars for adaptation, ramping up to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in exchange for our mitigation amounting to small CO2 cuts instead of making the big cuts that we should do.”

The money to help poor countries adapt flowed for the first three years but has largely dried up. Warsaw was supposed to be the “Finance COP” to bring the promised money. That didn’t happen.

Countries like Germany, Switzerland and others in Europe only managed to scrape together promises of 110 million dollars into the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries wanted a guarantee of 70 billion a year by 2016 but were blocked by the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and others.

“Rich governments have refused to recognise their legal and moral responsibility to provide international climate finance,” said Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South, Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

The mitigation pillar in Warsaw is even shakier. Japan said they couldn’t make their promised emission reductions and gave themselves a new extremely weak target. Canada and Australia thumbed their noses at their reduction commitments and are increasing emissions.

Today’s reality is that slightly more than half of annual CO2 emissions are coming from the global south. In Warsaw, the big emitters like China and India refused to take on specific reduction targets. Instead they agreed to make “contributions”.  Specific details about reduction amounts and timing was deferred to a specially-convened leader’s climate summit in New York on Sep. 23, 2014.

“We need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two-degree temperature rise,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said here in Warsaw.

The one surprising success at COP 19 was an agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). This will provide compensation for countries that could lose revenue from not exploiting their forests. Deforestation and conversion of forests to farmland contributes about 10 percent of total human-caused CO2 emissions.

“We now have a system in place to do REDD and reduce emissions,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous representative from the Philippines.

It’s a strong package that includes verification, monitoring and safeguards for local communities. Countries have to put all of this in place before they can access finance either through the Green Climate Fund or through carbon markets, Tauli-Corpuz told IPS.

“Hopefully, it will pump a lot of money into local communities and reduce deforestation,” she said.

Honouring land tenure or land rights of local communities to care for the forests is the key to making REDD work as intended and benefit local people and not corporations or national governments, she said.

Emissions from deforestation have been slowly declining. However, the vast majority of CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and it continues to grow quickly. Those emissions will heat the planet for centuries and yet governments spend more than 500 billion dollars to subsidise these industries, said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace international executive director.

“Democracy has been stolen by corporations,” Naidoo told IPS. “While activists and protesters are arrested, the real hooligans are the CEOs of fossil fuel companies.”

The only avenue left to people is civil disobedience and 2014 will be the year of climate activism, he said.

“Now is the time to put our lives on the line and face jail time,” Naidoo said.

In what may be the first of many such actions, more than 800 members of civil society walked of the COP negotiations on the second to last day “in protest against rich industrialised countries jeopardising international climate action” they said.

While international negotiations inch along, climate scientists are growing increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence that climate change is happening faster and with larger impacts than projected.

To have a good chance at staying under two degrees C, industrialised countries need to crash their CO2 emissions 10 percent per year starting in 2014, said Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.

“We can still do two C but not the way we’re going,” Anderson said on the sidelines of COP 19 in Warsaw. He wondered why negotiators on the inside are not reacting to the reality that it is too late for incremental changes.

“I’m really stunned there is no sense of urgency here,” he told IPS.

1 0

Printable Version  |  Link to this page


Comments 1 to 23:

  1. "To have a good chance at staying under two degrees C, industrialised countries need to crash their CO2 emissions 10 percent per year starting in 2014, said Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.'

    And, of course, 2 degrees C is way too high. So what is the level of emissions reduction required to avoid, say, 1.5 degrees?

    0 0
  2. @ wili,

    The scientifically established 'temperature increase of significant concern' is 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial levels (the 1800s).

    In Copenhagen the global leaders signed on to the limit of 2 degrees because it was clear that the lack of action over the previous decades by the highest per-capita emitter to change their ways had made it 'impossible' to meet the 1.5 degree limit.

    As mentioned, because of the continued deliberate lack of action by the largest per-capita emitters since 2009 it is now very challenging to meet the 2 degree limit.

    Nero fiddling while Rome burns is nothing compared to what the people benefiting the most from the burning of fossil fuels and tearing down of forests are doing to the planet. They are basically like Nero gaining wealth and enjoyment from dropping napalm on a burning planet.

    And the most absurd aspect of this is that the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels ultimately cannot be continued anyway. Humanity has a few billion years of living to look forward to on this amazing planet. For the sake of the future of humanity, and all other life, this lazy wasteful damaging moment in human history needs to be ended sooner rather than just a little later.

    The popularity of benefiting without the consequences is a real sweet deal…for the ones who win the wars and battles to get to benefit the most. It is a very rotten deal for the rest of the current population and for all the future generations of humanity.


    2 1
  3. As typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda) is only the seventh strongest typhoon to make landfall in the Philippines (, is the catastrophic destruction due more to infrastrucure/habitat changes occcurring since the stongest typhoon, typhoon Seding (aka typhoon Joan), made landfall in 1970?  

    1 0
  4. Poster @3, significant confusion reigns about the ranking of Typhoon Haiyan because peak wind velocities have been reported in two different ways, with the JTWC reporting 1 minute sustained speeds and PAGASA reporting 10 minute sustained speeds.  That confusion has been increased by the WSJ which reports a list of the seven strongest cyclones to strike the Phillipines.  Oddly, only two of the cyclones on the WSJ list are on PAGASA's list of the 5 strongest cyclones to strike the Phillipines, and those two both have inflated windspeeds relative to the PAGASA list.  Given that the WSJ cites PAGASA as the source of its list, that is odd to say the least.  The cyclone that heads the PAGASA list, Typhoon Durian, is shown has having much lower wind speeds than Haiyan on wikipedia, but a higher peak wind gust by PAGASA.

    Going through the WSJ list, it includes (in WSJ order of wind speed):

    1) Typhoon Joan (175 mph 1 minute sustained wind speed);

    2) Typhoon Betty (165 mph 1 minute sustained wind speed, wind speed at land fall 136 mph);

    3) Typhoon Ruth (165 mph peak wind speed, wind speed at landfall 125 mph);

    4) Typhoon Imra (160 mph peak wind speed, land fall as category 2);

    5) Typhoon Dot (175 mph 1 minute sustained wind speed, intensity fell prior to landfall);

    6) Typhoon Mike (175 mph 1 minute sustained wind speed, wind speed of 140 mph at landfall).

    Finally, and in seventh spot according to the WSJ is Typhoon Haiyan, with 195 mph 1 minute sustained windspeeds at landfall.

    May I suggest that you cease trusting the WSJ as a reliable reporter on climate (it isn't); and if you wish to discuss this further, do so on a page explicitly adressing Tyhpoon Haiyan (first or last links above).

    2 0
  5. Poster@3, Peak 1 minute wind speed or hourly avearge wind speed could be used to rank wind events producing very different results. Another factor would be the specific location hit by the event. As an example, if Katrina had made landfall just a little west of where it actually did, the effect on New Orleans would have increased dramatically.

    There is more than wind speed to consider. The amount of moisture dropped by a weak cyclone can be more damaging than the peak wind speed of a stronger cyclone. Many events around the world are indicating a trend toward larger amounts of moisture in extreme events. Perhaps even the recent significant amount of snow in the Middle East was due to significantly more moisture being in the air when a cold event occurred.

    0 0
  6. Good corrections everyone. Now can we get back to the contents of the article?

    Besides the immediate need for 10% annual reductions of C emissions, the guts of this article seem to me to be here:

    "'Democracy has been stolen by corporations,' Naidoo told IPS. 'While activists and protesters are arrested, the real hooligans are the CEOs of fossil fuel companies.'

    The only avenue left to people is civil disobedience and 2014 will be the year of climate activism, he said.

    'Now is the time to put our lives on the line and face jail time,' Naidoo said."

    There is precisely no time left for anything but demanding immediate action now on a level that actually has some remote chance of avoiding the worst levels of catastrophe.

    What are the good posters here willing to commit to? What are the most effective actions to take at this point?

    0 0
  7. wili @6, the article quotes Kevin Anderson claiming that 10% reductions per annum by developed nations, not the entire world, are necessary.  In fact reductions on that scale are simply not achievable.  Global reductions at 3% per annum, on the other hand, are sufficient for a 2 C target and are achievable.  They are best achieved by an equal global per capita emissions quota per nation, benchmarked for each nation against the population in a given year, declining by 3% per annum for each nation - and made tradable so that developed nations can purchase excess emissions allowances from under developed nations as they phase down to the quota and the underdeveloped nations initially rise to, and then fall with the quota.  As it is, international negotiations bog down because western nations insist undeveloped nations reduce emissions at the same rate they do, thereby insisting that unequal wealth distribution be locked into the global economy as a condition for tackling global warming.

    The best thing people can do to tackle global warming at the moment is make it clear to politicians, and to the media by writting letters stating that you want, as a first priority of government that there be a rapid reduction in carbon emissions, and that you want a fair - ie, one person, one value - international agreement to accomplish that.  You should indicate, and this should be, that this is should be your highest electoral priority.  Make it clear that this, above all other issues, will decide your vote in future elections.

    Civil disobedience will be dismissed as the actions of a few, unrepresentative radicals and will not change the policies of government.  Clearly indicated voting intentions which are followed through, however, will send a clear signal.  It will be ignored only if, as unfortunately seems likely, the demos of our democracies have chosen long term doom over short term inconvenience.

    0 0
  8. TC, thanks for the response. What is your source for 3%? Hansen's latest paper comes up with at least 6% global annual reductions.  I'm not sure I follow your trade scheme, and I'm afraid any such is certain to become hopelessly manipulated by the banksters that specialized in that sort of thing.

    Good points on voting. But of course you need more than "a few" people for that to be effective, just as you do ultimately for direct action. And one does not preclude the other. But looking at how effective, for example, the NRA has been at keeping representatives in line may be a good model, in some ways.

    0 0
  9. Yes, wili, Hansen's latest paper provides a strong argument for keeping warming to 1C, though his plan has a brief overshoot to 1.1C. The continued notion that 2C isn't too bad has surely been shot to smithereens, but even apparently well read journalists still talk about 2C as though that would be OK (even though commitments, if met - which is very doubtful - would only give a modest chance of keeping within 2C). Hansen thinks 6% across the board reductions per year (starting now), along with an aggressive reforestation plan would get atmospheric concentration down to about 350 ppm before the end of the century and keep the temperature roughly within the Holocene range.We're not going to get 6% global reduction per year from this year or starting at any point the near future, so even higher rates of reduction will be needed, which would then be even more unlikely, and so ad infinitum. It's funny how some people on the train can see the crash coming, clear as day, whilst others on the train can only see the train keeping on track for ever.
    0 0
  10. Thanks, Tony. The analogy that comes to my mind is someone who has gangrene (or some similar spreading infection). At first it is just at the tip of one toe, and he is told that very minor surgery will take care of it. But he's in denial that there is any rot on his wonderful body and that it could ever be a real threat, so he ignores the advise. Next it's the whole toe that has to go, and he can't imagine parting with so precious a thing. Then the whole foot has to go, and that he certainly can't get the idea.

    We are certainly at or past the toe stage, hopefully not to the stage of having to lose a leg or more, but hard to tell.


    0 0
  11. That the UN climate talks ended with this anemic outcome does not bode well for the likelihood of meaningful action where it matters most. In short, I suspect it will be extremely difficult to get any of the big polluters to act unilaterally to cut emissions as much as necessary, particularly when nations like Canada and Australia are actively running in the other direction, and thus the lack of a robust agreement to act collectively is a serious blow to avoiding exceeding the 2 degree C rise. 

    Providing funds for mitigation efforts in other nations is even more of a stretch. Based only on my sense of the political zeitgeist over here, getting the US to unilaterally commit serious longterm funds to third world nations at this time (which is going to extend at least until the 2016 Presidential election) will be an extremely hard if not impossible sell. Tongue only semi-firmly in cheek, I think it would be a lot easier for nations seeking this kind of financial support to take a page out of The Mouse That Roared and declare war on the US or NATO or their former colonial occupier(s), launch a few cavalry charges or their equivalent, and hope their opponent(s) prove magnanimous in victory (just remember, in the movie, The Duchy of Grand Fenwick wins, albeit in a rather creative way).

    Getting the US to take concrete steps toward imposing a carbon tax--the truly necessary first step in my opinion for any serious effort to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the long term--is currently a non-starter given the weak economy, the weak hand of Obama, and the anti-tax rigor mortis stance of the Republicans. The only thing I can imagine changing this impass is a signficant move by the EU on the same front, complete with penalties for first world trading partners that don't follow suit. If that kind of thing came to pass, the US just might be guilted in action. But I doubt even that would work, as the average politician over here really isn't worried about the floods and droughts that people outside his or her district experience, let alone outside his or her nation or hemisphere, and any attempt to force the US to act would galvanize the anti-tax wing of the GOP into paroxisms of self-righteous pontificating.

    Realistically, I doubt that Obama could get any useful UN treaty approved by the US Senate at this point, as that requires a two-thirds majority, which is about as likely as getting Senator Ted Cruz to behave like a moderate for more than fifteen minutes when he's standing in front of a Tea Party rally.

    0 0
  12. wili @8, compounding emissions reductions of 3% per annum starting in 2014 (ie, 2015 is the first year of reduction) results in a total cumulative emissions of Carbon by 2050 of 775 GtC; and by 2100 of 860 GtC.  Given that 75% of total emissions will be absorbed by the ocean in the next two centuries, ie, an extra 20% over the 55% of cumulative emissions absorbed on an ongoing basis, that leads to peak atmospheric concentrations of about 460 ppmv drawing down to 360 ppmv over the time scale over which the equilibrium response is achieved.  That represents a transient climate response of about 1.5 C above preindustrial levels - and a temperature that stabilizes at about 1.6 C above preindustrial levels after the full Earth System Response.  I believe that once emissions are down to 0.75 GtC per annum (2100 at that rate of reduction), the net emissions can be controlled at reasonable expense by carbon sequestration to bring the long term response lower, however, we will have time to fine tune the response.  Importantly, all of these figures are below the 2 C "threshold" for dangerous global warming.

    This information is derived from my spreadsheet of cumulative emissions plus David Archer's online version of the Geocarb model, along with an assumed TCR of 2 C, and ESR of 4.5 C per doubling of CO2.  I have treated figures conservatively, ie, rounding emissions per annum and cumulative emissions up rather than down.

    0 0
  13. wili @6, I agree with Tom Curtis @7. The required action is making sure leaders and leadership hopefuls know your priorities of concern.

    I would add that another action to take is to persistently try to help others become better informed. This site is a great resource for that effort. Every time I come across someone making an unfounded claim I am able to provide a prompt and direct rebuttal with the better understanding I have gained from sites like this as well as direct reference to other sources of information like the World Meteorological Organization, IPCC, Met Office/Hadley, NASA/GISS and NOAA.

    My personal objective is global development toward a sustainable better future for all life. That is a much broader topic including the need for 'civil society', 'environmental reverence', and dramatically reduced consumption by and damage created by the most fortunate. This issue is a significant aspect of what needs to be understood and changed. However, we do not need to only improve 'one thing at a time'.

    0 0
  14. Tom Curtis @12,

    Though you say you have treated figures conservatvely the results of your evaluation appear signifigantly unconservative when I compare your peak temperatures with the presentation in the IPCC AR5 Report. Cummulative emission of 880 GtC by 2100 is greater than RCP4.5 (which is 780 GtC). And in the IPCC report the mean expected increase of temperature by 2100 for RCP4.5 is approximately 2.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial average, with the temperature continuing to increase after 2100. Your analysis would appear to be on the 'optimistic extreme' of the range of results presented in the IPCC report.

    So, to protect the future generations, based on the uncertainty of what we are able to evaluate, even more dramatic reductions of the burning of fossil fuels will be required. The current global economy is fundamentally unsustainable anyway because of all the activities developed that rely on the unsustainable practice of burning (and consuming) non-renewable resources. The fighting over the remaining fossil fuels (and other non-renewable resources), will only get worse if 'some people are allowed to continue to be benefit significantly from that unsustainable and damaging activity'. Eventually humanity will need to figure out how to live without burning fossil fuels. We need to give future generations a fighting chance at a decent life by reducing the benefit that we allow the greediest of the most fortunate among us to obtain from the burning of fossil fuels.

    0 0
  15. One Planet @14, I downloaded the RCP 4.5 emissions data.  Cumulative emissions to 2100 of CO2 alone is 1280 GtC, and 955 GtC to 2050.  Using a 3% reduction per annum from 2014, and the RCP 4.5 emissions data before that, I get cumulative emissions of 770 GtC and 855 GtC to 2050 and 2100 respectively.  RCP 4.5 does not have declining emissions until after 2040, and achieves reductions around 3% per annum in only a handful of years.  Consequently the 3% reduction per annum is a far more aggressive scenario than RCP 4.5.  For what it is worth, RCP 4.5 shows cumulative emissions of 860 GtC for CO2 alone from 2000-2100.  You have probably quoted a near equivalent figure rather than the full historical cumulative emissions.

    Further, RCP 4.5 maintains sufficient emissions each year after 2100 to maintain constant forcing.  That is, it maintains sufficient emissions to balance any decay of CH4 etc, or ocean absorption of CO2 such that atmospheric concentrations remain constant.  In that scenario, temperatures will continue to rise to the Equilibrium Response of the peak concentration rather than only the Transient Response to the peak concentration and the Equilibrium response to much reduced CO2 levels due to ocean uptake after several hundred years.

    These two factors (the much greater cumulative emissions and constant forcing after 2100) account for much of the differences in projected temperatures you commented on.  A further difference is that I calculated the CO2 forcing only, whereas the RCP 4.5 scenario accounts for all forcings.  With ongoing emissions, aerosol emissions approximately cancel WMGHG emissions other than CO2 so that is a fair approximation.  In a scenario with reducing emissions, however, that is not so.  eventually the anthropogenic aerosol emissions resulting in a short term temperature spike from the other WMGHG prior to their decaying and washing out of the system.  Therefore short term temperatures may peak 30% above those I indicated (and indeed 50% above that again allowing for error).  In the medium to long term, however, those additional GHG, if no longer emitted, will decay to a sufficiently small quantity of CO2 that they can be neglected.

    The CMIP-5 models used for AR5 have a higher equilibrium response than either CMIP 3 models, or is justified by paleological data.  I, therefore, have continued to use sensitivities based on AR4.  In that, AR5 is in agreement with me, they having lowered the estimated climate sensitivity.  The models, however, are run with their innate sensitivities and hence will slightly over estimate temperature responses.  I believe this to be a far less significant factor in the difference than the first three factors, and in particular the first two. 

    0 0
  16. Thanks for the valuable discussion, all. I hope we can all agree that, whether it's 3%, 6+%, or 10+%, the first priority is to get the sign right> annual reductions rather than annual increases.

    I am mindful that the latest paleo-study concluded that climate sensitivity is double the traditional 1.5-4.5 degree C range (global temp increase for every doubling of CO2). So all numbers may need to be adjusted accordingly. And in any case, I would agree with OPOF that it is wiser to take precautionary principle and aim to give utter climate calamity a wide berth.

    0 0
  17. Directly tied to the above discussion is the "must read" article, Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? by Dahr Jamail posted today (Dec 17 US) on Tom Englehardt's website,

    Englehardt's introduction to Jamail's article is also worth a careful read.

    Both articles are choked full of links to key resource documents.

    *Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

    0 0
  18. TC@12 Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin say most carbon budget estimates are wrong, including the IPCCs. (Can't remember exactly what but it wasn't just feedbacks... Anderson's personal website

    Wili@16 Agree.

    Naidoo is saying democracy has been hi-jacked. There is wide agreement on that by civil society organizations like WWF. Writing letters is not going to change that.

    That's also Anderson's point: we can no longer take reasonable, measured responses. 

    0 0
  19. Stephen Leahy @18, I assume you meant to link to this site, with regard to this research.

    First, with regard to the research, it is implicit in a global emissions reduction at 3% per annum in which third world nations initially increase their emissions that developled nations must decrease their emissions, at least initially, faster than 3% per annum.  I am not certain that they must do so at 8-10% per annum, a figure Anderson and Bows-Larkin arrive at by assuming the pattern of growth and reductions for China will be the same as for the rest of non-annex 1 nations.  That seems implausible to me.  Having said that, given the likely delay before actual emissions reductions are actually implimented, reduction rates much greater than 8% per annum are going to be required in practise so there is no point quibbling over whether developed nations need to reduce at 5 or 8% if they started reducing now.

    Second, Anderson notes that:

    "Reductions in emissions greater than 3-4% p.a. are incompatible with a growing economy (or so we’re repeatedly advised)."

    That is plausible.  Certainly the faster emissions must be reduced, the greater the economic cost.  Emissions reductions at <2% per annum can probably limit the cost of reductions to the difference in the levelized cost of the energy sources in that new energy sources can replace obsolete power stations that need to be replaced or substantially refurbished in any event.  Once reductions rates exceed the depreciation rate on energy capital, however, it involves an increasingly large recapitalization rate above that implied be the gradual obsolesnence of equipment and technology.  At high emissions reduction rates it also involves an high social cost in rapid changes in employment patterns, and social patterns built around energy expenditure.

    However, and third, the biggest threat to humans from global warming at low to medium increases in global temperature (2-4 C) is from the end of economic growth.  At low levels of global warming, nearly all impacts of global warming can be reduced to economic losses for the globally affluent.  For the non-affluent, the cost is not just economic, but comes in terms of lives lost or substantially harmed.  As this will be the biggest impact, we are not justified (and will not succeed, regardless of justification) in pursuing a policy that mandates negative economic growth.  So, if emissions reductions greater than 3% cannot be achieved without ending economic growth, we are condemned to a greater than 2 C world.

    Consequently I hope that Anderson is wrong.  I do not think that hope absurd.  The US economy grew during WW2:


    That growth was achieved, despite some personal privation, through a sustained national effort to enhance production to supply America's military needs.  A similar effort today would be able to convert the US economy to a near zero emissions economy in about the same timespan as WW2.  Given the political will, therefore, emissions reduction rates far greater than 10% per annum may be possible without ending economic growth (if not without economic disruption).

    Of course, I do not know that that is possible.  Consequently the most urgent thing today is to start reductions at sustained levels that do not preclude economic growth so that we are not put to the trial on the issue, and that if we are we are in the best position possible to deal with it.  

    0 0
  20. TC@19 thanks for correcting the links.

    Economic growth is bit of red herring since it is such a vague concept in real terms. Growth for who and what exactly? A country's GDP can triple and the total number of people in poverty increase, levels of education go down and overall health decline. This is the pattern for most petrostates, incl Canada.

    De-growth isn't all that scary since our economic system sucks. 

    Quoting UK economist Tim Jackson: "It's blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us." Climate change, pollution, damaged ecosystems, record species extinctions, and unsustainable resource use are all clear symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system, Jackson, author of the report and book Prosperity Without Growth, told IPS

    0 0
  21. Stephen Leahy @20, I agree that GDP is a poor measure of economic growth.  Unfortunately it is not clear that there is a better one, and certainly not one that is agreed to by a consensus of economists.  Further, it is almost impossible to find general statistics for historical periods for other measures.

    Further, I agree with you that our economic system sucks in a variety of ways.  One of those ways is the dependence on growth for economic stability.  However, I think it is a grave strategic mistake to tie those issues together with global warming.  First, it is a much bigger ask to both convert the economy to a new basis and to tackle global warming at the same time, then to do each separately.  Further, and more important, tying the two together ensures that those with a conservative political leaning will oppose actions to tackle global warming because they will see them as actions designed to overthrow an economic system they still value.  There is enough resistance from conservatives to tackling global warming from the myth spread by deniers that AGW is a stalking horse for ending capitalism.  We have no chance of tacking global warming if we turn that myth into a truth.

    Like it or not, tackling AGW is too important to tie it up with other political issues.  That means we will need a solution to AGW that is economically conservative, that does not threaten capitalism of free markets, and that is consistent ongoing economic growth for developed nations.  If we cannot find such a solution, we will only tackle global warming very late, at great cost, not just in GDP, but in real and personal terms. 

    0 0
  22. Tom Curtis at 18:58 PM on 20 December, 2013


    Actually, I think GDP is a good measure of economic growth. The problem is more that often economic growth is a lousy proxy to well being, sustainability or wealth distribution.

    0 0
  23. Reply to Tom Curtis @15,

    Thank you for clarifying. I suggest for you to be clearer by referring to CO2 amounts as GtCO2. GtC is a term for Gt's of Carbon, not Gt's of CO2. Admittedly, I should have recognized the terminology you used since 3% reductions of emissions is a pretty rapid rate of reduction, more consistent with RCP2.5.

    As for the 'economics of this issue', the current way that things are valued is significantly flawed. Therefore, any measure of what is going on economically using the flawed ways of measuring things is fundamentally flawed. Probably the most serious economic flaws are the way that value is ascribed to activities that are fundamentally of no future worth, cannot be benefited from in the future, and actually cause future challenges. The most irrational application of that fundamentally flawed evaluation is the way some people try to justify the acceptability of gaining benefit from activities that cannot continue to be benefited from by people in the future and which creates added challenges for those in the future. Some will compare what they believe is the lost opportunity for benefit by a current generation (meaning themselves), to what they believe the future costs others will face will be. That is fundamentally irrational, basically saying it is OK for me to benefit in a way that others can't and that creates problems for others as long as the trouble I believe my actions create are less than the benefit I believe I get. The most extremely irrational examples of those evaluations actually go one step further and ‘discount the costs others in the future face' by applying the economic principle of 'net-present-value'.

    So, the real problem is the way the 'value' of the economy gets measured. Damage to the future is excused and unsustainable activity is allowed to 'have value'. Admitting that growing any unsustainable or damaging activity is unacceptable is the first step to more rationally evaluating the economic of this matter. Admitting the unacceptability of development that has occurred in the current global economy is the first step in recognizing what activities need to be valued and what activities need to become ’worthless’.

    0 0

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.

The Consensus Project Website


(free to republish)

© Copyright 2024 John Cook
Home | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us