Upcoming Climate Summit Mired In Muddy Science And Politics
Three months out from the Glasgow climate summit there are plenty of lessons for Scott Morrison in how Boris Johnson’s Britain is handling the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.
An early adopter and leading advocate for action on climate change, Britain is a global poster child for high ambition.
As host of the Glasgow conference, Britain has rolled out a suite of new policies and bans while wagging its finger at Australia for its coal-dependent ways.
In the wake of the IPCC update of climate science earlier this week, Johnson said his COP26 agenda in Glasgow would include an agreement for the developed world to “kick the coal habit entirely by 2030 and the developing world by 2040”.
He wants the world to follow the UK’s lead and abandon fossil fuel internal combustion engine machines and for rich nations to recommit to supporting the rest of the planet to go green with funds of $US100 bn a year.
But as the costs of the low-carbon transition mount at home, Johnson’s vision is starting to collide with financial and political reality. A plan to ban gas boilers by 2035 in favor of expensive heat pumps has provoked a popular revolt.
And Alok Sharma, the nation’s climate change tsar, who wants to mandate electric vehicles, is being called out for driving a diesel-powered car himself.
The front page of conservative newspaper The Sunday Telegraph last week declared “PM’s push for net-zero plunged into chaos”.
It said Treasury costings of the UK’s green transition have been delayed amid wrangling in Whitehall over how to achieve the target without disproportionately “clobbering” the finances of working-class families, and plunging the country into hundreds of billions of pounds of further debt.
MPs from across northern England have gone public to warn Johnson the so-called “Red Wall” seats, won by the Tories from Labour at the last election, are at risk of being lost because of the cost pressures of climate action.
The pushback mirrors the political divide between city elites and rural/mining/industrial communities in Australia that have split the ALP and helped to deliver government to Scott Morrison at the last election.
The same pressures ignited the yellow vest protest movement in France, which has made President Emmanuel Macron wary of EU attempts to extend the carbon market there to a broader range of goods.
In the US, President Joe Biden is simultaneously calling for greater cuts to global emissions while calling on Saudi Arabia and its oil-producing allies to unleash more crude onto global markets, stressing the importance of “affordable energy”.
Biden, like Macron and Johnson, is facing the political reality that voters won’t put up with a steady rise in the cost of fuels.
As business and finance markets agitate for a green deal, a farcical two-year legal wrangle to make public the costings of the UK’s net-zero by 2050 transition is reaching a climax.
The Information Tribunal has ordered the Committee on Climate Change to publish the calculations behind its claim that the British economy can be decarbonized at a modest cost.
Before spending two years in court, the CCC said producing the costings would take too much time and effort.
Faced with demands for disclosure, it argued that it had erased and overwritten the relevant information by the time of the freedom of information request, just six weeks after the publication of the Net Zero report.
The applicant, well-known contrarian Andrew Montford, said that by arguing it had overwritten and erased the spreadsheet data, the CCC had essentially admitted that its internal processes were a shambles.
“This is not a competent organization and parliament needs to investigate as a matter of urgency,” Montford said.
“If they can’t even manage simple matters of data retention, what hope is there that they can prepare a plausible costing of a multi-trillion pound project such as the decarbonization of the British economy?”
During the case, the CCC revealed that its costing does not include any estimate for spending in 2020-2049, but only considered the residual amounts in 2050, after the bulk of the transition.
Montford said this was not made clear to the MPs when they agreed to bring the Net Zero target into law, and it is likely therefore that MPs were misled.
The Information Tribunal has ordered the CCC to hand over the spreadsheets within 35 days.
Rejecting pleas for privacy, the tribunal said it was “clear that any errors in the calculations that led to the CCC’s conclusions, which in turn led to the legislative change, have the potential to have a very significant impact on the lives and finances of large numbers of people, on the spending of large sums of public money, and on the policies of the UK government over the next 30 years.”
The tribunal decision was delivered on the eve of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change update into the science of climate change, AR6.
The report is the justification on which trillions of dollars are being spent on the green transition around the world. The report does not include any costings of the measures needed or make any attempt at a cost-benefit analysis.
Rather, it says scientific understanding that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing global average surface temperatures to rise is more certain than it was at the time of the last report in 2014.
AR6 says it is “unequivocal” that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. It says human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
The report says warming since the start of the industrial revolution has been 1.07C and the best estimate of warming if greenhouse gases are allowed to double in the atmosphere is 3C.
It says the Paris Agreement’s more aspirational target to limit future warming to 1.5C will likely be exceeded on an annual basis in a little over a decade.
Without action, the actual Paris Agreement threshold of 2C will be breached in the coming decades. But there is still a chance to meet even the lower target if the world can agree to decarbonize to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“The bottom line is the AR6 lops off the fat tail of very extreme/alarming outcomes,” US climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry told Inquirer. “In chapter one, they do admit that there is growing evidence that SSP5-8.5 (the most extreme scenario) is implausible.
“They also drop the upper end of the likely range for climate sensitivity to 4C but I think raising the lower bound to 2.5C is weakly justified.
“The AR6 focuses more on extreme events, but at the end of the day they don’t come up with much: heatwaves, agricultural and ecological drought, wildfires, and a slight increase in the proportion of major hurricanes – although the total number of hurricanes looks to be declining.
“They also refer to the climate model simulations as ‘possible climate futures’, which is better than passing these off as projections.”
Not everyone agrees with the AR6 findings, of course. A new peer-reviewed paper challenges the selection of models used by the IPCC to discount the impact of solar variation on Earth’s climate.
It finds that the IPCC may have been premature in their conclusion that recent climate change is mostly caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.
The paper by 23 experts in the fields of solar physics and climate science from 14 different countries is published in the journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The paper carries out an analysis of the 16 most prominent published solar output datasets, including those used by the IPCC.
The study found that scientists come to opposite conclusions about the causes of recent climate change depending on which datasets they consider.
The group says using a high variability dataset used by the team in charge of NASA’s ACRIM sun-monitoring satellites implies that most, if not all of the long-term temperature changes are due to natural factors.
Lead author Dr. Ronan Connolly, from the Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences, says the findings are inconvenient to a scientific consensus.
“I fear that by effectively only considering the datasets and studies that support their chosen narrative, the IPCC have seriously hampered scientific progress into genuinely understanding the causes of recent and future climate change,” Connolly said.
Nonetheless, the consensus narrative has certainly won the day with campaigners who are using images of wild weather events to push their cause for speedy action.
In Australia, a collection of pressure groups including ACF, the Wilderness Society, Get Up and the Australia Institute took out full-page advertisements in newspapers this week to push for action.
They said on its current path the nation would not reach net-zero climate pollution until 2170.
“The science shows we need to reduce climate pollution by 75 percent by 2030,” the group said.
“We call on the federal government to commit to much stronger targets and policies to slash climate pollution this decade,” it added.
It is politics, not science that will determine what happens at Glasgow. Finding a way to bring the whole world together to take action is the key that has eluded the negotiations throughout the IPCC process.
The fact is that without cuts to emissions from developing as well as developed countries, the target laid out in the carbon budget in AR6 to limit future temperature rises has no prospect of being achieved.
Out of total annual global emissions from fossil fuels of 36.4 bn tonnes, China is the world’s biggest emitter at 10.2 bn. Then comes the US with 5.4 bn tonnes, the EU with 2.9 bn, India 2.6 bn, Russia 2.4 bn, and Japan 1.3 bn.
There is a high potential that the Glasgow meeting will end in disappointment in the same way that Copenhagen did in 2009 with developed and developing worlds unable to agree.
Australia will take part in Glasgow in good faith but is realistic about what can be achieved.
The lessons of what is possible must be retained, particularly when it comes to demands for the speedy achievement of a net-zero emissions world.
Read more at The Australian
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