Pressure building to reduce carbon emissions

The longer we wait, the more difficult future reduction measures will be

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QUATHIASKI COVE, BC, Jan 23, 2015/ Troy Media/ – The pressure is building to reduce global carbon emissions. At each meeting of the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP), the urgency becomes more palpable.

The Lima meeting of COP 20 in December, 2014, failed to reach the preliminary commitments necessary for the binding international agreements expected at the COP 21 meeting in Paris in December, 2015.

Ottawa delinquent on carbon emissions strategy

With the Kyoto Protocol expired and without a binding replacement agreement from subsequent COP meetings in Cancun, Copenhagen and Durban, the default position has been for individual countries, provinces and communities to do the best they can to reduce emissions. This approach has been helpful but not sufficient. Almost all of Canada’s reduced emissions have come from provincial initiatives, not federal. Most other countries have been unable to meet their voluntary reduction targets.

Meanwhile, international agencies have been carefully charting carbon emissions for hopeful signs. But these signs are rare. In 2012, for example, the increase in carbon emissions of 1.4 per cent was less than the increase in GDP of 3.4 per cent, indicating that the world economy is beginning to decouple from fossil fuels by becoming more efficient. In 2013, carbon emissions crept up by 2.3 per cent while GDP rose by 3.3 per cent. In 2014, emissions rose by 2.5 per cent while GDP increased by 3.3 per cent. If climate change is going to be slowed and reversed, however, total global emissions must not just trail GDP but must be reduced by a yearly average of at least 2.5 per cent until all emissions reach zero on or before 2100. Any delays now will mean steeper future reductions.

More than half of all known fossil fuel reserves on the planet will have to remain unburned to avoid dire climate change

Two lessons are to be learned from these statistics. First, efficiency alone in a world of expanding GDP is unlikely to bring about sufficient carbon emission reductions. And second, although the accomplishments of efficiency is mostly symbolic, it is nonetheless important. Every factory that uses less energy reduces emissions. The same is true for every new car that burns less fuel, and for every LED bulb that replaces an incandescent one. Statistics confirm that every individual choice, no matter how small, contributes to measurable environmental benefits.

Another development is promising. Natural Geoscience recently reported that more than half of all known fossil fuel reserves on the planet will have to remain unburned if we are to avoid dire climate change. With this realization, hundreds of the world’s financial institutions, foundations and universities are beginning to transfer billions of dollars of investments from coal, oil and gas to renewable energies.

But time is crucial and the numbers are daunting. Global yearly carbon dioxide emissions are now, as of the beginning of 2015, about 37 gigatonnes. To translate this number into slightly more approachable terms, this is 37,000 million tonnes. So we should not be surprised if our emissions are changing climate, acidifying oceans, melting ice caps, raising sea levels, driving species to extinction.

These consequences are being confirmed with sobering statistics:

  • Six months ago, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured the world’s average temperature at a new record of 16.2°C, 1.3°C higher than than the 20th century average. The 10 hottest years since 1880 occurred in the 15 years between 1998 and 2013; none occurred before 1880.
  • The pre-human extinction rate for species was 0.1 per million per annum; the present rate is somewhere between 100 and 1,000, a rate that is 1,000 to 10,000 times normal.
  • For centuries prior to 1800 sea level rise was essentially zero; from 1900 to 2000 it was 1.7 mm per year; from 1990 to 2013 it increased to three mm. The total sea level rise by 2100 is expected to be about 0.5 m. But many variables could increase this number. Earth’s average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are expected to reach 400 ppm sometime in 2015. The last time concentrations were this high, about three million years ago, sea levels stabilized at about 10 metres above present levels. This suggests sea level rise will be continuous for centuries, presenting colossal challenges for coastal cities, settlements and agriculture.

The importance of reducing carbon dioxide emissions continues to increase exponentially. This means that 2015 will be an even more crucial year for taking corrective action. The longer we procrastinate, the more radical and difficult must be our future reduction measures.

Ray Grigg is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism.

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