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UK Chief Scientist: Limiting Global Temp Rise to 3º C is Likely “The Best We Can Achieve”

In an interview on the BBC4 Today’s Program, Professor Sir David King, the UK’s chief scientist, said that given current trends, a 550 parts per million concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is optimistically the likely level at which the world can settle.

Such a concentration—roughly double the pre-industrial level—would likely result in an average global temperature rise in excess of 3º C (5.4º F).

An increase of that amount pushes the world into what the Exeter Conference categorized as dangerous climate change. An increase of 2º C, for example, is thought sufficient to melt the Greenland ice sheet. (Earlier post.)

There are no certainties here in terms of prediction, but if you ask me where we feel the temperature is likely to end up if we move to a level of carbon dioxide of 550 parts per million, which is roughly twice the pre-industrial level, and the level at which we would be optimistically hoping we could settle, that the temperature rise would be in excess of three degrees Centigrade...and yet we’re saying 550 ppm is probably the best we can achieve.

—Sir David King

Professor Sir David King warned this would happen because world governments—notably the US and the developing countries of China and India—were failing to agree on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, countries such as the UK, which have signed the Kyoto Protocol, are failing to achieve their reduction goals.

The UK recently revised downward its internal target for CO2 reduction, although the country is still tracking toward meeting its Kyoto target. Increasing emissions from the transportation is one of the primary challenges. (Earlier post.)

An increase of 3º C over the coming century would, according to models, lead to a rise in sea levels and increase in desertification that will place 400 million people at the risk of hunger.

Developing countries will be the hardest hit, with between 20 million to 400 million metric tons of cereal production being lost, according to Sir David.

There are two parts to dealing with climate change. One is to reduce emissions. The second is that we must begin that whole process of adaptation.

What I want to stress is that we don’t have to succumb to a state of despondency...it is very important to understand that we can manage the risks to our population.

There is a difference between optimism [about the potential of technology] and head in the sand. Quite clearly what we have to do as we move forward with these discussions is see that the consensus position of the scientific community is brought right onto the table.



Uh you also have to factor in a natural climate shift that is going on along side our induced shift...

That was expected to be 3 or more degrees so combined we might be talking best case 6-7 rise...


I know people don't like to hear this, but they have to face the truth. The only solution is to develop technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. With the continual development of scientific and technological knowledge, there is a good chance that this will be very feasible in the 2nd half of this century. Even today, we could probably do it if we had to, albeit at some risk, via fertilizing the oceans with iron. Future technologies will be even more capable, plus our scientific knowledge will be much greater regarding the most effective solutions.

We can't leave this CO2 in the atmosphere or the sea level rise will be catastrophic. And wishful thinking aside, there is just no way we are going to arrest CO2 levels at less than 500 or 550 ppm, enormously higher than what we are at now. Even today's levels of 380 ppm is probably enough to flood Florida, and these higher levels may render much of the planet uninhabitable.

The fact is that we have no choice but to develop the technology to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. This must be one of our highest priorities going forward.

Shaun Williams

Uh "a natural climate shift...to be 3 degrees or more"? Never heard of it. Over what time period, a few millennia? References please.

Sir David King was refering to the next 100 years, all 3 degrees due to the activities of us hairless apes...



Its a solar cycle. 11 22 and so on sycles are well known the 500 or so.. I ferget exactly how long it was cycle wasnt so well understood.

But they found evidence for periodic climate events that followed it and did all the maths and whatever..

End result was 500 someodd years ago the cycle caused a global weather shif to mild cool climes in certain spots and hot dry for others and so on so forth.

The punchline being that 500 year cycle is NOW. or near now.

And when it does whatever it does its certain to be messy. And our own induced changes on top of those changes... MESSY.


In a previous post: New Pre-Treatment Process for Corn Stover Could Advance Cellulosic Ethanol, http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/03/new_pretreatmen.html Rafael Seidl commented that this process might bring down the cost of carbon fibers. Would production of carbon fibers constitute a method of carbon sequestering? Some fibers might be recycled after use in cars and homes for many years, but they could also be hermetically sealed and stored to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Rafael Seidl

JMartin -

I had suggested using flare gas (approx. 100 billion m^3 per year) and lignin from bioethanol processing as inputs for carbon fiber production to bring down the cost without increasing total CO2 emissions. I had not suggested using carbon fibers as CO2 stores, the volumes would be far too low for that purpose.

Storing CO2 is only neccessary if you insist on burning fossil fuels for decades or centuries to come. The challenge is to switch to renewable sources instead, i.e. biofuels and solar/wind/hydro electric power. This is only just beginning to happen at a meaningful scale.

Bill Giles O.B.E.

On a recent TV programme in the UK Prof. Fred Singer ex USA Weather Dept. quoted Sir David King, UK Chief Scientist as saying "Due to climate change by the end of this century the only people still living will be in the Antarctic" Did Sir David ever say this?

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