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Devil Is In The Details: How Realistic Are The IPCC’s Reference Emissions Scenarios?

by Jack Rosebro

The four exhaustive Assessment Reports produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007 have all served in their time as the most comprehensive literature reviews and syntheses of our influence on the world’s climate as we know it.

In this as well as subsequent installments of our occasional series Devil Is In the Details, we will periodically discuss strengths and weaknesses of those reports in the context of global society and its changing economic, environmental, and social policies and pressures. We will also look at climate data that has come to light since the last components of the most recent Fourth Assessment Report were published late last year.

A Challenge To The Reference Scenarios

Writing in Nature, a team of three scientists recently challenged the foundations of reference emissions scenarios used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in last year’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) to estimate a range of possible futures with respect to greenhouse gas production and the effect that it would have on nature and society, if no major climate policies were present.

These scenarios serve as foundations upon which the calculated effects of various mitigation strategies can be added to establish net predicted effects. The predicted effects can then be used to inform policy. Mitigation is defined by the IPCC as “an anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources of greenhouse gases or enhance their sinks.

In a commentary entitled Dangerous Assumptions[1] and published online 2 April, Roger Pielke Jr., Tom Wigley, and Christopher Green argue that as much as two-thirds of the energy use reductions and decarbonizations of the energy sector that would be required to stabilize greenhouse gases (GHGs) are “already built into the IPCC reference scenarios” as if they currently existed. The article has met with immediate response, ranging from comments that such an assessment is overdue to outright dismissals of the hypothesis.

To place Dangerous Assumptions in the proper context, it is important to understand that Pielke Jr., Wigley, and Green have focused solely on reference scenarios rather than mitigation scenarios. However, since the reference scenarios affect calculations of the future effects of mitigation policies, the implications of the team’s assertions are broad.

Differentiating Between Reference Scenarios and Mitigation Scenarios

“Developing a response to climate change is characterized by decision-making under uncertainty and risk”, wrote the authors of the IPCC’s 2001 summary on the mitigation of climate change[2], “including the possibility of non-linear and/or irreversible changes.” But assessment is a necessary prelude to response, and a particularly difficult aspect of the assessment process has been the understanding of complex interactions between climatic, environmental, economic, political, institutional, social and technological processes, as they influence climate change.

For this reason, the IPCC developed reference scenarios sets that reflected a wide range of social and technological changes and included a variety of energy mixes, yet excluded the mitigating effects of overt climate policy. This served to separate the methodology and emissions effects of the reference scenarios from the methodology and subsequent emissions effects of mitigation scenarios, which use the reference scenarios as baselines.

The first set of reference scenarios, known as IS92, was published in 1992. The second and most recent set, which is part of the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES)[3], was developed by the IPCC between 1997 and 2000 to provide updated scenario sets for use in the Panel’s 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR)[4] after a 1994 evaluation of IS92 indicated that the development of new scenario sets would be prudent. The SRES was not updated for the Fourth Assessment Report, although a discussion of post-SRES scenarios was included.

The IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report and 2007 Fourth Assessment Report utilize both reference and mitigation scenario sets as follows:

  • Reference scenarios from 2000 to 2100 project varying business as usual (BAU) effects of population changes, economic growth, energy use, and energy mixes on global greenhouse gas production in the absence of climate change mitigation policy.

  • Mitigation scenarios from 2000 to 2100 project policy- and technology-driven greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to achieve a specific peak and decline of atmospheric GHGs, with a specific peaking level and year.

Mitigation scenario sets are discussed by Working Group III in both Assessment Reports.

Although the SRES is based on scenarios that were developed or collected some time ago, it describes a wide range of emissions. Hence, the age of the data is not generally viewed as a problem when that data is used in climate modeling. However, when the SRES is used to run climate mitigation models, which project the effects of various policies, the results of those models are affected by baseline assumptions which are already embedded in the SRES.

These assumptions are at the heart of Pielke, Wigley, and Green’s concerns, who argue that the reference SRES scenarios are “optimistic at best and unachievable at worst, potentially seriously underestimating the scale of the technological challenges associated with stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations.

Scenarios, Scenario Groups, and Storylines: How Reference Scenarios Are Structured

But exactly what are today’s reference scenarios, and how were they developed?

In January 1997, the IPCC Working Group III selected a writing team to produce new reference scenarios, and placed advertisements in scientific journals in an effort to solicit wide participation in the process. Global modeling teams as well as regional modelers from both developing and developed regions were encouraged to participate. To facilitate participation, an open-process web site was created. The SRES approach and process is described online[5], and the open process website is archived online, as well.[6].

The scenario-building process divided possible futures, as represented by contemporary academic literature, into storylines that represented available combinations from a double axis of global-to-regional as well as economic-to- environmental development. Catastrophic scenarios were ignored, as it was assumed that any chain of events which led to societal or economic collapse would render the immediate mitigation of climate change to be a low priority.

Figure 1. Conceptual diagram of the interaction of social, economic, environmental, and technological forces that shaped the four SRES scenario storylines. Click to enlarge.

By the end of 1997, four preliminary storylines—also referred to as “marker scenarios”—had been developed by the writing team in an iterative process. The storylines[7] provide alternate “future histories” of how global regions interrelate, how new technologies diffuse, how regional economic activities evolve, how protection of local and regional environments is implemented, and how demographic structure changes.

The four storylines are:

  • A1 Global-Economic: “rapid and successful economic development” worldwide;

  • A2 Regional-Economic: “differentiated” world, rich and poor, with energy type determined by available resources;

  • B1 Global-Environmental: a “globally coherent approach to a more sustainable development”; and

  • B2 Regional-Environmental: community-based efforts toward environmental and social sustainability.

Figure 2. Four storyline families, six scenario groups, and 40 individual scenarios comprise the basis for the IPCC’s 2000 Special Emissions Report on Scenarios. 35 of the scenarios were used in the Fourth Assessment Report. Click to enlarge.

Each storyline is based on six to seventeen scenarios, depending on availability at the time the SRES was developed.

As the A1 storyline was at the time represented the most by academic literature, it was further developed into a family of six scenario sub-types:

  • A1B “no single source of energy is overly dominant”;

  • A1C a primarily coal-based "“synfuel society”;

  • A1FI “fossil-intensive”; conventional oil, gas, and coal is dominant;

  • A1G a “massive development of unconventional oil and gas resources”; and

  • A1T a “technology-intensive” society, moving away from fossil fuels, with low energy demands

Figure 3. Qualitative directions of each scenario group’s primary indicators. Note that in this matrix, each of the six SRES scenario groups is referred to as “scenario”. Click to enlarge.

Scenario types A1C and A1G were subsequently discarded, leaving a family of three A1 variations: A1FI, A1T, and A1B, as well as A2, B1, and B2. A matrix of the qualitative directions of each scenario group’s primary indicators is reproduced in Figure 3.

The Hypothesis of “Dangerous Assumptions” And Its Critics

The SRES employs four key metrics: population; GDP per capita; energy intensity, measured in primary energy use per capita; and carbon intensity, measured in carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of energy.

In the SRES, it is assumed that technological advances will reduce both energy intensity and carbon intensity. However, the energy and carbon intensities of developing countries can increase sharply during periods of intense growth, declining only after the economies of those countries have matured.

In the IPCC’s most recent report (AR4), the authors noted that “the projected emissions of energy-related CO2 in 2030 are 40-110% higher than in 2000.

While the authors of “Dangerous Assumptions” do not question the chosen metrics, they state that a “frozen technology baseline” should be used in place of scenarios that assume a society which will move, albeit slowly, toward a more efficient, decarbonized society even without significant climate change policy.

As the SRES projections run from 2000 to 2100, the first seven years of those projections can be compared to actual data. Pielke Jr., Wigley, and Green did just that for the 2000-2005 period, and argue that the IPCC assumptions for decarbonization in the short term (2000-2010) are already inconsistent with socio-economic development.

Figure 4. Comparison of actual 2000-2005 data for global energy and carbon intensity with the 35 scenarios used in the Fourth Assessment Report. Click to enlarge.

All scenarios predict declines in energy intensity, and in most cases carbon intensity, from 2000 to 2010. However, the study found that energy intensity, as measured in energy use per unit of GDP, actually increased from 2000 to 2005. The carbon intensity of energy use also increased during that time. Each metric naturally intensifies the other with regard to the production of greenhouse gases, as seen in figure 4.

Bert Metz, who was one of the lead authors of the IPCC’s Working Group III and contributed to the SRES reference scenarios, forcefully responded:

The claim that the IPCC has underestimated the technological challenge of stabilization is unwarranted and must be rejected... The assumptions about the rate of technological change in these scenarios have been thoroughly reviewed and are accepted by the community of technological-change experts. They confirm well-known facts about, for instance, the enormous improvements in computers over much shorter time-frames than expected. The assumptions also reflect that high economic growth normally goes hand in hand with high rates of technological change.[8]

Comparing the historically exponential increase in computing power to anticipated changes in society’s energy supply system, however, is an “apples and oranges” exercise, at best.

There is a great deal of inertia in the modern energy system, given its vast complexity and scale”, notes Jeremy Bentham of Shell International. “The often lengthy timescales required for planning and constructing new energy infrastructure mean that strains within the system cannot be resolved easily or quickly, if at all.

Richard Tol, the energy economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, who famously criticized the UK’s 2006 Stern Review Report on Economic Change, commented:

The IPCC scenarios developed in 2000 don’t match historical observations. For instance, nobody foresaw the rapid growth in recent years of China’s economy, or the launch of the USD 2500 people’s car in India... We need new scenarios—not just any, but scenarios that are in line with the real development of global energy systems.

Tol’s concerns come on the heels of last month’s report Forecasting the Path of China’s CO2 Emissions Using Province Information[9] (earlier post) by Maximilan Auffhammer and Richard T. Carson, which used a unique provincial-level panel data set from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency to calculate China’s CO2 emissions. Auffhammer and Carson found that China’s average annual CO2 growth rate from 2000 to 2004 was 14.53%, and estimated the average annual CO2 growth rate from 2000 to 2010 to be in excess of 11%.

By contrast, the SRES had assumed that China’s average CO2 growth rate from 2000 to 2010 to be between 2.53 and 4.82% per annum. This estimate is used in all six of the IPCC’s scenario groups.

Detlef van Vuuren, an emission scenario developer at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, countered:

It is not very helpful to discredit emission scenarios on the sole basis of their being at odds with the most recent economic trends in China. Chinese statistics are not always reliable. Moreover, the period in question is too short to signify a global trend-break. Rapid economic growth, in combination with the high price of oil, might spur long-term developments in renewable-energy technologies, for instance.

Alternate Views: Scramble and Blueprints

Figure 5: Coal has an ascending role 2000-2050 energy mixes in Shell’s Scramble scenario, as compared to Blueprints. Click to enlarge.

The SRES, while assuming spontaneous advances in technology, makes little mention of the timing of social and technological change. This is often regarded to be a crucial factor in scenario planning, For example, Shell’s recently released pair of energy scenarios for 2050, Scramble and Blueprints[10] (earlier post), envision near-identical futures by 2050, separated by at least two pivotal differences: grass-roots awareness and political will.

Both of Shell’s scenarios assume that the future will bring with it “three hard truths”:

  • Step changes (unexpected spurts of growth) in energy demand;

  • Energy supply will struggle to keep pace with demand; and

  • Environmental stresses will increase.

In Scramble, “policymakers pay little attention to more efficient energy use until supplies are tight”, while in Blueprints, “local actions begin to address the challenges of economic development, energy security and environmental pollution”. Put another way, Scramble starts out as an A1FI wold, while Blueprints is closer to a B2 world. In both scenarios, society eventually transforms into an A1T world, but Scramble ends up with more GHG emissions, and is thereby exposed to more risk.

Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry

Figure 6. SRES projected effects on global CO2 emissions from land use changes from 2000 forward. Negative numbers indicate a mitigating effect on global CO2 emissions. Click to enlarge.

All six SRES scenarios groups calculate the effects of human-induced land-use changes on greenhouse gas production. The difficulty of accurately assessing land-use change is reflected by the broad range of estimated effects by 1990, as reported in the Second Assessment Report (SAR) of 1995, and seen in Figure 6.

However, almost all scenarios project steady improvements in the effects of land use on CO2 emissions. Only the most pessimistic scenario group, as seen in Figure 6, depicts a future in which land-use changes maintain a net increase in greenhouse gases from 2080 forward.

The remaining five scenario groups project reductions starting between 2020 and 2070. In other words, the effects of global afforestation are generally projected by the SRES to outstrip the detrimental effects of deforestation in the absence of any meaningful policy. The scenarios attribute this to slowing (and in some cases declining) population growth, increased agricultural productivity, and—oddly—“increasing scarcity of forest land.

But global land-use change since 2000 has proven to be somewhat different so far; the scenarios of 1997-1998 did not forecast the biofuels boom of recent years, nor the increasing demand for meat (and subsequently for cattle, raised on land that could otherwise support much more efficient calorie production from crops) in developing countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization State of the World’s Forests 2007 biennial assessment estimates that the world’s forested areas declined by about three percent between 1990 and 2005.[11]

The actual decline is difficult to track. Illegal logging is on the rise in Central Africa, the Amazon, Russia and Indonesia, among other areas, and has already infiltrated legitimate markets. It is estimated to provide, for example, about half of Europe’s lumber imports. Last month, the European Union vowed again to tighten controls on the import and sale of illegally cut timber[12], as it had in 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Although the annual rate at which the Amazon rainforest is being cleared declined to an estimated 9,600 km2 (3,000 square miles) last year, the lowest rate of destruction since the 1970s, the rainforests of Indonesia, much of which grows on peat carbon sinks, have been much harder hit by deforestation, primarily because of logging and the development of palm oil plantations. A 2006 Dutch study estimated that Asia’s peatland CO2 emissions already equal almost 8% of the world’s emissions from fossil fuel burning, and that peatland burning has made Indonesia into the number three emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the US and China.[13] A later study increased the estimated emissions to 10%.

Rainforests in Indonesia are traditionally cleared with fire, which is extinguished by seasonal rains. However, a strong El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in 1997 disrupted the traditional monsoonal season. Fires burned out of control well into 1998, consuming an estimated 9,655,000 hectares (37,000 square miles), according to the Asian Development Bank Project.

Of Inventories and Feedbacks

Attempts to inventory greenhouse gases are often rough guesses at best, although methods are continually being improved. IPCC emissions scenarios have assumed, for example, an annual output of 400 million tonnes of CO2 from the global shipping sector, declining in both energy and carbon intensities as years go by. However, The Guardian (UK) reported in February that a study commissioned by the International Maritime Organization puts the actual amount at 1.12 billion tonnes in 2007.

When contacted by The Guardian, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said:

This is a clear failure of the system. The shipping industry has so far escaped publicity. It has been left out of the climate change discussion. I hope [shipping emissions] will be included in the next UN agreement. It would be a cop-out if it was not. It tells me that we have been ineffective at tackling climate change so far.[14]

But the source of the most significant and persistent emissions not yet counted by the SRES may well turn out to be nature itself. On page 6 of the SRES Summary for Policymakers, a footnote observes that in the 2000 scenarios “no feedback effect of future climate change on emissions from the biosphere has been assumed.

Potential tipping elements in the biosphere such as the collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (popularly called the “ocean conveyor belt”), dieback of the Amazon rainforest, and the decay of the Greenland ice sheet had all been identified by 2000. However, such data was preliminary, and the IPCC tends to view new data conservatively.

Data collected since then has to a large part confirmed the increasing fragility of these as well as other subsystems of nature, such as the Indian summer monsoon, boreal forests, and the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The collapse or decay of these subsystems would contribute to additional warming[15] (earlier post), although corresponding declines in economic activity could lead to a trend towards lower emissions.

In addition, evidence began to emerge last year that the Earth’s natural carbon sinks are weakening. The first paper to deal with this possibility addressed the planet’s largest carbon sink, the Southern Ocean, and projected that at the present rate of deterioration, the Southern Ocean will have lost two-thirds of its ability to store carbon by 2050.[16] (Earlier post.)

The IPCC will consider next week at its 28th Session in Budapest, Hungary whether to continue the five-to-six year interval between Assessment Reports or to lengthen the interval between reports. Governments generally support the current interval, while authors generally support a longer interval to provide enough time to assess the data. If the current interval is retained, the Fifth Assessment Report (5AR), upon which work has already begun, will likely be completed in 2012 or 2013. Work began on new reference scenarios in 2006, and the Panel has already signaled that those scenarios are likely to be completed in time for 5AR. If so, they will represent the first new look at the IPCC’s view of business as usual GHG emissions, upon which all mitigation scenarios rest, in more than a decade.


[1] Roger Pielke, Jr., Tom Wigley, & Christopher Green: Dangerous Assumptions. Nature 452, 531-532 (3 April 2008)

[2] IPCC: Working Group III: Summary for Policymakers, Climate Change 2001: Mitigation (2001)

[3] IPCC: Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (2000) (full report)

[4] IPCC: IPCC Assessment Reports (various dates)

[5] IPCC: SRES Approach and Process (2000)

[6] IPCC: SRES Open Process Website (1999)

[7] IPCC: Scenario Storylines, from Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (2000)

[8] Nature: Comments on Dangerous Assumptions

[9] Maximilian Auffhammer and Richard T. Carson: Forecasting the Path of China’s CO2 Emissions Using Province Information

[10] Royal Dutch Shell PLC: Shell Energy Futures 2050 (2008)

[11] FAO: State of the World’s Forests 2007

[12] Euractiv: EU moves to combat illegal logging (26 March 2008)

[13] Delft Hydraulics: PEAT-CO2 assessment of CO2 emissions from drained peatlands in SE Asia (2006)

[14] John Vidal, The Guardian: True Scale of CO2 Emissions from Shipping Revealed

[15] Lenton et al: Tipping Elements in the Earth’s Climate System (2008)

[16] Le Quéré et al: Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 Sink Due to Recent Climate Change (2007)


Kit P

Some people do not know Jack (about the environment). Before I read an article on AGW I check out the author to see if there is even the remotest possibility of learning something about AGW. Not a chance another, example of clueless in California.

“Dangerous Assumptions”

I call recall a time when the word 'dangerous' had meaning. We would post signs warning of dangers that were not apparent. DANGER DO NOT ENTER DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE

Now we have signs telling us not to fall off the ladder or put out hands a running lawn mower.

Some are surprised that people in places like India and China want to eat steak, drive cars (the bigger the better), and take long hot showers. Some are surprised that those of us who presently enjoy these things are not willing to give them up. When some supper rich idiots at a black tie gala dinners in NYC talk about the dangers of our energy use, I am very skeptical..

I know lots of well educated who are concerned about AGW. I am not really to concerned because it is not a particularity hard problem to solve while affording things like steak and hot showers.


The IPCC was always considered a conservative view on the impacts of human activity not a radical one.

It is obvious from just some of these examples that in some respects they have grossly underestimated some aspects of human developement and of nature. It was done to simplify things if nothing else or just to get it passed. Estimates for the artic ice sheet meltdown is ahead of IPCC estimates for example though last years record may have been a culmination of effects.

I'm sure that this article will raise a flurry of objections from the same objectors as always.


I look forward to the IPCC & others strengthening their work based on up-to date knowledge. There were some big errors in the most recent assumptions, and while all action is important, zeroing in on the real emissions levels & their effects is crucial for future planning. I'd suggest a re-evaluation of FF production projections, and these constraints could crimp heavy oil production too until nukes are ready in a decade or more.


It is obviously good to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels for so many really good reasons. To get caught up in a debate on one of those reasons misses the whole point.

We will settle the matter over time. As long as we reduce our usage of fossil fuels while expanding our economies, we will be heading in the right direction.


You have to realize, this is Roger Pielke Jr. we're talking about.

His basic reasoning for this paper is the argument that technology is more important than policy.

And that we should ignore setting policy, and focus on "Breakthrough Technology". Which is the same thing that George Bush Senior has been saying since 1992...

Not surprisingly, Pielke has begun setting up a "Breakthrough Institute" where they are now working on wonderful things like Beaming Solar energy down to earth from a huge dyson sphere.


Meanwhile MIT points out that Technology without Policy could just as easily make things worse.


And of course, as Pielke's group puts it:

"Can we beat global warming with existing technology?

Lindsay Meisel from the Breakthrough Institute responded: yes, lots of enviros seem to believe it, and no, it's not true."


Pretty much, thats what this is all about.

An insistence that we need to focus on some sort of technological Dues-ex-Machina, rather than actually moving forward with policy.

As always, it's "Voluntary Technology".
Rather than "Binding Policy".


It is technology, behavior, policy and many things. To say that one thing will save the day is ignorant of the idea that if we are lucky, everything that we can think of taken together might just do the trick.

stas peterson

Tom Wigley is the lead author of the Summary for Policy Makers of the AR5 and before that for several others.

Both he and Roger Pielke are not amateurs in what they do. Wigley has always been in the AGW camp, and Pielke is a credentialed skeptic of AGW, and a contributor to several IPCC reports.

I assume both shared the Nobel Peace prize along with Mr. Gore. I cannot vouch for the accomplishments of Mr. Green, but I assume that he is another stellar and similarly accomplished individual. I have read the writings of Mr. Wigley and Mr. Pielke and these are serious and able men.

In essence, this is a very significant paper, prepared by two (or three) of the leading lights in the legitimate debate over AGW.

What it basically says is that that the cheap phony Carbon Credits trading scheme (selling indulgences) dreamed up by the AGW politicians, along with hectoring, won't do the job, if the the majority IPCC view is correct.

Both legitimate sides of the AGW debate, pro and con, say that Mankind will have to invest in extensive amounts of technological innovation, whether we want to or not, to do the job. If, that is the job really needs doing, at all.

This is Something the Greens have objected to doing. They want to wherever possible, obstruct and circumscribe drilling, fight Nukes, and, once again, kill Fusion research.

In essence, it says that we damn well better be drilling; building and promoting the Electrification of Ground Transport; undertake a crash program to build Nuclear electric generation; and increase funding for Fusion research and then a crash program to build such plants. This has been a point for point of Mr. Bush's approach and he has met stiff resistance in opening ANWR, the West coast, the East Coast, Florida, Oil Shale, to the drill. He has sought and accomplished in the 2001 and 2005 Energy acts, reforming the construction laws, renewing Price-Anderson, opening Yucca, initiating reprocessing for the US like the rest of the world, and launching the nascent nuclear plant building boom now beginning. He has been fought every step of the way to those accomplisihements. Once again, as soon as they returned to power, the Democrats have voted to kill Fusion research, i.e. ITER, just as they did in the 1990s. They are now threatening to wreck the painfully reconstructed international consortia to build ITER. Despite their objections, Mr. Bush has succeeded in resurrecting and extending the team of nations, paying to build it, to many more nations until the US contribution is now under 10% of the total. Even now Brazil is seeking to join. The present vote by the Democrat congress will likely be overridden after the posturing just done. Even if their actions stand, ITER may continue without teh reduced US participation.

Appeals to build a few inefficient windmills, hectoring for conserving oil by a few percent, selling indulgences, and building a few percent of even more inefficient solar facilities, is just Green dreams. It won't do the job.

If you are a serious AGW proponent, like Mr. Wigley, that program simply won't suffice. You need to get serious, and undertake serious and painful, not just "feel-good" symbolic actions.

If Dr. Pielke is correct, it will all be unnecessary and for naught. But both agree, if Mr. Wigley is correct, half measures just won't cut it.

A very serious paper by very serious people. Not the usual political pablum and simple nostrums, pumped out by tele-evangelists.


In Australia critics of AGW have been boosted by Sydney's unusually cool summer, despite Adelaide recording 13 straight days over 100F or 37.8C. This kind of regional variability is one reason I'd question improved land use carbon uptake. Mainly however I wonder if the AR4 projection of annual manmade emissions increases of 40-110% from 2000 to 2030 is physically possible. Even coal will have peaked by then. I believe projections should be based around a reference scenario of the current surge going into decline within a decade.

stas peterson

Pardon the typo, I meant AR4 not the unwritten AR5.


Well Peterson, lets imagine that is correct.

Then what we really need isn't some pathetic "Breakthrough Institute"

What we need is a deficit spending program, with a military grade budget. (Which is effectively a carbon tax, due to the fact that income taxes pay for debt financing)

Which effectively would be in itself, a gigantic policy mechanism.


Either way, a "Voluntary Technology" approach won't work.

And considering how anemic this "Breakthrough Institute" is, thats exactly what they are effectively advocating.


"I wonder if the AR4 projection of annual manmade emissions increases of 40-110% from 2000 to 2030 is physically possible. Even coal will have peaked by then."

we mustn't delude ourselves that coal is going to run out in any of our lifetimes. there is enough beneath the soils of Australia, China and the US to blacken the skies from East to West and block out the Sun for a hundred years. No, coal is here to stay, and we must deal with it (CCS tech).


Even though CCS most likely isn't going to work.

Also if the argument is "We must use it because it's there"

Then why doesn't that argument work for renewables?


I agree all needs to be done for

1) energy independence
2) efficiency
3) pollution

Where I am not sure is on reading these differing reports, many have legitimate doubts that CO2 is responsible and trends do not match over the last decade or even year. Regional fluctuations such as antartica and even record snow falls this year in North America, plus record refreeze of the artic show that long term projections are difficult and still not fully understood.

NASA had to admit their mistake. Many of the weather collection locations have gone from grass to concrete over the century. Factor all of this in. You end up with a cautious step forwards on CO2 or other issues.

Plus we forget warming trends actually flourished with wildlife in the past. It was the ice-age that killed off so many species.

That said, I'm all for the above mentioned reasons, especiailly energy independence. I'd rather be careful on mandated spending issues with GHG and more focused on efficiency(obviously two go hand in hand at times) and reduction of our dependency on foreign oil.

Why not a compromise? A staggering step plan from oil to green, but with opening up some fields to get us off of foreign oil more quickly?

Otherwise, we can expect continued high prices for now as China and India grow.

stas peterson

@Gry falcon,

The answer is that "renewables" don't work very well, now that rainfall and hydro is no longer "officially" a renewable.

It isn't some conspiracy. The simple Laws of Thermodynamics demand that be the case. It would be so much better if we could create perpetual motion machines but alas, the great god Gaia or his mom, Mother Nature, simply didn't create their Universe that way.

I acquiesce in this analysis by the way. If you believe the 6 degree change per century that the AGW true-believers postulate is really that powerful, major action is needed , now. Start drilling, damning rivers, build Nukes, electrify autos, and fund Fusion.

Somehow I don't think the typical indoctrinated green is ready to open ANWR, and offshore California, Florida and New England. Nor is he willing or want to build enough Nukes to close down all the present coal and gas plants.

I don't object to their irrelevant desires to buy a few more buses or build a few more windmills. The more the merrier; every little bit helps. But they are deluding themselves if they think that is enough. Can't have it both ways.

So AGW proponents demanding immediate "Change" must reverse course immediately, and undertake all these actions, many that they detest, if they are serious.

Fortunately, I think the 21st century Science is becoming clear. That AGW is capable of warming by not 6 degrees/century, nor even .6 degrees/century; but more like .06 degrees/century. AGW is not the only effect but a rather small one. Other effects make their contributions.

Its sort of like having a human body temperature that went from a normal 98.6 to 104.6; versus 98.6 going to 98.66. One is life threatening, the other is insignificant.


You can make a deal. We will open up more exploration if you invest in more renewable energy and efficient technology. That way we work supply and demand at the same time. The art of compromise is one worth learning.

Rafael Seidl

The problem with trying to model very complex systems like the Earth's climate in the hope of forecasting long-term consequences is that non-scientists generally have neither the time nor the knowledge to assess how dependable the dire predictions really are. Some accept the conclusions as fact and pursue aggressive policies that could well carry large opportunity costs. Others delay taking action for as long as possible, which could also backfire. The middle ground is hard to find.

Therefore, instead of looking to climatology alone for guidance, policymakers may want to fall back on some old chestnuts that are more readily understood by the general public:

a) the world's population will continue to grow exponentially as long as most of it is poor and with little access to education.

b) those natural resources whose rate of exploitation exceeds that of their replenishing are by definition finite.

c) growing populations that rely on the same technologies accelerate the rate at which the related finite resources are exploited, turning them into "conflict resources" that eventually trigger warfare.

d) if there are only a few haves, the have-nots resort to asymmetrical warfare (i.e. terrorism) to secure their share of the conflict resources and/or the revenue derived from their sale.

e) conventional security forces can more or less contain terrorist organizations, but only at high cost in terms of quality of life and economic opportunity.

f) security-centric forward defense of the haves saddles the have-nots with governments that keep them poor and ignorant (closing the vicious cycle).

g) only policies and technologies that allow the have-nots to accumulate knowledge and wealth have a chance of breaking this vicious cycle.

h) mutually dependent trade benefits both sides, so emerging economies should not be seen as a greater long-term threat to geopolitical status, prosperity or the environment than increasingly desperate attempts to maintain the status quo.

j) in the process of breaking the vicious cycle, competition for conflict resources can and should be avoided by switching early to new technologies that achieve comparable results using resources that are not (yet) scarce.

This last point underscores the need to weigh the cost of e.g. biomethane or EV batteries against that of fossil oil plus that of securing continued access to it plus the opportunity cost of constraining growth in the emerging economies. Nevertheless, it is equally important for the haves to wean themselves off conflict resources and for the have-nots to begin leapfrogging directly to non-conflict resources. This buys more time for both, as alternative technologies are often still expensive and/or immature.

Emerging economies like China need to learn from the mistakes the West, even that means growing at less than breakneck speed in the near term. For example, building hundreds of 1950s vintage coal-fired power plants looks cheap now but will prove extremely expensive in the long run. The sly argument to be made to the Politburo is this: in failing to learn, it is already sowing the seeds of its own demise. After all, if the outcome delivered by "Communism with Chinese characteristics" is no better than that produced by democracy, the former will one day no longer worth sacrificing individual liberty for.

In summary: the core task of global governance today is not climate engineering. Rather, it is wealth creation and the avoidance of foreseeable conflict. Framed in that context, long-term measures to protect land fit for human habitation and industry become a logical component of global public policy. Provided the short-term cost is bearable, this will enjoy broad public support because people care a lot more about each other than they do about the weather.


==The answer is that "renewables" don't work very well, now that rainfall and hydro is no longer "officially" a renewable. It isn't some conspiracy. The simple Laws of Thermodynamics demand that be the case.==

That doesn't make any sense.
There's more availible renewable resources than all of the fossil fuel sources combined.

We get more on-land energy from the sun in one hour, than we use total in one year.


The other fact of the matter is that it's no big secret that Renewables get hardly any money from the Federal government compared to Coal, and especially compared to Nuclear.

And every time the Fed puts out the financing, it's always at 1-3 year intervals. Meanwhile Nuclear/Coal it's at 10-30 year intervals. Hard to scale up an industry if it's a crapshoot as to whether the financing will be there or not.

And technologies like Geothermal and SolarThermal, in particular until recently were all the way down at getting ZERO dollars of R&D.


Consider this. 90% of the United States solar energy is owned by 1 California Utility. Most of thats in solar thermal plants that were built in the 1970s.


What Rafael said, his points D, E, and F are IMO the most important concerns about energy today.

For practical purposes the oil industry is the energy industry; if nuclear, gas, and coal vanished tomorrow they would be greatly missed but adjustments would follow. However w/o oil ruin would be immediate.

As RS wrote:

" d) if there are only a few haves, the have-nots resort to asymmetrical warfare (i.e. terrorism) to secure their share of the conflict resources and/or the revenue derived from their sale.

e) conventional security forces can more or less contain terrorist organizations, but only at high cost in terms of quality of life and economic opportunity.

f) security-centric forward defense of the haves saddles the have-nots with governments that keep them poor and ignorant (closing the vicious cycle)."

I would certainly rephrase some of those. But asymmetical warfare is what must be negated. And I can't see how as long as oil sources are heavily concentrated while usage is world wide.

The geography of oil supplies won't change so substitution must be made. i.e. switch to energy sources that are not contested. The ultimate in uncontested energy is sunlight. No nation needs to quarrel with another about sunlight.

Since solar can't suffice for a long while we must foster domestic biofuels, nuclear, wind, fusion, and conservation. Otherwise we will remain chained to perpetual warfare of one sort or another.

I am oriented toward US policy. But the EU, Japan, China, and other nations should not assume they are all that much brighter and need not face the same fundamentals.

aym says that we damn well better be drilling...
???Where does it say that in this article?

Where's your peer reviewed studies that support your claims that CO2 is not affecting the climate to the degree that others say?

Properly developed wind power is cost effective with conventional sources according to the EIA two years ago.

Carbon credits are a way to internalize the costs of the effects of carbon pollution using a market based system. It is a work in progress. The only alternative is a more heavy handed top down approach. There has to be some sort of market signal on the costs of carbon production.

Lastly, Stan your denigration of all viewpoints that oppose you is well known. Your continued posts in the same vein just show you for what you truly are.


If we reduce oil consumption in developed countries, there will not be as much of a demand and the power that a few producers have will diminish. This can bring the world back into balance. Some want us out of the middle east, but we are there because of oil. Reduce the need for oil and we may not have to be there at all.

Al Fin

If we eventually grow beyond this carbon hysteria to a more reasoned approach to climate and sustainability, perhaps intelligent people can have discussions on this issue without being libeled and ad hominem'd to death.

Emotional responses are more appropriate for charismatic religious gatherings.


Hey Al Fin,

Can you name me one significant scientific organization in the world which says that manmade actions aren't almost certain to be the primary cause of the warming we've experienced in the past 40 years?

Go ahead. Look.

The overwhelming agreement of scientific community is rather clear on this one.

Al Fin

Whether the hysteria comes from individuals or organisations it makes little difference. It is time for it to stop.

So basically what you're saying is that it doesn't matter if all the significant scientific organizations in the world are unanimous in agreement on a scientific subject.

You think that they are the ones acting "emotionally" over the subject, and not yourself.

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