by Jack Rosebro
|Projected social, economic, and environmental changes associated with each scenario. Click to enlarge.|
The Stockholm Network, a London-based pan-European think tank which also functions as a networking hub for 130 other market-driven think tanks in Europe, has released the report Carbon Scenarios: Blue Sky Thinking for a Green Future. The report charts the results of an exercise in which three possible futures for climate change, envisioned by a diverse panel of participants, were used to develop emissions models which were then run through a climate model by the UK’s Meteorological Office Hadley Centre to determine the projected rise in global temperatures associated with each alternative future.
The general outlook of the scenarios has been termed “profoundly disturbing” by one participant, climate researcher and author Mark Lynas.
|General overview of the three scenarios. Click to enlarge.|
Arguing that “debate on climate change has now shifted decisively from science to policy, generating a new set of questions and challenges,” lead authors Paul Domjan and Gulya Isyanova note that the shift is nevertheless hampered by “a lack of clear, synthesized data on the climatic, economic, technological, political and even social consequences of different policy options; how these developments would interact; and their plausible impact on different countries.”
All three of the report’s scenarios define “success” as a greater than 90% chance of less than 2ºC (3.6ºF) warming above pre-industrial levels, which is the most commonly accepted scientific threshold for successful mitigation of adverse effects of climate change, as well as a stated goal of the EU, UK, and UN. None of the scenarios see that goal met, although one, Step Change, could achieve a weaker goal of a greater than 90% chance of a little less than 3ºC warming above pre-industrial levels.
This means that all scenarios see the total disappearance of Arctic sea ice; spreading deserts and water stress in the sub-tropics; extreme weather and floods; and melting glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas. Hence the need to focus far more on adaptation: these are impacts that humanity is going to have to deal with, whatever now happens at the policy level.—Mark Lynas
The scenarios share the same storyline at first:
“With accusations still ringing in their ears that the Bali 2007 conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was nothing more than a talking shop,” the authors write, “ministers at the Poznán [Poland] 2008 conference* try to get down to business and agree on a post-2012 framework. After some wrangling, however, nothing concrete is achieved.“ Oil and food prices remain high in following years, and the climate begins “changing in front of our eyes.” The December 2009 UNFCCC Conference of Parties, widely viewed as the best hope for a “new Kyoto” agreement on GHG reduction, is about to convene in Copenhagen.
At this point, each scenario’s storyline goes its own separate way.
The scenarios are respectively called Kyoto Plus, a future in which a global framework for climate change mitigation is in place by 2012 using currently proposed mechanisms, Agree and Ignore, which assumes “backsliding and delays” as many countries fail to match intent with actions, and Step Change, in which random and severe weather events prompt sudden policy changes. The intent of the scenarios was to examine how think tanks can bring together experts on “neutral turf” to explore the most effective ways to inform future climate change policy.
Kyoto Plus. This scenario envisions significant yet conventional efforts toward the mitigation of the effects of climate change through a gradual movement toward a global agreement to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beginning in 2012. The current climate policy context is extended; however, neither EU, UK, or UN GHG reduction goals are met. Most of the world’s “green technology” is deployed in the West.
By January 2012, the US adopts a carbon cap-and-trade scheme that is largely modeled on California’s carbon market, with a “safety valve” mechanism that initially requires the US to sell additional permits to emit GHGs when the price of permits hits a predetermined ceiling. A similar cap-and-trade system goes into effect through much of the world by the end of that year.
“While possible backsliding has been avoided in the first few years of the new framework and more and more countries are moving up the ladder towards a national cap, international tensions remain.” The warming trend is more than 90% likely to be held to no more than 3.15ºC (5.67ºF) by 2100, and the world’s economy grows, albeit slowly.
Agree and Ignore. In Agree and Ignore, short-term concerns about economic competitiveness lead to a fragmented, regionalized patchwork of policies. While leaders agree on the need to mitigate climate change, systematic action is minimal at best. Climate policy is, by and large, hampered by dysfunctional political processes in this scenario: the political reality of four- or five-year voting cycles, along with voter expectations, are out of step with the time-scale of climate change, which requires“short-term sacrifice for long-term benefits.”
Foot-dragging, ineffective national carbon markets, and the absence of a global carbon market or cap lead to an overall weakening and deterioration of international GHG reduction agreements. Progress gives way to backsliding, and global GHG production gradually rises rather than falling, leveling off by 2050 and stabilizing at that level until at least 2100. Warming is more than 90% likely to be held to no more than 4.8ºC (8.64ºF), economic growth is severely constrained, and the effects of climate change beyond 2100 are significant.
Step Change. In response to the disappointing results of the previous two scenarios, Step Change was specifically designed to explore whether or not a plausible future could be constructed in which global warming is limited to 2ºC or less. To achieve this, the panel asked:
- Could global policy take a radically different course?
- What could trigger this change?
- What would the likely results be?
Here, significant climate-related events prior to 2012 catalyze a major shift in global climate change policies. Although the initial costs of such policies are higher, long-term economic growth is more robust. Despite failing to limit warming to 2ºC or less, this scenario envisions the lowest amount of global warming, with a 90% chance of an increase of 2.85ºC (5.13ºF) or less by 2100, and a peaking of emissions as early as 2017.
The shift in policy nevertheless comes with a heavy price:
Having already experienced a particularly hot summer in 2009, Europe goes on to have another scorching one in 2010: hotter than in 2003, with wildfires worse than those of 2007. Emergency services struggle to cope, and low rainfall leads to serious water rationing, especially in the Mediterranean and some of the newer EU Member States.
The Indian subcontinent continues to experience a heavy and long monsoon season, leading to serious flooding and loss of life, especially in Bangladesh. High temperatures and low rainfall also cause several crops to fail in Africa, leading to tensions around water usage terms in the Lake Victoria and the Nile River regions. As a result, many parts of the Indian subcontinent and Africa experience famine.
The combined demands on the UN World Food Programme are of an unprecedented level, and it is unable to cope. Hundreds of thousands starve. However, although these humanitarian crises receive media coverage in the West, they vie for attention with the much documented and highly-publicized acceleration in the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic, which by this point has been projected to completely disappear by 2025.
The authors take pains to distinguish scenario from prediction:
We are not saying that the events in this [Step Change] scenario are probable. Rather, we would argue that they are possible, and provide a useful exercise in thinking through the causal implications of two statistically unlikely but not impossible occurrences: firstly, the simultaneous onslaught of several extreme events, and secondly, a quick and straightforward international response. In other words, we are considering the best possible solution to the worst possible problem.
Carbon Scenarios emphasizes that new market measures are needed in light of the likely failure of existing market mechanisms to achieve even a 3ºC limit on warming above pre-industrial levels, and one of the drivers of the relative success of Step Change is the introduction of a global, upstream cap on actual carbon production, rather than a cap which estimates the effects of trading and sequestration schemes. The transparency of such a cap encourages participation and simplifies the carbon market. A portion of revenue from that market is set aside to provide incentives for developing economies to come on board.
Three key policy lessons emerged from the scenario-building sessions:
- Mitigation alone is no longer enough;
- The potential for many delays is, at present, embedded in the UNFCCC process; and
- Wealth transfer is key
|Past and projected CO2 emissions for developed and developing countries. Click to enlarge. Source: EIA International Energy Outlook 2007|
Although the West is responsible for the majority of past GHG emissions, emerging economies will be responsible for the majority of future emissions. Underdeveloped countries, which are the least responsible for GHG emissions, will suffer the greatest impacts of climate change. A successful global climate policy will therefore requires mechanisms to transfer some wealth from developed to developing countries.
“Developing countries will only agree to an international climate scheme that gives a credible guarantee of, and a clear framework for, this wealth transfer,” contend the authors of Carbon Scenarios. The Agree and Ignore scenario achieves a leveling rather than a reduction of GHG emissions, and only does so by 2050, in part because emerging economies are not incentivized to adopt emissions reduction policies.
The exercise also yielded a list of future issues that were seen to be likely to drive global climate change policy:
Climate policies of China and the United States, as the world’s two dominant emitters of greenhouse gases, and their influence on the policies of other countries.
Continuing tension between the West and developing countries: emerging economies that could see reduced GDP growth as a result of climate policy, as well as poorer countries that have the most to lose from impacts of climate change.
The role of extreme weather events in shaping public perception of the direct consequences of climate change, as well as the need to address consequences and the willingness to pay to do that.
In the words of the authors, “the horse has bolted, but there is still scope to contain the greatest extent of damage [from climate change] through innovative and efficient policy.” “When the panel of experts set out to develop a set of scenarios about climate change,” remarked lead author Paul Domjan, “the general public thought there was a trade-off between economic growth and carbon reduction. In fact, the scenario that delivers the most carbon reduction, also delivers long-term economic growth by replacing a pick ’n’ mix of complicated, confusing and opaque policies with a clear, long-term carbon price.”
The UNFCCC Talks in Bonn
Carbon Scenarios: Blue Sky Thinking for a Green Future was released just prior to the latest round of UN-sponsored global climate change negotiations in Bonn, which concluded Friday. The Stockholm Network explained the timing of the release:
While the UK and the EU will probably just manage to meet their goal of reducing emissions by 20% [compared to 1990 levels] by 2020, the bulk of future emissions will come from the developing world. However, without the assistance of the developed world, they will not realistically be able to curb their emissions. We need to create a framework that is transparent and credible in order to bring this about... Discussions at the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn are therefore crucial and need to move beyond the flaws inherent in the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation.
However, the Bonn conference, which was attended by around 2000 representatives from more than 170 countries, produced little more than an acknowledgment that progress was not moving fast enough. Representatives of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), for example, labeled progress as “feeble” and complained that nations were presenting nothing more than “shopping lists” rather than blueprints for action.
Although Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that he was encouraged that the talks were beginning to shift from discussions to negotiations in Bonn, particularly with respect to adaptation, he nevertheless termed the challenge to develop agreements in time for the Copenhagen meeting as “daunting.” A week earlier, at the beginning of the Bonn talks, de Boer had spoken in more enthusiastic terms, stating: “I really am confident that at the end of the day, the deal will be struck.”
Added Harald Dovland, chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, “We need a completely new spirit of cooperation from here, because if we continue in this mode of work, I fear we will not succeed in achieving the goals set in the work programme.”
The next set of UNFCCC talks will be held in Ghana in August, and the last round of negotiations in 2008 are to be held in Poznán, Poland in December. Additional talks will be scheduled in 2009, leading up to the Copenhagen meeting in December of that year. In addition to setting new targets for reducing emissions, the Copenhagen talks have been mandated to produce agreements on how to help developing nations and emerging economies adapt to shifts in the climate, as well as how the international community is going to finance the measures.
*The Poznán (Poland) 2008 conference is referred to as COP (Conference of Parties) 14, and is a UNFCCC event. The UNFCCC meets regularly to discuss international responses to findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Stockholm Network: Carbon Scenarios: Blue Sky Thinking for a Green Future, June 2008
Mark Lynas: Climate chaos is inevitable. We can only avert oblivion UK Guardian, 12 June 2009
Press release for Carbon Scenarios: Blue Sky Thinking for a Green Future, 9 June 2008
Temporary website for COP 15 Copenhagen 2009, in English