“The world is perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius increase in temperature. Everybody, even the schoolchildren, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us.”
That is the brutally blunt message about where we are currently headed by 2100, according to the world’s most authoritative source on energy markets -- the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report.
We are already experiencing a dramatic increase in extreme weather with just 0.8 C warming so far. The nations of the world have agreed never to hit 2 C, because it is too dangerous. Hitting 6 C is just unimaginable. Put simply, if we keep expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, we will quickly lose control of a rapidly destabilizing climate system.
This isn’t news to the people who have been paying close attention to our unfolding climate disaster. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculated two years ago that humanity’s current actions were shoving us towards 5.5 C by 2100. They called for “rapid and massive” action to avoid this and warned that “there’s no way the world can or should take these risks.”
That was before the newest data came out showing global emissions soaring at an all-time record rate of 6 per cent last year.
It gets worse. Both MIT and IEA say their estimates don’t take into account the warming potential of carbon emissions from melting permafrost. Joe Romm at Climate Progress calls it “permamelt” and points out that “no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by defrosting tundra.” The most recent research published by NOAA, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and an analysis of work by 41 international researchers in Nature journal say that new permafrost research shows methane releases will likely be massive between now and 2100. On our current fossil fuel trajectory, they estimate permamelt releasing 380 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2100. That is more than all historical fossil fuel emissions from the world’s biggest climate polluter – the United States. It is more than all deforestation by humans. It means a turbo-boost in temperatures beyond what has been calculated by MIT and IEA. And because much of it is methane, the warming will happen much more quickly than from just CO2.
The not completely horrible news is that we can prevent two-thirds of these permamelt emissions if we rapidly shift to a low-carbon economy. Just as MIT, and now IEA, say is absolutely required right now. We are still in some control … but only barely. Now is not the time to stick our head in any kind of sand.
- abandon Canada’s Kyoto commitment to cut emissions
- abandon Harper’s first commitment to cut emissions by less
- abandon Harper second “Copenhagen Accord” commitment to cut emission by even less
- put nothing in place to halt explosive growth of climate pollution from tar sands
- cut climate budgets, muzzle and fire climate scientists
- undermine international efforts to stop global warming
- put the full weight of Canada behind efforts to sell the two biggest climate polluters, the U.S. and China, as much extra-climate-damaging oil as possible
It is pedal-to-the-metal reckless endangerment of our kids' future.
Bob Ward, the policy and communications director at Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics comments:
"This new report is a final warning that we are perilously close to the point of no return on climate change. … As the IEA points out, we have little chance of this if we continue to lock-in fossil fuel sources of energy today … the window of opportunity for action has almost closed."
Almost “locked in” to the terrible twos already
The IEA says humanity has already built 80 per cent of the fossil fuel infrastructure needed to push the planet’s temperature to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Here is their chart...
Here is the IEA chart showing how close we are to being "locked in" to 2 C of warming:
Every nation on the planet (including Canada, multiple times) has pledged to keep global temperatures below this level. Above 2 C, the climate science says civilization will be threatened by dangerous and destabilizing extreme weather, crop losses, rising seas and badly damaged oceans from acidification.
On our current path, the IEA says we are just six years away from being “locked in” to that 2C level. At that point, humanity is faced with a nasty choice. Either:
- we exceed the dangerous 2 C threshold and suffer the human, ecological and economic misery that come with it, or
- we start abandoning lots of still-useful infrastructure and suffer the large economic losses that come with that choice.
Connie Hedegaard, European Union Commissioner for Climate Action:
“The World Energy Outlook 2011 shows that the world is heading for a fossil fuels lock-in. This is another urgent call to move to a low-carbon economy by using the right incentives: carbon price, fossil fuels subsidies cuts, more renewables and energy efficiency, and smarter ways of taxing.”
Cost of delay = trillion dollars a year
The IEA states unequivocally that “delaying action is a false economy.” They calculate that every trillion dollars spent in the next decade on cleaner power sector technology prevents $4.3 trillion from having to be spent later. The failure by current governments to limit expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure is inflating a dangerous carbon bubble.
Terje Riis-Johansen, Norway Minister of Petroleum and Energy:
"This year, the World Energy Outlook can be read as a warning to us all. Keeping in mind the setbacks from Copenhagen; momentum seems to have been lost. In just one year, the estimated global cost of achieving the two degrees target has increased with a staggering one thousand billion dollars. Even worse, the objective of limiting global temperature rise to only 2 degrees Celsius is now seriously threatened.”
Lykke Friis, Denmark’s Minister for Climate and Energy, Ministry of Power:
"In recent years, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook has rightly repeated and underlined the need for an energy revolution […] The less we do now, the more expensive it will become later. Limiting climate change will, in the words of World Energy Outlook 2010, require 'a phenomenal push by governments around the world'."
Switch subsidies from dirty energy to clean energy
Last year, the IEA calculated that subsidies to fossil fuels ($409 billion) were five times more than to renewable energy ($66 billion). They call for rapidly eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and using some of that money to increase renewable energy subsidies to $250 billion by 2035.
The reason fossil fuel subsidies must be cut is that they are helping to fuel the building boom in climate-dangerous infrastructure that must be slowed down now or else abandoned soon. Again, as the IEA points out, every additional trillion spent on renewables in the next few years will prevent us have to find $4.3 trillion to spend later.
Put a price on carbon
Just do it.
To prevent being quickly "locked in" to dangerous climate change humanity must:
- Stop expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure
- Cut the $409 billion fossil fuel subsidies
- Invest heavily in renewable energy alternatives to save 4.3x long term
- Put a price on carbon pollution
- Avoid further delay because costs are already a trillion dollars a year
How many of those required actions is Canada doing? What exactly is the Harper Government doing on your behalf at the climate talks in Durban right now?
Bonus misery:The IEA report had some more warnings about the dirty energy hole we have dug for ourselves:
- Global CO2 emissions shot up a record amount last year
- Energy efficiency of global economy worsened for second straight year
- Consumers face a near-term rise in oil prices to $150/barrel