Climate Change is a problem quintessentially expressed in numbers : how many degrees of warming, how many parts per million of Carbon Dioxide in the air, how much Carbon Dioxide the Oceans, Forests, Rocks, Plants and Soils soak up, how many lives will be affected by drought, famine and sickness, how much Methane could be released from tundra and hydrates, how many species will be lost, perhaps including our own.
Science indicates what our targets on Greenhouse Gas Emissions should be, numbers expressed in terms of confidence bands and scenario risks. If we want to prevent the risks we have to follow the numbers. Numbers rule, not whim or wish.
And so I am perturbed to read that Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, formerly Prime Minister of the United Kingdom wants to stop talk of numbers in the Climate Change negotiations.
The Daily Telegraph reports : ”
“Tony Blair: Copenhagen climate summit must not be about ‘percentages’ : World leaders must not get bogged down in ‘precise percentages’ when they negotiate a successor the Kyoto climate change treaty in Copenhagen, Tony Blair has said. By Peter Foster in Beijing : Published: 20 Aug 2009 : Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Mr Blair said leaders should trust in new technologies to put the world on a path to a greener future. The former British prime minister called for a “realistic and practical” deal to be struck at the UN Summit in Copenhagen this December that would unleash the potential of green technology to solve the problem of global warming. “We need to get an agreement that sets the world on a new path of sustainable consumption without getting obsessed with precise percentages,” he said…”
Tony Blair may be working within a reality known as political, where compromise is possible, where deals are cut in order to meet differing demands, but with Climate Change he has an obligation to also live in the light of scientific reality.
In office, Blair’s trust in technology had muddled form : although he supported Renewable Energy, he was nobbled into accepting new Nuclear plans. With his new role at J. P. Morgan Climate Care, he is probably encouraged by stories of fabulous technological progress in poorer areas of the world that could theoretically benefit from Carbon Credits under the Clean Development Mechanism :-
“Cleaning Up Black Carbon Provides Instant Benefits Against Global Warming : August 20th, 2009 By Robert Monroe : Villagers in Khairatpur, India, a location of Project Surya, examine a new clean-burning stove. Scripps scientists hope to replace cooking methods that produce large amounts of black carbon with cleaner alternatives on a large scale. : The world could buy time to forestall disastrous environmental and geopolitical climate change effects by using existing technologies to curb emissions created through diesel and solid biomass fuel burning, according to an article co-authored by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego climate and atmospheric scientist V. Ramanathan…”
But as chief engineer Scotty once said, or rather said multiple times on the engine deck of the Starship Enterprise : “you cannae break the Laws of Physics”. It’s all very well for India and China (and Mexico, Russia, Japan and Brazil) committing to reduce emissions. Unless the over-developed countries pay special attention to the numbers, we are not going to win the race to halt Global Warming.
No technology is going to make Coal clean cheaply. No technology is going to wipe up radioactive waste from Nuclear Power cheaply and conveniently. No genetically modified organism is going to release Energy from dead plants faster than a certain rate that the Chemistry dictates. Energy is not free, and cleaning up Fossil Fuels is not cost-effective.
We have to make the numbers turn around, and that means accepting less of certain things : both Fossil Carbon-based Energy Supply and Fossil Carbon-based Energy Demand need to be reduced (which would keep the Economies stable as a by-product, but not be profitable to Carbon Traders).
Here are the numbers we need to have :-
350 parts per million by volume of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere :-
Keeping the risk of dangerous, unstoppable Climate Change to an acceptably low level by keeping the average global temperature rise since 1880 down to 2 degrees Centigrade or Celsius :-
Global Greenhouse Gas emissions have to peak by 2015 for us to stand a reaonable chance of controlling Global over-Warming : if the peak is any later, then the reduction curve is impossibly steep :-
“Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A : Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends : BY KEVIN ANDERSON AND ALICE BOWS : Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A
“Climate Change 2007 : Synthesis Report : Summary for Policymakers”
If Tony Blair would become accountable to these numbers, he would be saying very different things. Currently his words are “reasonable mollifiers” to those like the elements of the American administration who argue for “Carbon Intensity”, but never “Carbon Limits”; and those in Chindia who argue for continued Fossil Fuel development, sustainable or not.
If the Copenhagen Treaty negotiated in December 2009 is vague and woolly, we may have Tony Blair to blame. That’s an awful lot of responsibility to ask someone to shoulder. He has put himself in the thick of it, at the centre of all the shuttle diplomacy and regional-global meetings. He should take time to listen to what the scientists are reporting, and put numbers on his ambition.