March 30, 2009 by Andrew P. Jones
Like Senator John Kerry in the US, Jacqueline McGlade (shown to the left in the field in Greenland), the executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA) is quoting results from the C-ROADS simulation and its latest simulation outputs to challenge leaders in Bonn to improve their proposals leading up to the Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting.
Naming insights from our team’s recent white paper, she says, “The reality is we do not have enough on the table, globally, to get us anywhere near where we need to be to take carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.”
The full article from the UK’s Sunday Herald is below.
Two months to save the world
Europe’s leading expert warns of billions of refugees and environmental catastrophe if immediate action is not taken by all nations.
THE WORLD is heading for an unparalleled climate catastrophe unless rich and poor nations agree drastic cuts in pollution in just the next few months, the head of the European Environment Agency (EEA) is warning.
Even if all the current promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions are honoured, the world will still see global temperatures rise by an average of four degrees centigrade by the end of the century, according to Professor Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA executive director. This is hot enough to make most of the world uninhabitable, killing or making refugees of billions of people in Asia, Africa and America.
The EEA’s prediction offers a vision of Earth where humans have been forced into the most far-flung areas of the world in order to rebuild civilisation, with people living in high-rise cities in areas like Siberia and Antartica which will become the most hospitable parts of the planet. Even if Scotland, Europe and the US succeed in cutting their emissions by 80%, new coal and oil plants planned by China, India and other Asian countries will still double global carbon dioxide emissions to 16 billion tonnes by 2100. This would push carbon concentrations in the atmosphere well above the danger level.
The resulting mega floods, droughts and storms would trigger mass starvation, mass migrations and resource wars, experts say. That’s why it is vital, they argue, that the rich nations now help fund developing countries to avoid repeating the mistakes of the industrial revolution.
The new analysis comes from the European Union’s environment agency. It gives an unprecedented insight into the negotiations that are going on behind closed doors between governments in the run-up to the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the end of the year.
Professor McGlade says 2009 is the most important year in the planet’s four-billion-year history. If the world doesn’t get in right in Copenhagen, there will be “untold decades of civil strife”, she warned, and hunger across the globe. “The reality is we do not have enough on the table, globally, to get us anywhere near where we need to be to take carbon emissions out of the atmosphere,” she added. “It’s not a very pleasant picture.”
Preparatory talks for the 190-nation Copenhagen summit are due to start in Bonn, Germany, this week. The EEA has put together all the pollution reduction targets on offer, and calculated their global impact.
The European Union is promising to reduce emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050, a target that is being put into legislation by the UK and Scottish governments. As yet, it’s unclear what the world’s biggest polluter, the United States, will do under its new president Barack Obama, though there are hopes he may opt for big cuts.
Russia says it will stay at 1990 pollution levels, while Canada is talking about a 20% cut between 2006 and 2020. Other countries like South Africa, Brazil and Mexico are promising lesser reductions. Crucially, the big emerging economies in Asia, including China and India, are promising to reduce their “emissions intensity” 20% by 2020. This means that their emissions will continue to grow, but that the levels per unit of energy will decline.
If all these pollution promises are kept, annual emissions will still increase from the current 8 billion tonnes to over 16 billion tonnes by 2100. The steep rise is mostly due to growing emissions from China, India and other Asian countries. According to the EEA, this would result in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increasing to well over 600 parts per million, which is two or three times higher than any levels in the last 650,000 years. This will cause average temperatures to rise by four degrees.
It may not sound like much, but the consequences would be dire. It is twice the temperature above which scientists fear that catastrophic “tipping points” could be reached, triggering runaway climate change.
The polar icecaps could suddenly start melting faster, the Amazonian rainforest could disappear, and a vast amount of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, could be released from Siberia. Himalayan glaciers would melt, while the Indian monsoon season and the El Niño effect in the Pacific could be disrupted.
These changes could make most of Africa, Asia and America uninhabitable. Many millions of people would migrate north or south, abandoning huge swathes of land around the equator. “If world leaders fail us in Copenhagen the world really will be on course for disaster,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland.
“The first offers must come from the rich countries like us. Having enjoyed 250 years of fossil-fuelled fun we must show we are really serious about reducing our emissions.”
Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned that too many governments, including Scotland’s, were seeking to delay action to cut emissions. “If the rich countries of the world were to put half as much money into fulfilling their obligations as they are spending on bailing out banks, the Copenhagen meeting might amount to something,” he said.
The Scottish government stressed that it had introduced “the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world”.