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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

G-8 Agrees To Temperature Cap – Am I Missing Something?

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I’ve read a couple of articles and listened to some news stories on the radio and TV about yesterday’s G-8 agreement to cap worldwide temperatures by 3.6°F (2°C) above the pre-industrial value.  What they didn’t agree on was to cut greenhouse gas emissions by any amount by any date.  Non-binding agreements like these are a miniscule step – and I’m not sure it’s even in the correct direction.

The biggest problem I have with this announcement, and maybe there’s something missing from the report or I just don’t understand the whole deal, is how the temperature cap will ever happen without a binding agreement to cut emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.  The temperature cap might be the only thing they could agree on at this point, but it’s the emissions that are causing the temperature rise in the first place.

The second biggest problem I have, and again this could be easily explained by my lack of understanding what the agreement really is, is we’re darn close to 2°C warming already.  The last I checked, global temperatures were already 1.5°C anomalously warm from pre-industrial levels.  That would only give the world 0.5°C of additional warming.  Even with an abnormally weak solar cycle and a long-lived, moderate-strength La Nina, 2008 was the 8th warmest year on record.  La Nina conditions have eased to a neutral state, though I doubt that will last much longer, and the solar cycle can’t be at a minimum for much longer either.  Since those were the only two phenomena holding record temperatures at bay for a couple of years, I think the warmest year on record will be met within the next few years.  Put another way, that 0.5°C warming could quite possibly be met well before 2020.  I’m thinking it will happen prior to 2015.  If that happens, what is the next step for these agreements?  Once that 2°C warming is reached, a great deal of research indicates that stronger feedback loops can begin to kick in – making all of our efforts do less and final mitigation cost more.

The third problem I have is I thought the UK had already internally set a goal of 34% below 1990 emissions by 2022.  Other countries beside the U.S. shouldn’t be that much further behind.  Some complications I came up with include lack of inclusion of all industries, less progress on Kyoto Protocol goals than is necessary to achieve an 80% reduction of 1990 emissions by 2050.  The U.S. and Australia were the only two industrialized nations that hadn’t ratified Kyoto as of a couple of years ago.  Australia has, in light of the climate change effects they’ve encountered.  So the U.S. should be the only remaining industrialized nation without a binding emissions goal.  As written, ACESA only calls for a 17% reduction of 2005 levels by 2020.  Perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t believe an 80% reduction of 1990 levels by 2050 can be achieved with more substantial U.S. action and since we’re the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

So I might be looking for something in this news report that shouldn’t be there.  Or I might not understand the agreement fully.  I’d like to have both of those questions answered so I know how to view the news.

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