I wanted to share just a few brief words on an article I saw in the Denver Post (from the AP) today: Greenhouse gas levels rise. Somewhat surprisingly, a reference to the article appeared on the top of the front page of the print edition of the paper. The story, at the back on 11A, was a little too filled with various quotes from experts in the field for my taste, with no real context for readers to grasp why the news is so important.
This graph encapsulates the importance of this news item:
What this graph shows is the observations of emissions (as calculated by the IEA) represented by the black curve and 5 of the 6 emissions scenarios used by the IPCC AR4 in colored lines. The SRES begin in 2000, which was the starting year used for future simulations in the AR4. You can clearly see the effects of the partial collapse of the global economy in 2009 emissions: they went from higher than the worst-case scenario to the middle of the pack.
In 2010, however, emissions jumped back up to the top of the pack, almost as if 2009 never even happened. I would be willing to bet the 2011 numbers will demonstrate a further increase.
The simplicity of this graph should in no way distract from the deep problems underlying the data: we continue to emit more and more greenhouse gases. As a result, we are locking in more and more future warming and ensuring a cascade of resultant effects that we can’t envision today. In contrast to some of my earlier posts, I want to make sure I don’t convey that I think those effects will be apocalyptic because I don’t think they will be.
There will be changes forced on us and on ecosystems worldwide as a result of these emissions. But what I want to start spending more time on are the solutions to the grand challenges we’re facing instead of just the depths of those challenges themselves.
In short, it is clear that actions taken to date with respect to emissions clearly have been unsatisfactory. That is because the approach to developing policies that could affect emissions have been woefully inadequate. I have solidified my opinion that the IPCC is not the best approach to dealing with the adaptation or mitigation strategies. Neither do I think that the Conference on Parties, which is set to meet in a handful of weeks to discuss roles and responsibilities for developed and developing countries, is suitable for the task. I’m not sure what the best approach is, but neither of these two primary tacks have proven themselves capable of dealing with the problem to date.