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Who am I to contradict the President of the USA, but I am delighted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about the planet – the Earth will survive global warming.
Why do I know this? Well there is scientific evidence that shows that during the last few hundred million years the Earth has been both much warmer and much colder than it is today. In both extreme cases Earth has survived.
Consequently, I do not think our 1.5⁰C or above increase in global temperature will damage Earth.
It will be 7.5 billion years before the Earth will be consumed by the sun which will have become a red giant. This is so far in the future it is not a concern. So what is the problem?
Loss of Life.
Five major mass extinctions have been identified over the last 500 million years or so. In the most extreme cases almost 95% of life became extinct.
The most famous mass extinction killed off the dinosaurs. This was extremely fortunate for humans as it created the opportunity for mammals to occupy the space vacated by the dinosaurs. This obviously led to us – Homo sapiens – becoming the dominate species.
Homo sapiens have been around for a hundred thousand years. In that time species such as the mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger have been lost. Whether that has been due to humans or not is questionable. However, the same cannot be said for the Dodo and many recent species that have become extinct.
However, our interaction with the Earth is causing an increasing number of species to disappear. Scientists believe that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. Human activity such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, dams, over fishing, etc. demonstrate that we are the principal cause of this current mass extinction. Scientists have estimated that by 2100 50% of current species will be extinct.
What about us?
Humans are highly resilient. What happens to us depends upon what action we take to stop global warming. We face droughts, floods, lost top soil, food and water shortages, wars over resources and mass migration, etc. By 2100 will we have smart cities or no cities? Will we be going forward to a much better global society or devolving back to the ‘Dark Ages’ e.g. post Roman Empire?
It is our choice.
One thing is for sure – The Earth will be OK.
The photos of the delegates with big smiles, applauding and raised arms clearly illustrate that COP21 was a major success. Delegates went home and could report a major achievement. It was a massive step forward, achieving a global commitment to significantly reducing carbon emissions thereby substantially reducing the impact of global warming.
Should we all rejoice?
What are the key agreed targets from COP21?
The agreement is the first where all countries have committed to cut carbon emissions. Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.
Every five years countries will have to declare their ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ or INDC. The idea is that every five years countries will set new, more rigorous targets.
What won’t be legally binding will be the emission targets. These will be determined by nations themselves and the INDC need not be a meaningful target. For example a study on 31 of the INDC’s submitted so far show over 50% are inadequate and likely to lead to global temperature rises of 3-4⁰C.
In addition, whilst it is legally binding that the INDC targets are set, it is not legally binding that you need to achieve them. This is a major weakness.
To date, 147 countries have submitted their INDC’s. If these targets were to be achieved they will only reduce global warming to 2.7⁰C. This is well above the 2.0⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement.
Whilst ambitious goals have been set at COP21 it is left to others to work on how to implement the goals.
These INDC’s will require serious political commitment to deliver the targets, particularly if it requires reducing economic growth or is too expensive to implement.
US President Barack Obama has hailed the COP21 agreement as “ambitious”. I am uneasy with the word ‘ambitious’ in this context. He also admitted that the deal was not “perfect”, he said it was “the best chance to save the one planet we have”. Again I don’t like the non-committal tone of the message.
In addition, China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua agreed with the President and he also stated that the deal was not perfect.
It appears that COP21 achieved much good will and clearly a verbal intent to take action, but what will happen if one or more countries renege? Will the agreement collapse like a pack of cards?
The big question is will there be the political strength in each country to implement the measures to tackle this problem?
Buildings, cities, manufacturing and industrial processes will play a major part of a countries carbon reduction strategy. The problem each country faces is that there is little or no commercial lobby for energy efficiency. The lobbying is done by the renewables and clean tech sectors. Whilst these are important there is little point in renewables or clean tech if buildings are wasting 30%-50% of their energy in the first place.
Is it surprising that if buildings are not made energy efficient then more renewables and clean tech will be required?
Unfortunately, I fear the success of COP21 could be more of an illusion than a triumph. Put the Champagne back into the vault, it will be a long time before we will know if COP21 was a success or not.
The map shows where the ice should of been in August and where it is now. In 1980, the Arctic ice in summer made up some 2% of the Earth’s surface. But since then the ice has roughly halved in area, and the volume of ice has dropped to just a quarter of what it was.
We should be worried on two counts.
Firstly, this depletion of the Arctic Ice was not expected to be seen so soon. It is a minor tipping point because white ice has a high reflectivity therefore it reflects back sunlight helping mitigate rising global temperatures. If the ice is not there then the sea absorbs the solar energy rather than reflect it, which warms the sea. The warmer water then melts more ice and the tipping point is activated.
The BBC reported that Prof Wadhams of Cambridge University calculated that this increased absorption of the sun’s rays is “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”. Ouch! The problem is that we are becoming powerless to stop this happening as most people have now become non responsive to news of Climate Change and have become accustomed to living with it like AIDS, Asian Flu and the Greek Economy.
The second and much more worrying concern is that this profoundly serious process hardly got a mention on the news. I know we have bigger worldwide economic problems to consider, but this is not the only reason there was so little reaction to the thawing of the Arctic — as I’ve predicted before, we have already stopped listening. Record temperatures blah blah, highest rainfall in 100 years blah blah, Arctic free of ice in the summer blah blah. Who got voted off the X Factor this week?
Within the next two to three years we will hit 400ppm of atmospheric CO2. CO2 is currently rising at over 2ppm per year. Credible scientists reckon that at 450ppm we will experience a 2°C rise in global temperature. During 2008 governments were putting plans in place to stop us getting to 450ppm — now governments are putting adaption strategies in place because at the current rate we will hit 450 in 20 years. It was anticipated that the 450ppm level would not be achieved until 2050 or later. So we are doing less to combat climate change and we have less time to sort it. Literally burning the candle at both ends! For further reading on the subject, I would recommend visiting the 350.org website.
It is at times like this we should all remember how much individuals, organisations and companies like ours are doing to combat climate change. Our impact is significant and it is being recognised. My message to my staff this month was that when you are coming into the office during the winter; remember that our work continues to make a difference every day as the benefits we bring increase and allow more & more new and existing customers to create better performing buildings with the VE. We are doing our part in keeping CO2 levels down and I hope you are too.