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Paris Agreement climate targets could soon be out of reach without immediate and massive greenhouse gas emission reductions, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a landmark report published Monday.

“This report is a reality check,” said IPCC Working Group I co-chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte in a statement. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

The report offers a more granular analysis of how greenhouse gases (GHGs) contribute to global temperature increases, and spells out different emission scenarios to estimate how likely it is the planet will cross the Paris Agreement goal of holding global warming to “well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius” compared to pre-industrial levels. The IPCC estimates that from 2011 to 2020, global surface temperature was 1.09 C higher than the 1850 to 1900 pre-industrial average.

The five scenarios considered range from very high emissions (doubling of global GHGs by 2050) to very low emissions (net-zero by 2050 and negative emissions thereafter), with its intermediate scenario representing emissions holding at current levels until mid-century.

“Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered,” the report reads. “Global warming of 1.5 C and 2 C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

The IPCC’s best estimate in its lowest-emission scenario sees warming held to 1.4 C by the end of the century, with its best estimate in the highest-emission scenario coming in at 4.4 C warming.

Tipping points ahead

As the planet warms, the IPCC warns heat waves, droughts, cyclones, and heavy rain will all become more common, posing a direct threat to agriculture and human safety. Then there is Arctic sea ice, snow cover, and permafrost that is melting and contributing to sea level rise and methane leaking into the atmosphere, potentially representing a tipping point for the Earth’s climate.

Better sit down. Landmark @IPCC_CH report maps out five scenarios for Earth's climate future — from tolerable to catastrophic. #ClimateCrisis #IPCC

Tipping points in climate science refer to a threshold that, when crossed, lock in major damage. Scientists are still developing better understandings of how tipping points work, but they essentially represent a minefield on the road to net-zero given the uncertainty. Carbon sinks turning into carbon emitters, like Canada’s managed forest, or Greenland rapidly losing more than 18 billion tonnes of ice contributing to sea level rise are just two potential examples.

The IPCC report highlights the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the system of ocean currents that includes the Gulf Stream, as one important tipping point. The IPCC says the AMOC is “very likely” to weaken over the 21st century under all scenarios, but only has “medium confidence” there won’t be an “abrupt collapse” before 2100. If it collapsed, the world’s weather patterns would be dramatically impacted.

In fact, one study published last week in Nature Climate Change found evidence the AMOC was weakening, and warned a collapse would have “severe impacts” and increase the risk of cascading problems for other major Earth systems, “such as the Antarctic ice sheet, tropical monsoon systems and Amazon rainforest.”

Canada has a ‘carbon debt to the world’

“Hopefully, as our governments head to COP26, they will have all of this in mind, and they will make those new commitments as ambitious as science requires them to be,” says Pembina Institute director of federal policy Isabelle Turcotte.

“We need to do more at the federal level, (but) we also need to come back home domestically and make sure all provinces are energetically rowing in the same direction,” she said.

Canada has pledged to reduce emissions between 40 and 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but its latest modelling forecasts a 36 per cent reduction by 2030. Moreover, the IPCC previously said to hold global warming to 1.5 C there should be about a 45 per cent reduction in global GHGs from 2010 levels. Because global GHG emissions were higher in 2010 than in 2005, Canada’s commitment to lower emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels is actually a weaker pledge than what the IPCC called for.

“We are not yet aligned with what science says the global target should be, so Canada needs to do more,” said Turcotte. “But we also need to keep in mind that Canada is a rich country that has hugely benefited from extracting and burning fossil fuels, and so we have a carbon debt to the world, and we need to do more than the global average effort.”

A recent report from the Pembina Institute found 95 per cent of Canadian emissions are not covered by a provincial or territorial 2030 climate target. It also found no jurisdiction had developed a path to net-zero. Because provinces hold jurisdiction over natural resource development, it is a major gap in the country’s climate ambition.

“Absent these provinces stepping up, Canada is unlikely to meet any climate target,” Turcotte said.

Turcotte pointed to the importance of carbon budgets as a tool for decarbonizing. One reason they are helpful is that a carbon budget lays out the amount of emissions a jurisdiction can generate. That shifts the focus somewhat away from the less important goal of net-zero by 2050 toward the more important question of how much carbon is emitted in the intervening years. She said net-zero is an “important longer-term milestone,” but the focus on it can be misleading.

“It could lead us to climate catastrophe, because net-zero is an emissions level in 2050,” she said. “What matters is the cumulative amount of CO2 we emit from now until 2050, or from now until we get to net-zero.”

John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

Keep reading

The author talks about the need for us all to be rowing in the same direction now more than ever, pointing out that there are several provinces who will NOT, but somehow politely refuses to state the glaring reality that ALL are led by conservative governments. This when the headlines should now scream, "CONSERVATIVES ARE GOING TO KILL US ALL."
This weak, milquetoast tone is a pervasive and deep-seated part of the problem of getting through to people, and is well explained by this Bloomberg article:
Image removed by sender. Bloomberg
In climate news today...
Inside the showdown between climate science and global politics.
Biden’s vehicle emissions rules are stronger than expected.
U.K.’s ambitious climate deal hit by political infighting.
Image removed by sender. Gernot Wagner's Risky Climate

Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global group backed by the United Nations, have spent the past two weeks in meetings to ready their latest assessment of the physical science underpinning past, present, and future climate change. Expect the IPCC to paint a sobering picture of what is to come. The steep costs of such a world are all too apparent, but tallying them is harder still.

That latter bit is the bread and butter of climate economics: accounting for climate damages in dollars and cents. The Holy Grail is translating those numbers into how much each ton of CO₂ costs society and, thus, should cost those doing the polluting. It’s important but thankless—more like boring accounting than cutting-edge economics.

Seeing how it takes years to assess the latest science, with 234 authors from all over the world working through more than 14,000 studies, adding economics on top of that implies an even greater lag between the latest observed climatic changes and a full accounting of their impacts.

“I think it’s now clear that economists have underestimated the costs of climate change,” says Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University. By now there are plenty of broadsides against climate economics: the discipline has “failed us,” the awarding of the first-ever Nobel in climate economics may have done “more harm than good,” and even calls for economics to undergo “a climate revolution.” The discipline does need change, and I should know: I’m a climate economist quoted in one of those broadsides and the co-author of another. Yes, many of these critiques are self-reflective, coming from within.

Criticizing, of course, is easy. Pinpointing the specific reasons for why economists have traditionally underestimated climate costs, and then improving on those shortcomings, is much harder.

One reason—and speaking from my own experience—is the objective difficulty in tallying costs. Doing so “bottom-up,” one heatwave or hurricane at a time, is a punishing undertaking. That has led climate economists to make often heroic assumptions that allow them to estimate climate damages “top-down” with guesstimates of how climate damages affect the economy. That’s how we calculate total economic damages for each degree of global average warming.

No surprise, such an exercise misses a lot of detail. It’s not yet clear, though, that this top-down process would necessarily lead to underestimates. Perhaps climate economics, as a discipline, has coalesced around progressively more aggressive assumptions that end up overestimating climate costs?

To glean some more insights into this question, I went back to Oreskes’s book, Why Trust Science?. The book focuses on the physical climate science and the inherent “conservatism” of the discipline. I also checked in with her about climate economics specifically.

Oreskes sees parallels between the natural and social sciences. “This may be, in part, another instance of what my colleagues and I documented in physical climate science: the tendency to underestimate the rate and magnitude of climate change that we called ‘erring on the side of least drama,’” she wrote in an email exchange this week. Oreskes sees that tendency as very much part of scientists’ DNA: “The scientific conception of rationality as sitting in opposition to emotion, leads many scientists to feel that it is important for them to be ‘sober,’ dispassionate, unemotional, and ‘conservative.’ This often leads them to be uncomfortable with dramatic findings, even when they are true.”

There are indeed some countervailing forces. Dramatic headlines might be a good way to gain notoriety. But climate science and climate economics are still very much scientific disciplines, where progress happens one journal article at a time. Often the best way to advance the discipline—and have your own paper pass peer-review—is to aim for incremental progress.

Climate economics may have two other factors at play. One Oreskes discussed in an op-ed she co-authored with Lord Nicholas Stern: climate effects are likely to be cascading, and economists may be lacking the tools to specifically deal with these cascading effects. Economists are wont of compartmentalizing. Tackling one problem at a time has its clear advantages, but as I have argued (with the European Climate Foundation’s Tom Brookes), “marginal thinking is inadequate for an all-consuming problem touching every aspect of society.”

The second reason Oreskes identified has more to do with the overall orientation of the field of economics. She said it has “tended to be over-confident about the power of markets, and reluctant to acknowledge market failure on the grand scale.” It also speaks to how economics is often taught in a classroom. The typical introductory economics textbook waxes poetic about the power of markets and describes in detail how market forces work. Much less time goes into instances when they fail, and global warming surely ranks at the top of that list.

Of course not every number generated by climate economists, or every policy pronouncement, will be conservative. But it’s important to recognize the inherent delays and biases of the scientific enterprise as a whole. The same reasons why we can trust climate science overall leads to IPCC reports being inherently conservative in their overall assessment—and why climate economics has straggled behind in its policy recommendations.

Gernot Wagner writes the Risky Climate column for Bloomberg Green. He teaches at New York University. His book “Geoengineering: the Gamble” is out this fall. Follow him on Twitter: @GernotWagner. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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TP wrote: "The author talks about the need for us all to be rowing in the same direction now more than ever, pointing out that there are several provinces who will NOT, but somehow politely refuses to state the glaring reality that ALL are led by conservative governments. This when the headlines should now scream, "CONSERVATIVES ARE GOING TO KILL US ALL."

As the article notes, no jurisdiction in Canada has "developed a path to net-zero".
Blaming conservatives is easy, but misses the real picture.
Blatant denialism has largely been the purview of the "conservative" right. The new denialism is largely on the "progressive" centre-left.
Which is worse? Climate sabotage on the right — or betrayal by the "progressives"?
The Liberals and AB and BC NDP have proved far more effective than the Conservatives in delivering on Big Oil's and Corporate Canada's agenda. Trudeau & Co. have persuaded many Canadians that we can both act on climate and double down on fossil fuels. Have our cake and eat it too. No surprise that Canada is not on track to meet its emissions targets. That's on Trudeau, not Kenney.
Trudeau and Notley moved the ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline down to the ten-yard line. Their signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%." Something Harper, Scheer, and Kenney could never dream of doing.
Acknowledge the science, but ignore its implications. Boast about climate leadership, but push fossil fuel expansion and pipelines. In BC's case, LNG development, Site C, destruction of old growth, and extirpation of caribou. Sign int'l agreements, but fail to live up to them. Putting emissions targets out of reach.
Witness the greenwashing, backsliding, foot-dragging, creative accounting, and general planning to fail in Canada.
Neoliberal politicians on the centre-left are propping up an industry that's costing us our future. Their oil-soaked "pragmatism" founders on delusion and denial.
Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan are betting that the world will fail to take real action on climate change. The only scenario in which oilsands expansion makes sense.
According to these "progressive" leaders, the path to renewable energy and a sustainable future runs through a massive spike in fossil-fuel combustion and emissions. Excluding the only rational responses to our global emergency — reduce emissions and stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. Complete disconnect from the science.
Our "climate leaders" are betting on failure.
Liberal and NDP govts that pay lip service to climate change with a conservative opposition in denial. A dream come true for the fossil fuel industry.

"climate effects are likely to be cascading, and economists may be lacking the tools to specifically deal with these cascading effects"
Ummm ... "likely"??? Why in heaven's name should climate effects be different from any other biological, physical, or economic effects? What *is* it that makes it so people generally, and perhaps scientists and economists in particular, are unable to see anything that doesn't hit them hard, fast, furiously and continually?
I think the worst piece has been all the krapp about "the new normal." There *is* no New Normal: the New Normal if it exists in any fashion at all is a continually worsening situation over at least 30 years (glaciers were already disappearing) and mainly much worse for All The Others than it is for the individuals who make decisions about making it worse, or those who could make decisions about making it better.
Mr. Trudeau, you can bet your sweet bottom, never spent a summer without AC in his life.
And whatever his words, he, like Harper and Mulroney before him. doesn't give a dawdly-doo about the ordinary people of Canada, much less those who are not currently defined as "middle class workers with famlies" ...
Despite all the documentation about inequities in our systems, there's virtually nothing to ameliorate them ... or continuing climate degradation.
And it's high time that "we" stopped taxing carbon at point of consumption, and started taxing it at point of profit. IOW, it needs to come out of the pockets that carbon production lines so nicely, not out of the pockets of those who have no alternatives, no choices but to freeze or pollute.
The whole measure is being applied arse-backwards: it's making life more expensive for the poorest, and happier for the investors/funders and insurers.
Not my idea of Building Back Better. Not my idea of "leaving no one behind." Oh yeah: it was never meant to be no one at all: but rather, leaving no full-time employed middle class people behind.