The Dernogalizer

November 11, 2009

What would Failure at Copenhagen Mean?

This piece in Scientific American by Douglas Fischer does a great job of exploring a bunch of angles to the international negotiations taking place in Copenhagen this December, and what they mean for preventing catastrophic climate change.  Notable excerpts below

“This is the consequence of failure at Copenhagen: A marked shift in scientific effort from solving global warming to adapting to its consequences, a hodge-podge of uncoordinated local efforts to trim emissions – none of which deliver the necessary cuts – and an altered climate.

Climate experts, scientists and negotiators say that, absent international agreement, the children and grandchildren of those living today will negotiate a world where planetary geo-engineering is a part of daily life, sea-walls defend coastal cities, the world’s poor are hammered by drought, floods and famine and our planet is heading toward conditions unseen for the last 100 million years.

The December talks are, in other words, the last, best chance to change course before chaos descends.”

“Copenhagen is mitigation,” said Guy Brasseur, director of the Climate Service Center in Hamburg, Germany. “If that fails, we move to adaptation and geo-engineering.”

Adaptation will require hundreds of billions of dollars on the low end. It will force a vast transfer of wealth, technology and aid from industrialized counties to developing ones. That buys no more than a Band-aid for those most at risk, said Saleemul Huq, head of the climate change group at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development”

“Previous negotiations all pointed to 2009 as the year to draw a line in the sand, but it’s more than just a diplomatic deadline. By virtually every metric – emissions, deforestation, fuel use, land development, economic growth – business-as-usual projections point to catastrophe.

“Civilization will experience the greatest disruption in its history,” said Jeffrey Kiehl, a senior scientist at NCAR’s climate change research program. “We’re applying a forcing to the planet that it hasn’t seen for tens to hundreds of millions of years, … when there was no ice at either pole.”

“I don’t think we want to go down that path.”

“For the scientists, their job in some ways is done. Climate disruption is now a political question, an economics issue, a security threat.  “Clearly it’s hard to think how we could better present the case,” said Brasseur, the Climate Service Center director. “The science has been very clear.”

“It is now up for society to decide.”

“There is time, Brasseur said, but not much: If delegates cannot seal the deal in Copenhagen but can make sufficient progress to deliver an agreement within five years, the talks can be considered successful.

WRI’s Morgan, who has spent a decade playing key roles at UN climate talks, takes a harder line. After December, there is not enough time to get a treaty ratified and in place by 2012, when Kyoto expires, she said. Countries and industries need to know what market mechanisms and signals will be in place post-Kyoto.”

“In some ways, that’s the great irony of climate change. So many of the initial impacts from a carbon-intensive lifestyle are first hitting those who use the least amount of carbon: Drought in the Sahel, floods in Bangladesh, changing agriculture patterns in India, parts of Asia and Africa, increased water stress for millions living downslope of the Andes and Himalaya.

That will change, scientists predict, and discussion over how to adapt will move quickly from the Third World to the First.

Soon – absent steep cuts and the pressure of a global treaty – politicians across the United States will confront questions that make budget woes and health care costs seem downright quaint, said Brasseur.

“Where will I get my water? What is my strategy (for adaptation)? …. How am I going to have enough food to feed all of California?” he said, rattling off a hypothetical list.

By then the solutions may carry a frightful cost.

“The later we take action, the more we have (climate) impact,” Brasseur said.

“And that impact is going to be irreversible.”


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