Monday, December 3, 2012

More Climate Talks, But It's Too Late

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Doha, Qatar to once more discuss, negotiate and talk about climate change has reached the halfway point. Concerns crystallized by the recent damage from Hurricane Sandy have resulted in 17,000 attending the conference, but that is the only good news. The goal of all these meetings is to negotiate a new agreement by 2015 that will become effective by 2020 to replace and expand the Kyoto Protocol. If an agreement can be negotiated, and this is a big if, it will extend CO2 mitigation requirements to all countries, both developed and developing. Environmental activists and climate scientists, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Africa Group and the Least Developed Countries group are all calling for deeper carbon cuts now to avert climate impacts. However, if the climate models are correct, it's too late. The die is cast.  Though many nations had pledged to keep global warming from exceeding two degrees Celsius, according to the climate models the CO2 emissions trend will produce between 3 and 5 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures and we should be planning for the future we will have and hope for a better one.

According to the International Energy Agency, IEA, 2011 estimates of world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, World CO2 emissions rose by 1 billion metric tons in 2011, a 3.2 % increase  to reach 31.6 billion metric tons. In 2011 the top four world generators of CO2 emission from fossil fuels were in descending order China, the United States, the European Union and India who edged out Russia to take the number four slot. There is no short term action that will stop the CO2 concentrations from reaching the climate model project tipping point of 32.6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually just 1 billion metric tons above current levels and the amount the world emissions increased last year.

China, the largest emitter of CO2 increased their emissions the most. China contributed almost three quarters of the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million metric tons, or 9.3% to 8.46 billion metric tons of CO2, primarily due to higher coal consumption. India’s emissions rose by 140 million metric tons or 8.7% to 1.75 billion metric tons. CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 million metric tons of CO2 or 1.7% to an estimated 5.32 billion metric tons.  U.S. emissions have now fallen by 430 million metric tons or 7.7% since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. Unfortunately, this decrease has been made practically meaningless by the unrelenting growth in China and India.

China’s chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua recently announced that China’s CO2 emission would peak around 2030, pointing out that its per capita gross domestic product would have only reached half the level of other developed countries’ CO2 emissions when they peaked. No comment was made on the projected peak per capita CO2 emissions. In 2010 China surpassed the US in manufactured output, energy use and car sales. According to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, China will shortly be the world's largest economy. However, while the economy has been growing leaps and bounds, China's total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime) has fallen to 1.56. The United Nations now projects that China’s population will peak in 2026. So after China’s population begins to decrease, they anticipate that their CO2 emission will peak. Yeah, I would project that, too-it is the natural course of events.  China’s delegate to the current conference,  Su Wei, indicated that they expect China and other developing countries to remain exempted from CO2 reduction requirements for the next treaty making the current discussion entirely pointless and changes the direction the negotiations should take. The world needs to develop plans to survive the bulge in CO2 emissions and any climate consequences from China's sprint to peak population and peak CO2 emissions.
From the Economist using UN data

Unlike the rest of the developed world, China's population control policy of one child will cause the nation to grow old before it grows rich. In 2010 8.2% of China's total population was over 65. The over 65 segment it is expected to grow to 26% by 2050. Right now China represents approximately 20% of the world's population. As their population ages and declines, CO2 emissions are expected to stabilize and decline. For comparison in the United States 13% of the population is over 65 and that is forecast to grow to 21% by 2050. U.S. CO2 emissions are falling and our nation is well on track to meet the President’s promise of reducing CO2 emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Though, the CO2 emissions per capita in the United States is still three times the level in China. As the population of the United States continues to grow, to  be able to grow GDP and reduce CO2 emissions would be a significant achievement. Unfortunately, this decrease will be made almost meaningless by the unrelenting growth in CO2 emissions in China and India. We have little leverage and no control over those nations and so the global CO2 levels will continue to grow until those nations peak. Possibly we should be planning for moving population centers away from the coastal estuaries to better survive rising oceans and increasing storm intensity. 
Chart from IEA 2012 publication

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