The uncertain legacy of Copenhagen

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:39 PM GMT on December 22, 2009

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The Copenhagen (COP15) climate summit is over, and leaves an uncertain legacy. What was accomplished in Copenhagen was far outweighed by what was not accomplished. While the final Copenhagen Accord affirmed that we must hold the warming of our planet below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 to avert dangerous climate change, no timetable for accomplishing that goal was specified. The promises made by the various nations at the summit would likely lead to a 3.9°C warming of the planet, according to an analysis by MIT's Sustainability Institute. Copenhagen did demonstrate that the hype preceding the talks was not undeserved--the stakes involved are huge, and we have an epic political battle on our hands that will afford high drama in 2010. Probably the best summary of the political battle at Copenhagen was posted by author Mark Lynas on the UK Guardian's web site. The title of the article was, "How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room".

The leaders for greenhouse gas reductions
While the Copenhagen Summit made it clear that the coming battle will feature the U.S. and China, the voices of two tiny island nations--Tuvalu and The Maldives--will be important as well. When ranked by percentage of population located near the coast at an elevation of ten meters or less, the top five spots are held by small island nations with more than 90% of their population in this Low Elevation Coastal Zone--the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands (McGranahan et al., 2007). The very existence of these island nations are threatened by sea level rise due to climate change. The leaders of Tuvalu and The Maldives brought considerable attention to their plight at the Copenhagen conference, and President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, in particular, has made his tiny country a force to be reckoned with in the coming battle.


Figure 1. President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed and 11 cabinet ministers donned scuba gear and submerged 4 meters below the surface of sea to hold the world's first underwater cabinet meeting on October 17, 2009, in order to dramatize the threat sea level rise poses to their country.

The leaders against greenhouse gas reductions
Canada has joined Saudi Arabia as a leading voice against efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases. According to The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which is published annually by Germanwatch and CAN-Europe, Canada ranks second to last in climate policy and in overall efforts to tackle climate change, among the 57 industrialized countries and emerging economies that together account for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Canada's national statement at COP15 featured no commitments of money or targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Canada also lobbied to change the "base" year from when emission reductions should be computed from 1990 to 2006. Croatia was the only other country to support Canada's position. The notorious political pranksters The Yes Men dramatized Canada's position by issuing a phony press release during COP15 claiming that Canada had come to its senses and was now going to work toward a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, the type of cut scientists say is necessary if we are to avoid dangerous warming of more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Canadian reporters immediately recognized the news release as a hoax. Canadian politics is heavily dominated by the fossil fuel industry, and Canadian reporters immediately saw the impossibility of the Canadian government performing an about-face on climate policy.


Figure 2. The top ten and bottom ten performing countries on the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), published annually by Germanwatch and CAN-Europe to rank the efforts to combat climate change of the 57 industrialized countries and emerging economies that together account for more than 90 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. The ranking system factors in three scores: the emissions level (CO2 per primary energy unit, primary energy unit per GDP, and primary energy unit per capita); the emissions trend (whether emissions are rising or falling), and a subjective rating of the nation's national and international climate policy. Tall bars indicate a higher ranking, and thin bars represent a poor ranking. None of the 57 countries were doing enough to keep global warming below 2°C, so the top three spots on the list were left blank. Image credit: Germanwatch.org.

Comparison with the battle over CFC regulations and the ozone hole
On June 28, 1974, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, published the first scientific paper warning that human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) could cause serious harm to Earth's protective ozone layer (Molina and Rowland, 1974). They calculated that if CFC production continued to increase at the going rate of 10%/year until 1990, then remain steady, CFCs would cause a global 5 to 7 percent ozone loss by 1995 and 30 - 50% loss by 2050.

They warned that the loss of ozone would significantly increase the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet UV-B light reaching the surface, greatly increasing skin cancer and cataracts. The loss of stratospheric ozone could also significantly cool the stratosphere, potentially causing destructive climate change. Although no stratospheric ozone loss had been observed yet, CFCs should be banned, they said. A huge international political battle ensued, one that eerily echoes many of the same themes as the battle over global warming. In a 1984 interview in The New Yorker, Dr. Rowland concluded, "Nothing will be done about this problem until there is further evidence that a significant loss of ozone has occurred. Unfortunately, this means that if there is a disaster in the making in the stratosphere we are probably not going to avoid it." These prophetic words were proved true the very next year with the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. Speedy action to save the planet from potentially disastrous loss of the ozone layer was realized with the swift implementation of the Montreal Protocol two years later, though.

As was the case with the battle over the CFCs and the ozone layer, I expect it will take a obvious imminent climate change disaster to motivate governments to take strong action. I believed in September 2007 that such an event had occurred, when the Arctic ice cap lost more than half of its area, compared to levels observed in the early 1950s. I was astounded at the nonchalance the event earned in the press and among politicians. But, in hindsight I should not have been surprised, since the stakes are very much higher than the battle to ban CFCs--now we are talking about the fossil fuel industry, the very basis for our modern industrialized society. A very big, very obvious disaster in the making will probably be needed to motivate strong enough action to make a major difference in CO2 emissions. Our climate is certainly capable of generating such an event in the coming decade. Unfortunately, if we wait until a disaster is obviously imminent, we will have far less time to prevent a climate disaster than we had for the ozone depletion crisis. The lifetime of CFCs in the atmosphere is 50 - 140 years, but a substantial portion of the CO2 put in the air stays for thousands of years. According to the 2007 IPCC report, "About 50% of a CO2 increase will be removed from the atmosphere within 30 years, and a further 30% will be removed within a few centuries. The remaining 20% may stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years."

References
McGranahan, G., D. Balk, and B. Anderson, 2007, "The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones", Environment & Urbanization, 19(1), 17-37.

Molina, M.J., and F.S. Rowland, "Stratospheric Sink for Chlorofluoromethanes: Chlorine Atom-Catalyzed Destruction of Ozone", Nature 249, 810-812, 1974.

Next post
Have a great Christmas, everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on Monday (at the latest).

Jeff Masters

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What if you had had the fortune of being born on the Maldives? Would that make it important to you? Would you be on the opposite side of the climate change fence if your home land was threatened with being flooded? Just trying to see it from both sides.

Have a nice holiday everyone!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PensacolaDoug:
If in fact the sea does rise high enough to threaten their homes and livlihoods, I for one, would feel genuine sorrow for them and the worlds more weatlhy countries should take them in. Regardless of whether the rise in oceans is man-made or not. I know the earth has gotten warmer. I'm not sure that its all human induced. The issue is to important and WAY too expensive to get wrong. I'm also convinced there is a political agenda driving it. That in and of itself makes me very skeptical.


There are probably natural influences involved in climate change, but I don't think they comprise a contribution of more than 20% of the warming so far. Yes it would be expensive to deal with global warming, but it would be about 10 times more expensive NOT to deal with it! About a political agenda, the same thing is driving climate change denial, as clearly demonstrated by Big Oil's cooperation with the Bush Administration to disuade public opinion on the issue.

The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
Quoting RitaEvac:
I cant help but laugh at those people under water signing. Just make themselves look even more like a joke. It's all fun and games boys and girls, lets play underwater LMFAO.



You have to save this for tornadodude and tell them they are 50% under water.
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One more note. If the water level comes up 10 feet. I'll own beach-front property!
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 2 Comments: 770
If in fact the sea does rise high enough to threaten their homes and livlihoods, I for one, would feel genuine sorrow for them and the worlds more weatlhy countries should take them in. Regardless of whether the rise in oceans is man-made or not. I know the earth has gotten warmer. I'm not sure that its all human induced. The issue is too important and WAY too expensive to get wrong. I'm also convinced there is a political agenda driving it. That in and of itself makes me very skeptical.
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 2 Comments: 770
Quoting Creamtea:



156-168 hours


So Jakobshavn Isbrae in Greenland is expected to be close to -2C! That's too warm!
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


No, it's meant to symbolize the threat that the Maldives faces from sea level rise.

...and inhabiting an atoll of islands whose single highest point is only 7.5 feet above mean sea level (not sure for when that was measured).

Just because someone lives there, that does not mean it is a good idea. (NOLA's Gentilly and Lakefront neighborhoods, for instance...those 2 are mostly 8 feet below or more).
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


No, it's meant to symbolize the threat that the Maldives faces from sea level rise.


oh ok. So it's an isolated event thats going to affect them. Not a global affect
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Quoting RitaEvac:
I cant help but laugh at those people under water signing. Just make themselves look even more like a joke. It's all fun and games boys and girls, lets play underwater LMFAO.



No, it's meant to symbolize the threat that the Maldives faces from sea level rise.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
It's the spirit of the season and I hate to bring some down, but there aint nuttin gonna happen to stop climate change, write all the bills you want, people see this and aint gonna buy into it, just the way it is.
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Quoting robodave:
1) Solar activity is not expected to reach a strong maximum.
2) CO2 emissions are 'sky high' - not news
3) blah balh blah

About 3.. Your post is a lot of prognosticating. I got nauseous.


First of all, I did not number the points? Also, solar activity is expected to reach a maximum around 2012, and I mean the CO2 emissions will start rising again after being fairly stable due to the economic depression.


Quoting atmoaggie:

Now, wait just a minute. Didn't you pound the methane clathrates have been releasing tons of methane to the atmosphere bit just a couple of days ago? Maybe I misunderstood, but it sure didn't read like they had stopped doing so...


Methane clathrate releases were first observed in 2008, but methane concentrations stopped rising around 2006, so this new release could cause methane concentrations to start rising again.


Quoting toontown:
Quoting AstroHurricane001

"I am from Canada, and this country just got the Fossil of the Year award again! When will the insanity end?!"

Is that as useful and practical as People's Choice Award or is it more like a Golden Globe or a 'Teen Choice thing ??


No, it means Canada has done the most to block progress at the Copenhagen talks.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
I cant help but laugh at those people under water signing. Just make themselves look even more like a joke. It's all fun and games boys and girls, lets play underwater LMFAO.

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Dang. NotsoMerry Christmas in store...and these people moved up here after losing their house to Katrina. They obviously are somewhat wealthy, but I cannot imagine the house going up in flames being easy to swallow, regardless.
(this is about a mile from my house)

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Merry Christmas everyone :0). I put together a Christmas blog, for anyone who'd like to check it out, the link is below:

Link
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting AstroHurricane001

"I am from Canada, and this country just got the Fossil of the Year award again! When will the insanity end?!"

Is that as useful and practical as People's Choice Award or is it more like a Golden Globe or a 'Teen Choice thing ??
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AstroHurricane001:
methane concentrations have stabilized

Now, wait just a minute. Didn't you pound the methane clathrates have been releasing tons of methane to the atmosphere bit just a couple of days ago? Maybe I misunderstood, but it sure didn't read like they had stopped doing so...
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:
Currently atmospheric aerosol concentrations are still high, solar activity is at a low, CO2 concentrations are barely increasing, the economy is down, methane concentrations have stabilized, and global temperatures have not increased for the past 5 years. However, in the next five years that could all change. Aerosols are expected to decrease slightly due to better pollution control, solar activity is expected to go from prolonged minimum to strong maximum, CO2 emissions are likely to pick up, the economy is expected to recover, methane is expected to increase from cows, rice farming, garbage, melting permafrost and methane clathrates, El Nino is expected to pick up, and positive feedbacks will likely take hold, so as a result, global temperatures are likely to increase once again. I predict that by 2014, global temperature rise will break the 1C mark since 1900, so if we want a future for generations ahead then individuals need to start taking action and to inspire others to do the same thing.
1) Solar activity is not expected to reach a strong maximum.
2) CO2 emissions are 'sky high' - not news
3) blah balh blah

About 3.. Your post is a lot of prognosticating. I got nauseous.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


...they lead the world in ...well...in being north of the United States...


I am from Canada, and this country just got the Fossil of the Year award again! When will the insanity end?!
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
Quoting atmoaggie:
Interesting that we should bring up Canada, CO2, and CFCs in the same post when there is new research being published about CFCs' role in climate change by Canadians...

In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs - compounds once widely used as refrigerants - and cosmic rays - energy particles originating in outer space - are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports.

"My findings do not agree with the climate models that conventionally thought that greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, are the major culprits for the global warming seen in the late 20th century," Lu said. "Instead, the observed data show that CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays most likely caused both the Antarctic ozone hole and global warming. These findings are totally unexpected and striking, as I was focused on studying the mechanism for the formation of the ozone hole, rather than global warming."

His conclusions are based on observations that from 1950 up to now, the climate in the Arctic and Antarctic atmospheres has been completely controlled by CFCs and cosmic rays, with no CO2 impact.

"Most remarkably, the total amount of CFCs, ozone-depleting molecules that are well-known greenhouse gases, has decreased around 2000," Lu said. "Correspondingly, the global surface temperature has also dropped. In striking contrast, the CO2 level has kept rising since 1850 and now is at its largest growth rate."

http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=8012


Right or wrong as to relative contribution, another piece to a very incomplete puzzle.

(Funded by petro-chem? LOL.)

"in order to dramatize the threat sea level rise poses to their country"
So we decided that more drama was needed here by sharing it? Well, it's your blog...at least you see it for what it is.

Worth repeating. The science is not settled by any means.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Currently atmospheric aerosol concentrations are still high, solar activity is at a low, CO2 concentrations are barely increasing, the economy is down, methane concentrations have stabilized, and global temperatures have not increased for the past 5 years. However, in the next five years that could all change. Aerosols are expected to decrease slightly due to better pollution control, solar activity is expected to go from prolonged minimum to strong maximum, CO2 emissions are likely to pick up, the economy is expected to recover, methane is expected to increase from cows, rice farming, garbage, melting permafrost and methane clathrates, El Nino is expected to pick up, and positive feedbacks will likely take hold, so as a result, global temperatures are likely to increase once again. I predict that by 2014, global temperature rise will break the 1C mark since 1900, so if we want a future for generations ahead then individuals need to start taking action and to inspire others to do the same thing.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2839
Quoting Floodman:


LOL...what is it with you and Canada, man?


...they lead the world in ...well...in being north of the United States...
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Quoting presslord:
Canada...proving itself once again to be the Antonio Salieri of geopolitical leadership and influence...


LOL...what is it with you and Canada, man?
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Given that Canada has as much (or more oil) than Saudi Arabia and that oil is bad, we understand that we are now bad. We bad, eh!!

We would be happy to reduce or eliminate oil exports either indirectly, by increasing production taxes, or directly, by production quota. This also applies to natural gas.

Please advise how you wish us to proceed.

Note that these actions should not drastically affect our situation given that we have a stable banking system, universal health care, and no housing bubble. The price of electrical and maple syrup exports will unfortunately have to increase to make up any shortfalls.
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Quoting atmoaggie:


Umm, what I remember about CFCs is that Freon 12 has an atmospheric residence time (lifetime of average molecule) of 100 years...


I beleive you're right (I was very interested in the effects of CFCs on atmospheric structures...imagine that)...
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Quoting presslord:
Unfortunately, if we wait until a disaster is obviously imminent, we will have far less time to prevent a disaster than we had for the ozone depletion crisis, since CO2 stays in the air for decades to centuries.

well worth repeating...


Umm, what I remember about CFCs is that Freon 12 has an atmospheric residence time (lifetime of average molecule) of 100 years...
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I saw a long range forecast on Monday,mentioning a system in the carribean moving up into the Bahamas.
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Thanks, Dr. Masters...Merry Christmas to you and your family from Fort Worth!
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Quite a big blow up of convection south of Jamaica, heading for Haiti...

I wonder if stormy weather get all the way to the Turks & Caicos?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Interesting that we should bring up Canada, CO2, and CFCs in the same post when there is new research being published about CFCs' role in climate change by Canadians...

In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs - compounds once widely used as refrigerants - and cosmic rays - energy particles originating in outer space - are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports.

"My findings do not agree with the climate models that conventionally thought that greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, are the major culprits for the global warming seen in the late 20th century," Lu said. "Instead, the observed data show that CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays most likely caused both the Antarctic ozone hole and global warming. These findings are totally unexpected and striking, as I was focused on studying the mechanism for the formation of the ozone hole, rather than global warming."

His conclusions are based on observations that from 1950 up to now, the climate in the Arctic and Antarctic atmospheres has been completely controlled by CFCs and cosmic rays, with no CO2 impact.

"Most remarkably, the total amount of CFCs, ozone-depleting molecules that are well-known greenhouse gases, has decreased around 2000," Lu said. "Correspondingly, the global surface temperature has also dropped. In striking contrast, the CO2 level has kept rising since 1850 and now is at its largest growth rate."

http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=8012


Right or wrong as to relative contribution, another piece to a very incomplete puzzle.

(Funded by petro-chem? LOL.)

"in order to dramatize the threat sea level rise poses to their country"
So we decided that more drama was needed here by sharing it? Well, it's your blog...at least you see it for what it is.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
As was the case with the battle over the CFCs and the ozone layer, I expect it will take a obvious imminent climate change disaster to motivate governments to take strong action. I believed in September 2007 that such a disaster had occurred, when the Arctic ice cap lost more than half of its area, compared to levels observed in the early 1950s. I was astounded at the nonchalance the event earned in the press and among politicians. But, in hindsight I should not have been surprised, since the stakes are very much higher than the battle to ban CFCs--now we are talking about the fossil fuel industry, the very basis for our modern industrialized society. A very big, very obvious disaster in the making will probably be needed to motivate action. Our climate is certainly capable of generating such an event in the coming decade. Unfortunately, if we wait until a disaster is obviously imminent, we will have far less time to prevent a disaster than we had for the ozone depletion crisis, since CO2 stays in the air for decades to centuries.

well worth repeating...
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thats so cool.
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One certain legacy is that by focusing on CO2 as a green house gas and not on CO2 as a conductivity variant which then affects cloud behaviors and their heat trapping or releasing or storm making abilities, the legacy will be seen in retrospect as this is understood to be a total failure. For instance, the concern expressed by photo ops underwater in scuba gear fails to appreciate that it should be under a half mile of ice from a super storm which will kill and displace billions. The science has GOT to get to mechanism before policy. Just a travisty of science.
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Canada...proving itself once again to be the Antonio Salieri of geopolitical leadership and influence...
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Merry Christmas!!!
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Merry Christmas Dr. Masters to you and your's from New Orleans.
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Thanks Doc, Merry Christmas!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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