Already Old News: Copenhagen

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 6:04 AM GMT on January 07, 2010

Already Old News: Copenhagen

Something of an unexpected blogging hiatus started with that blizzard. This is my comeback.

This is my look back at the Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen. Having written a whole bunch of blogs before and during the meeting, fortunately or unfortunately, I have stuff to look back on. I can even cherry pick my own words. So I made a political prediction“well, I imagine that the machinations of legislation and lobbying will push climate change legislation close enough to the mid-term election that it will languish next to health care and Afghanistan and the economy. I think that there will be climate legislation, but I bet that it will be early in year 4 of the Obama administration, with it’s passage dependent on what Obama’s re-election looks like.”

We have had the Copenhagen Bubble. There was all of the press and political buildup and, now, about a month later, it’s hard to find much about Copenhagen and climate change in the news. The conference has been declared both a success and a failure. In fact, the same outcome, a nonbinding “accord,” might be a success or a failure depending on your point of view. If you are an advocacy group looking to somehow limit the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to, say, 350 ppm, the meeting started and ended as abject failure. If you are China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, then the meeting is a success.

I am personally disappointed in the tangible results of the meeting. In one big way, I feel there was a step backwards, and that is with regard to trees - more on trees later. The political lay of the land is that the European Union and Japan have been aggressively trying to address climate change. The United States, an essential player, has on the Presidential level been from one extreme to the other, and the political realities are such that my statement above looks rosy. China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, large, important, and economically growing countries, see global warming is less of a priority than economic growth. (The same can be said about the United States as well, perhaps, in reality, also, the European Union and Japan.) All will address climate change through technological development, as well as grow with the use of fossil fuels. There is a set of islands nations, which as one of my colleagues is prone to say at all possible moments, “the islands are sinking.” (OK, they’re not really sinking, they are flooding.) But these island nations and much of the rest of the world are poor, and they are not very powerful.

I don’t see that the U.S. will make changes to start on a path of significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. I do think that the U.S. will elevate climate change to a role that is more important in the Federal Agencies, but as far as strategies that reach across the economy to lead to actual reductions, there is no visible path towards reduction. Without the U.S., it will be difficult for the European Union and Japan to maintain their positions – the global economics are just too strong. Hence, the prospect of an effective, global approach to address greenhouse gas emissions and global warming in the next 5, maybe, 10 years is close to zero probability.

In the U.S., there will be continued pressure from local governments and advocacy groups to address climate change and energy security. I expect that some of the local initiatives will flourish and some will fade away. As is, perhaps, traditional in the U.S. these local initiatives will create an environment of heterogeneous regulation and commerce, and there will be demand for the level playing field of federal policy. If there is to be growing concern in the U.S. about global warming, then it will drop to “the people.” If companies and advocacy groups, which brand themselves with climate change, are rewarded with our dollars then that will make a big difference. If people who “believe” that we need to address climate change vote and buy with that belief as a priority, then that will make a big difference.

Global warming steps back to a problem of the greater good, which is, in our world, a relatively weak position.

Pundits, politicians, and even dumb scientists like me figured out that nothing big was going to come out of Copenhagen. The success that can be counted is that there really was very little disagreement about whether or not the Earth was warming due to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. There were a couple of countries here and there on the science, for a day or two, but they were so marginalized that they were irrelevant. This success is carried a small step forward because with the acceptance of global warming as a reality, everyone agrees that something needs to be done. And there is a lot being done – but it remains voluntary and, largely, at the vagaries of economic and business viability.

My disappointment is that more was not brought forward about doing the smart things that matter in the short term. A still outstanding example of those smart things are summarized in Pacala and Socolow’s (see here) body of work that talk about a portfolio of paths that, using existing technology, can substantively reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Again, there is not a policy effort to promote these short-term, smart paths towards stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and sustainability in general.

The only presence of nuclear power that I saw in Copenhagen, were statements that nuclear power was a bad thing. I think there is copious evidence to the contrary, and I recognize a whole set of ancillary issues. Most surprising to me was what seemed to be the collapse of efforts to provide valuation of the carbon dioxide in standing forests. Prior to the conference, the effort called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) was one of the most lively and exciting parts of the solution space being discussed (see here). While I think that the role of trees to remove carbon dioxide is limited, if all of the carbon that is in trees is released it will greatly increase emissions. Avoided deforestation is important. The position that seemed to have evolved from the meeting almost invited people to cut down the forests before there is regulation. (Did I read this wrong?)

So what is there going forward? The United Nations approach to develop something that looks like consensus policy is not a fast track forward. There is a subset of about 20 nations that account for the vast majority of emissions. It is possible that these nations can come to some sort of agreement that will matter. To me, there looks like some room for these countries to move forward, but I don’t see anyway to avoid 500 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. ("Pre-industrial" carbon dioxide about 280 ppm, currently about 390 ppm.) The accord called to set a 2 degree maximum of the global average warming of the surface, which is a very fuzzy target, and again, I don’t see how we can possibly avoid 2 degrees.

I expect that we will see continued warming of the planet. As there are record storms and record insurance claims, the need to address global warming will become more and more demanded. With or without global warming, there will be societal disruptions; they are a fact of life. Inattention to global warming will increase the disruptions. Some will adapt, some will not. We stand to waste the opportunities offered to us by our ability to observe, simulate, and project the physical climate system. The success or failure of Copenhagen will depend on what really happens in the next 12 months; the jury is not, yet, in. It is always after the bubble bursts that the real work starts – when the cause has lost its fashion.


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from the EPA

"Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the Earth's atmosphere in addition to being emitted through human activities. This natural Ccarbon cycle includes carbon dioxide used in plants during photosynthesis and the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the oceans.

The primary natural processes that release CO2 into the atmosphere (sources) and that remove CO2 from the atmosphere (sinks) are:

Animal and plant respiration, by which oxygen and nutrients are converted into CO2 and energy, and plant photosynthesis by which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in plant biomass;

Ocean-atmosphere exchange, in which the oceans absorb and release CO2 at the sea surface; and

Volcanic eruptions, which release carbon from rocks deep in the Earth's crust (this source is very small)."

if you are fat, stay close to an elephant.
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Been to China? The air is so fouled up with coal dust, the government will kill them all with cancer in two generations,anyway.
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2 ft above sealevel won't toutch a single seawall on earth
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My point is that nature far greater than man. It's power is far greater than nulear bombs, germ warfare, elctrical manupulation. Man is PUNY! Try stopping a sunami or earthquke,hurricane or tornado. Nature rebounds in its own time.
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1970' cooling. Scientific concensus.OkeeDokee. Maybe nature has a way of cleaning up itself in a way that we don't fully understand. Volcanos spew out more crap than we have since the industrial revolution began.
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Please plant a tree for my hero, ALgore$$$$$. It takes lots of green to fuel his private jet!
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that is the height of the tiny tides of the Gulf of Mexico coast.
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Ocean Area (335,258,000 sq km)

melt input: 150,000 cubic km, according to you

that would rise sea level by 4.47E-4 km (44.7 cm) or 17.6 inches or 1.4 feet

in 100 years, according to your 1,500 km3/yr rate.

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volume of the ocean: 1.3 billion cubic kilometres

quoting Simon:
Um, lets see. 1,500 cubic kilometers of ice melting a year for 100 years would yield 150,000 cubic kilometers of water

AHAH: drop in the bucket!!
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Um, lets see. 1,500 cubic kilometers of ice melting a year for 100 years would yield 150,000 cubic kilometers of water, not 50,000. You're off by 2/3, and the ocean would rise by 24", not 8". Adding to that--thermal expansion of the warming oceans, melting from the Antarctic Peninsula, melting from the west Antarctic ice sheet, and melting from mountain glaciers around the world.

but I would expect that all of you would get together, create some kind of bureau that puts out daily updates on climate, CO2 ppm etc and leave it at that

We already have all that: we have carbon dioxide tracked here: Link

and globally here: Link

And updates about climate science here: Link

and by climate scientist bloggers here: Link

Surely you knew about the carbon dioxide measuring sites? You said that such a site should be created--it has been on line for 15 years!

How can anyone be expected to be taken seriously in a climate change blog if they don't know these basic things?

You're an arrogant, aren't you? . It's actually 22 inches assuming tens times the rate discussed and unabated which it won't be.

You were very certain of what was going to happen at Copenhagen, weren't you.? Did things work out as you hoped?

You have a real problem dealing with this because you believe all others are ignorant. Truth is, you're the most ignorant person who posts here or you would have known what a waste Copenhagen was way before it convened.

Another poster has asked why we haven't seen any significant rising coastal waters on our own shores. Please explain.

The skeptics point out issue after issue that you can't deal with, so instead you attack us as people. You're a pretty pathetic figure.

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I'm just finding the blogging here. I have a question for the scientific minds contributing to this thread and these blogs. Is there evidence on any continent of coastal retreating due to sea rise? The island nation off of India was getting attention at Copenhagen for lack of attention to their dilemma. Is India's shores suffering a similar flooding by the sea? I don't hear any news of New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles, or Ports around the world complaining that their cities, docks, and infrastructure are being permanently flooded Venetian style from rising seas. A simple question I've wondered for sometime. Why never any mention that plate movements are causing these islands to become flooded? That would be a hypothesis I would put forth. And the effects of evaporation of melting ice as it comes into contact with warmer waters or atmosphere. These are skeptical questions I've never seen discussed or answered and I am truly curious. I look forward to your answers and comments.
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Quoting cyclonebuster:
Why doesn't anyone say anything about the subtropical cyclone hitting Greenland now?

On Greenland and the melting ice sheet, I found this article. Here are some excerpts:

"The second-largest ice sheet in the world (after Antarctica), if its entire 2.5 million cubic kilometres of ice were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 metres, or more than 23 feet…..
Until two or three years ago, it was thought that the break-up of the ice sheet might take 1,000 years or more but a series of studies and alarming observations since 2004 have shown the disintegration is accelerating and, as a consequence, sea level rise may be much quicker than anticipated……
Scientists estimate that, in 1996, glaciers deposited about 50 cubic km of ice into the sea. In 2005, it had risen to 150 cubic km of ice."

Now, Cyclone, if 150 cubic km were deposited into the sea and I increased that rate by 10 times, that would be 1,500 cu km per year. Given that there are 2.5 million cubic km in the ice sheet, what would happen over 100 year? That would be about 50,000 cu km or roughly 3% of the ice sheet. So that means the sea rise would be 3% of that 23 feet or 8 inches. That's over 100 years at ten times the current rate.

Cyclone, I think you should stop worrying about Greenland.
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To # 18 Rain over Greenland!!! in winter yet. As I said before this is a result of the THC conversion point moving further up the artic circle. you know the point where the warm water get dragged down to become a deep water current. There is no ice to block the warm surface current.
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And at least preserves something for future generations.

I mean really. This has been the weirdest argument.

The question is where do you keep coming up with this stuff. I acknowledged what you insist, that there is consensus. The science is complete as far as you and Dr. Rood are concerned.
Really, what the hell do you or Dr. Rood know about reducing emissions? What do you or Dr. Rood know about international diplomacy? What do you or Dr. Rood know about carbon emissions technology?

All I'm saying is why do climate scientists go around so concerned that the world won't deal with the issue unless they stay involved? Climatologists will not be the ones to solve the problem. Let then continue giving us the data and writing their articles, but, really, they should stay out of the diplomatic fray. It's not their business. If the world wants to solve the problem, it will. If it decides that it doesn't want to deal with it, so be it. The climatologists have given us their case and according to you and the rest that case is decided.

I gave you the EMS/heart surgeon as an example. How about the common meteorologist? Does he need to get involved in raising funds for additional snow plows? Give us the weather forecast and let city council deal with the snow removal.

I don't see anything about what I just said that goes against anything you have previously posted.
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Dr. Rood, here is where your problem lies. It is not for you or climate scientists to have much if anything to do with the solution. What do you know about solving the problem? If there is AGW the solution is to reduce emissions. What is it that you can add to that statement?

The rest is economics, politics and technological advancement that deals with reduction of emissions. What can climatologists add to that? So, why are there still so many of you guys involved with this issue? If a guy has a heart attack, do the EMS guys follow him through bypass surgery? I do not mean to diminish what climate science does, but if there is consensus and the issue is resolved, why are all you guys still hanging around?

I am not being facetious, but I would expect that all of you would get together, create some kind of bureau that puts out daily updates on climate, CO2 ppm etc and leave it at that. I suspect that the world will actually take care of itself as best it can. It seems to come up with new vaccines and other treatments as needed. The Cuyahoga River no longer burns and the fishing is pretty good in Lake Erie. Polio has been stopped. People smoke less, a far greater threat than global warming.

Just let go Dr. Rood.
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I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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