The IPCC’s 3rd Working Group has just released the final section of its 5th Assessment Report. Following WGI report on the science and WGII on impact, this one focuses on a response strategy.
The Report recalls that annual global emissions were 38 Gt. (billion tonnes) in 1990 and 49 Gt. in 2010. Some 40% of emissions since the ‘pre-industrial era’ (1750) have been emitted in the past 40 years. In short, things are extremely grim.
The Report proceeds to lay out a series of emission ‘pathways’ for the 21st century which the IPCC scientists identify for policy-makers to choose from. The four scenarios indicate annual emissions in the year 2100 vary from zero to 132 Gt. This is the critical contribution of Working Group III.
These emission levels are associated with consequences, of atmospheric carbon concentration and consequent average global temperature rise. The Report says that baseline scenarios without mitigation result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 to 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels.
Already the world has warmed 0.8°C, so the increase this century would be an additional 3 to 4°C. This kind of increase has been variously described as ‘dangerous’ to ‘catastrophic’ climate change.
These pathways are essentially global carbon budgets. The only one that avoids dangerous climate change is the lowest (RCP 2.6).
The Panel does not divvy up that budget, leaving that task to the policy-makers. IPCC chief, Rajendra Pachauri, describes this latest report as a ‘defining document’. The scientists, he says, are simply ‘photographers’ who offer snapshots of where humanity is, and where it might be heading with emissions and climate change. Their job, he says, is to ‘convince the public of the realities that are facing us’.
It is then for the policy-makers, the ‘navigators’, to determine our fate. And part of that fate is a formal recognition of the temperature threshold (2°C), the global budget (some 500 Gt.,) and – hardest of all – an equitable division of the global budget into national emission budgets.
So far so good; now let’s proceed from the global to the international. Here the going gets tough because, for the first time ever, the international community is obliged to agree on dividing up a global pie – the global atmospheric commons. Think-tanks are working on this – developing an ‘equity reference framework’. It is possible to do, intellectually.
But politically, that is another story, because historically nations have competed in international negotiations – trade-style – to get the best outcome for themselves. But with the commons, competition does not do it. You will not solve a global problem through having 195 countries each ‘punching above [their] weight’ – it is a logical impossibility. And so our international UNFCCC negotiations drag on, 19th-century style, failing to solve a 21st-century global problem.
Now let’s go from the international to the national. In all of this, is New Zealand doing its ‘fair share’ in the increasingly desperate task of curbing global emissions in time to avoid dangerous, and even catastrophic, climate change?
Leading Kiwi scientists on the IPCC say ‘no’. Their views resound with greater force than either a National MP (Minister Groser) saying ‘yes’ or a Green MP (me as opposition spokesperson) saying ‘no’.
See what they have to say:
Prof Ralph Sims (Massey University:
“Minister Groser states: ‘The emissions reduction opportunities available to other nations through conversion to renewables, mass public transport, and energy efficiency in industry have already been done or have far less scope in New Zealand.’ The IPCC mitigation report clearly shows this is far from correct.”
Dr. Bob Lloyd (Otago University):
“In international climate negotiations, New Zealand is regarded as a particularly tough negotiator. By ‘tough’, read ‘selfish’. Many other countries would regard New Zealand as not making a fair contribution to equitable global reductions. … [b]y avoiding short-term financial costs of substantial reductions, there is a substantial ethical issue here – of equity.”
Dr. Jim Renwick (Victoria University):
“New Zealand is as well-placed as any nation to lead the world on this, provided we have the political will. That appears to be lacking right now.”
This IPCC report is crunch time. Denialism is virtually dead but prevarication remains alive and well.
The National Government has been schizophrenically split between private denialism, public assurance, and official prevarication. Its ETS has been gutted to the level where gross emissions are encouraged and forest sequestration is turning to net emissions from deforestation. It has bickered, prevaricated and rationalised. Under National since 2009, our emissions have grown 20%.
So, what does the 5th IPCC Assessment Report of 2013/14 mean for New Zealand? There will be a Synthesis Report out in October. But having regard to the three reports now released, it means the following:
– Climate change will affect New Zealand negatively, and is doing so already. If current global emissions trends continue, such climate change will be dangerous and could be catastrophic.
– New Zealand’s record of emissions increases parallels the global emissions record, whereas our emissions were meant to decline between 1992 and 2012. New Zealand’s emissions projections over the next 30 years are even worse.
– The National Government’s five-year climate policy has consciously, and somewhat cynically, prevented us from doing our ‘fair share’ (in the collective effort by developed countries to reduce), and has accordingly damaged our international reputation.
Time for a change – before the Synthesis Report comes out….
At least we can then say things will begin to turn around.