Friday, October 19, 2012

Fossil Fuels and Staying Within the 2 Degree Limit

The UK−based Carbon Tracker Initiative estimates that oil, coal and gas companies have five times as much carbon in their reserves as is safe to burn. If burned, our planet would heat up at by at least 5 to 6 degrees Celsius, well beyond the 2 degrees Celsius limit agreed to by the international community in 2009. As Bill McKibben explained, we can only burn 565 gigatons more carbon before going over the UN-sanctioned 2 degree upper limit for warming. The 2 degree concept was central to the "IPCC Second Assessment: Climate Change 1995" published by the International Panel on Climate Change. In 2002, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), incorporated the concept as the focus of its formal Framework Convention policy:

"ARTICLE 2. OBJECTIVE. stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

Limiting the average global surface temperature increase of 2°C over the pre-industrial average has, since the 1990s, been commonly regarded as an adequate means of avoiding dangerous climate change, in science and policy making. However, the temperature rise is already close to 1.4°C, and many believe a temperature rise of 4°C by 2060 is a likely outcome of a business as usual approach. given the record to date of inaction on climate, economic realities, and short window of time remaining for limiting the average surface temperature rise to 2°C or even 3°C. A 4°C rise would likely be an unstable state, leading to further increases in following decades regardless of mitigation measures that may be taken.

We must collectively understand that to avoid the most dangerous tipping points, fossil fuels must remain underground. At least one study indicates that we are nearing dangerous tipping points that will spell disaster.

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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