Friday, 30 October 2015

Climate Change: Who's doing their part and who isn't?

This map came out a decade ago:
Global Temperature rise
Cartogram of national climate contributions (density-equalized map) (Gastner and Newman 2004). Here, the geographic area of each country has been scaled such that the coloured area is proportional to its climate contribution. The colour scale shows the amount by which a country’s size is expanded or contracted relative to its original size. Source: Matthews et al.

New research maps countries' contributions to global temperature rise » TckTckTck | The Global Call for Climate Action
National contributions to observed globalwarming: Environmental Research Letters 

The latest from the New Economics Foundation asks a few questions:

Energy round-up: the four questions we should ask

Photo credit:   rueike

New Economics Foundation

With major climate negotiations in Paris fast approaching we now have a good idea of where participating counties stand on cutting emissions.

Today, the U.N presents its overall report on individual nations’ climate pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Unfortunately the pledges have so far fallen short: despite covering countries that represent over 90% of global emissions, taken together they don’t add up to the cuts required to avoid disastrous climate change and stay within 2 degrees of global warming.

While business-as-usual would see a 4.5 degrees rise in temperature, current proposals would only reduce warming to 3.5 degrees, according to Climate Interactive.

If the INDCs are inadequate the question then becomes: who is doing their part and who isn’t? But this isn’t easy to answer – it very much depends on the following issues.
  1. How should we measure emissions? The tendency is to focus on large emitters like the US and China, but to some extent this is a measure of their population size. Instead it seems reasonable to start from a point of country obligations on a per person basis. And while emissions are usually measured as within a country’s borders, there is a measurement problem around whether global trade should be taken into account. For example, since 1990 annual emissions in the UK have fallen by 25% but UK consumption-based emissions have only fallen by 7%.
  1. Should historic emissions matter? Many countries have polluted, and continue to pollute, more greenhouse gas emissions that others. We’ve previously pointed to a tally showing that the UK leads in the world in historic per capita emissions. India often argues that it should face lesser obligations than those nations whose development has created the problem.                       
  1. Who has the ability to reduce emissions? Some countries say the onus should be on those most capable of doing so. This is not just a point about relative levels of emissions – it being easier to reduce from 10 to 9 tonnes/capita than from 1 to 0 tonnes/capita – but also due to economic development and the tremendous economic inequality between countries.
  1. Who will climate change hurt the most? Climate change costs are not only in lessening emissions (mitigation) but also in dealing with the impacts (adaptation). Research continues to show that the impacts of climate change will not fall evenly across the globe (see this week’s infographic). The sad reality is that those who have contributed the most to climate change will be impacted the least, and as we’ve pointed out, are also the most likely to be climate sceptics.
Considering just these four questions gives a pretty good idea of why climate negotiations are so complex. Attempts have been made by Climate Action Tracker to judge the INDCs against these issues and Climate Equity Reference allows you to adjust the weighting yourself.

Interestingly, some perennial favourites of our Happy Planet Index like Bhutan and Costa Rica top the list for climate action while some familiar climate foes like Canada, Australia and Russia end up at the bottom.

Will the upcoming talks bring a climate deal that breaks the trend of disappointment? Recent changes to some of these climate foes’ governments are encouraging, so let’s hope so.

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In other news…

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Energy for cooling set to overtake energy for heating
With global power consumption for air conditioning forecast to surge 33-fold by 2100, energy for cooling is poised to overtake energy for heating by 2060. This growth is driven by incomes in the developing world rising and urbanisation advancing. At the moment the US uses more energy for cooling than the total energy use of Africa.

Global warming could make the Hajj impossible
Many people living in the Gulf already live their lives largely inside air conditioned buildings. One exception to this is in construction, which often employs foreign workers, but a new study has drawn attention to another case: the ritual of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Given current climate projections, the annual Hajj, already difficult in current temperatures, may become impossible by the end of the century.

Food, climate change, and the refugee crisis
The debate about teasing out the cause and effect of climate change and increase in the number of refugees continues. Food security is the key linkage according to a joint blog by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (ISI).

Are we already banking on geo-engineering?
According to IPCC modelling a 2 degree target would require a drop of 40-70% in global emissions by 2050 and net-zero (or negative) emissions by 2100. In a new article in Nature, Kevin Anderson explains that the IPCC scenarios for these emission reductions typically rely on the large-scale and successful uptake of geo-engineering technologies. Without geo-engineering net-zero emissions may need to come as soon as 2050.

More downward revisions of solar costs
The UK government’s Committee on Climate Change has updated its energy cost forecasts and solar and nuclear have been heavily revised from their latest estimate just four years ago. The 2020 forecast for solar PV has been cut in half and the 2030 forecast has been cut by two thirds. Chris Goodall has suggested this may not mean that the technology learning rate of 22% is off (for every doubling of installations costs fall by 22%) but that the rate at which solar is being installed globally is also consistently underestimated. Nuclear costs have been revised upwards.

Energy round-up: the four questions we should ask | New Economics Foundation

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