When I mentioned in my last post, that the IPCC is requiring that the per capita CO2 emissions on this planet peak and start to decline soon, I should mention that I don't actually know if the IPCC have specifically made those recommendations. However, I arrived at that conclusion after reviewing their data, so I thought I would share it with you.
This also relates to the discussion of a carbon tax vs. a trading system. In a carbon tax situation, the price of the carbon is fixed, and the amount of carbon is let to float. This is good when it is important to know the likely impact on the economy, but not so good if you want to know the effectiveness of the CO2 reduction. The other approach is to set a level of CO2 reduction required, and let the price float. This is good if you want to constrain CO2 production to known levels, but not so good if you want to know the effect on the economy. One thing discussed in Australia is the notion of a "safety valve" - ie, a cap on the price of carbon. The name "safety valve" clearly shows a bias to the economy and making sure it is "safe". If the price of CO2 is very high, it could be for a good reason - that the levels of CO2 emissions are still too high, and greater economic forces are needed to come down, but, as I said, the language of "safety valve" is biased towards economic performance, not emissions control.
Nevertheless, let's get back to the issue of determining when per capita CO2 emissions need to peak and fall. The book, "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet" by Mark Lynas discusses various effects that each one degree increase in temperature for the planet can mean. The great concern isn't just the global warming, it is the risk that one, or more, positive feedback triggers can occur, which would greatly affect our planet and dramatically hinder our ability to do anything. These positive feedback events include the melting of the polar icecaps (reducing the reflectiveness of the Earth and causing the Earth to heat up more), the methane release of thawing permafrost, the burning of the Amazon, etc. The link I provided is actually a summary of the book from The Guardian, and is an interesting read.
The end result is that we don't really want to increase temperatures past two degrees increase, otherwise we end up triggering the "tipping point" events which lead to runaway destruction. So, now let's turn to the IPCC for some charts. This paper from Bert Metz shows the temperature rise from various emission scenarios. The two graphs of interest are below.
Now, looking at the second graph first, we see that pretty much anything past A1, A2, or B is certainly going to result in a long-term temperature rise of three degrees or more. If we want to avoid this, we need to follow emissions profiles for A1 or A2 (or, at the most reckless, B).
Now we turn our attention to the first graph. We see that for A1, A2 and B, the emissions all peak at similar times (around 2020). The only difference between the different scenarios is the rate of decline in CO2 emissions. So, 2020 - since it is now 2007, this means that we have to begin an actual decline in emissions in the next 13 years - yes?
However, this is where the ever growing population that I discussed a few months ago comes back into play. The population is ever increasing! So, for the population simply to continue with the same rate of CO2 emission, in an increasing population situation, means that the per capita CO2 emissions need to drop. Therefore, the per capita emissions need to begin to decline sooner than 13 years, maybe closer to 10.
Ten years. Ten years ago was 1997 and the handover of Hong Kong to China. Ten years ago was the death of Princess Diana. Ten years ago I joined an exciting fuel cell company, Ballard Power Systems, in hopes of helping its mission of having the "Power to Change the World". Ten years seems like a long time in some respects, but an absolutely terrifyingly short time in others. We don't need to slow down the growth rate of emissions, we need to slow down our actual rate of emissions, and continue to decrease our rate of emissions. We're driving towards a brick wall and discussing weather we should have a foot fully on the accelerator, or less fully on the accelerator...we've got only ten years to look for the brake. Unfortunately, we're not driving in an easily stopped sports car either, we're on the lumbering freight train called the global economic system. The demand for solutions cannot be greater.