THREE YEARS LEFT
REAL Sustainability joined this Just Stop Oil webinar on climate reality on 13 March 2022 with two key speakers:
Dr Charles Fletcher – Chairperson of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission
Professor Sir David King – formerly Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Special Representative for Climate Change and now member of Climate Crisis Advisory Group.
DR CHARLES FLETCHER
Charles started by talking about the pivotal decade in the climate crisis and the parallel and overlapping crises of biodiversity loss, disease and human equality. Data from the last 6 years suggests we are seeing an acceleration in temperature rise. There is also an acceleration in the rate of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. More than half of anthropogenic CO2 emissions have occurred since 1988. Despite CO2 emissions falling 5.4% associated with COVID pandemic, levels have since increased back to the record-setting levels of 2019. The actual policies of nations (as opposed to pledges) mean we are on a pathway to 3-3.5oC compared to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5oC. However, studies show that emissions are under-reported by about 23% and methane emissions from the energy sector are 70% higher than official figures. Over the last decade around 86% of emissions are derived from the result of burning fossil fuels and about 14% a result of land use practices. Of the total emissions around 46% go into the atmosphere, about 31% is absorbed by photosynthesis and 23% dissolved in the oceans producing acidification. Unfortunately we’re seeing the degradation of the terrestrial biome. As temperatures increase plant respiration, which emits CO2 increases and we are approaching this tipping point. This is also not accounted for in national policies. It is now likely that the Amaxon is a net source of CO2.
Climate change and expanding human needs are leading to water and food security impacts. One quarter of humanity faces a water crisis every year. By 2050 wheat demand is projected to increase by 60% whereas the yield is expected to decrease by 15%. According to the World Bank, climate change could displace 206 million people by 2050. Since 1970 per capita consumption has increased by 59% much of which has come at the expense of the natural world. Charles talked about the changes occurring that are resulting in increased risk of pandemics. Disease, environmental damage, climate change and human inequality form an amplifying feedback where disadvantaged groups suffer disproportionately.
PROFESSOR SIR DAVID KING
David talked about the rise of the middle class globally and the associated increase in meat consumption and therefore methane production (from livestock). If we look at CO2 equivalent (including methane and other GHGs), we are already at over 500 ppm. There has been an amplification of temperature change in the arctic reaching an average of 3oC compared to about 1.3 oC globally. This is causing accelerated ice melt, increase methane release from permafrost and changes to the jet stream (which pushes cold air towards Europe and draws hot, equatorial air north causing heatwaves where they would not normally be expected).
Loss of the ice from Greenland will increase sea level by about 6.5 m with devastating impacts to coastal cities. Methane is about 120-130 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. If there are significant amounts of methane emitted we could see temperature increases of 5 or 10oC which is catastrophic. David proposed four key actions for repairing the climate:
- Deep and rapid reduction in emissions in a manner that is equitable to all of humanity.
- Removal of excess GHG from the atmosphere with a goal of achieving less than 350 ppm CO2 equivalent by 2100.
- Repair the north pole region (for example by maintaining ice by mimicking nature using white cloud cover).
- Promote agile political responses beyond the COP process and investment responses.