Negative emissions needed for a safe climate: World Watch Institute
The latest State of the World report from the globally respected World Watch Institute is one of the highest-profile and credible calls for emergency action on climate change yet released.
The report concludes that the old scientific and environmental target of constraining warming to 2C is now well out of date and that we must do everything we can to bring warming back to no more than 1C if we are to pass on a safe climate to those who come after us. It makes it clear that those who think we can get away with stabilising CO2 equivalents at 550 parts per million are knowingly condemning the planet to catastrophe.
Bill Hare’s excellent chapter which goes through the science step by step includes an excellent metaphor for the situation we find ourselves in:
The jet plane metaphor is again helpful. Faced with a dire in-flight emergency, it would be safest to be on the ground immediately. In the real world, however, it takes time to prepare the aircraft, get into a safe configuration for descent and landing, and find a safe runway to land on. Otherwise the outcome would be an unmitigated disaster— the plane would crash.
In other words, the only safe level of emissions is zero (in fact, below zero, as he goes on to explain), therefore the only truly scientifically justifiable emissions target is to get to zero immediately. However, we know that that is technically impossible to achieve (forget political or economic constraints, it’s just not actually possible). So we need to set ourselves on the pathway that will get us there as fast and effectively as possible.
That is why the Australian Greens have adopted a policy that Australia should target net zero carbon emissions as soon as feasible, and no later than 2050.
Other chapters of the State of the World report look into how this can be achieved, with an emergency shift from coal to zero emissions renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, electrifying transport with renewable power, changing agricultural practices to increase soil carbon storage, protecting forests and much more. One of the most interesting sections is about how global society can actually get to negative emissions which, as Hare explains, will be needed in order to suck carbon out of the atmosphere to get carbon concentrations lower than they currently are.
This report makes a mockery of the Rudd/Wong white paper. The day after the white paper was released, Penny Wong to ABC AM’s Lyndal Curtis that:
the Greens want carbon neutrality, that is, no net emissions by 2050, at the latest. Which is, frankly, I’m not sure how they propose to get there – to be carbon neutral by 2050. So obviously if we’re going to have a discussion with them we’d need to understand how on earth Bob Brown proposes to get there.
Well, Minister, this report backs the Greens to the hilt. I strongly recommend that you, and everyone else interested in the future of the planet, read this report.