Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change

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The related terms "avoiding dangerous climate change" and "preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" date to 1995 and earlier, in the Second Assesment Report (SAR) of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific intergovernmental body which provides comprehensive assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and...

) and previous science it cites.

In 2002, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international organization estabished by treaty in 1992, adopted a formal Framework Convention policy. Its Article 2, "Objective," is:
"The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, 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." (emphasis added)


Avoiding dangerous climate change and similar, equivalent terms have continued in common usage in the policy community, scientific literature, and news media. The problem that arises is to decide what level of interference would lead to "dangerous" change.

Avoiding dangerous climate change in the current scientific context


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, recent science has shown that the weather, environmental and social impacts of 2°C rise are much greater than the earlier science indicated, and that impacts for a 1°C rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2°C rise. (The diagrams also show the effects expected for a temperature rise of as much as 5°C.) In a July 2011 speech, climate scientist Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson (scientist)
Professor Kevin Anderson is the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research; holds a joint chair in Energy and Climate Change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester and School of Environmental Sciences at University of East...

 explained that for this reason, avoiding dangerous climate in the conventional sense is no longer possible, because the temperature rise is already close to 1°C, with effects formerly assumed for 2°C. Moreover, Anderson's presentation demonstrates reasons why a temperature rise of 4°C by 2060 is a likely outcome, given the record to date of action on climate, economic realities, and short window of time remaining for limiting the average surface temperature rise to 2°C or even 3°C. He also states that 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.

The consequences of failing to avoid dangerous climate change have been explored in two recent scientific conferences: the 4 degrees and beyond climate change conference
4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference
The 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference, subtitled Implications of a Global Climate Change of 4+ Degrees for People, Ecosystems and the Earth-system, was held 28-30 September 2009 at Oxford, United Kingdom. Implications of...

 held Oxford university it 2009; and the Four Degrees Or More? Australia in a Hot World held at the Univ. of Melbourne in July 2011.

A 2005 scientific symposium on avoiding dangerous climate change



"Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change: A Scientific Symposium on Stabilisation of Greenhouse Gases" was a 2005 international conference that examined the link between atmospheric greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 concentration, and the 2 °C (3.6 °F) ceiling on global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 thought necessary to avoid the most serious effects of global warming
Effects of global warming
This article is about the effects of global warming and climate change. The effects, or impacts, of climate change may be physical, ecological, social or economic. Evidence of observed climate change includes the instrumental temperature record, rising sea levels, and decreased snow cover in the...

. Previously this had generally been accepted as being 550 ppm
Parts-per notation
In science and engineering, the parts-per notation is a set of pseudo units to describe small values of miscellaneous dimensionless quantities, e.g. mole fraction or mass fraction. Since these fractions are quantity-per-quantity measures, they are pure numbers with no associated units of measurement...

.

The conference took place under the United Kingdom's
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 presidency of the G8
G8
The Group of Eight is a forum, created by France in 1975, for the governments of seven major economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1997, the group added Russia, thus becoming the G8...

, with the participation of around 200 'internationally renowned' scientists from 30 countries. It was chaired by Dennis Tirpak
Dennis Tirpak
Dennis Tirpak is an expert on Climate Change.He was the director of Global Climate Change Policy at the United States Environmental Protection Agency for ten years. He was the Coordinator of Science and Technology at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for nine years...

 and hosted by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
The Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change — named in honour of George Hadley — is part of, and based at the headquarters of the Met Office in Exeter...

 in Exeter
Exeter
Exeter is a historic city in Devon, England. It lies within the ceremonial county of Devon, of which it is the county town as well as the home of Devon County Council. Currently the administrative area has the status of a non-metropolitan district, and is therefore under the administration of the...

, from 1 February to 3 February.

Objectives of the symposium:
The conference was called to bring together the latest research into what would be necessary to achieve the objective of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development , informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992...

:
to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system
.


It was also intended to encourage further research in the area. An initial assessment of the subject had been included in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report
IPCC Third Assessment Report
The IPCC Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001, is an assessment of available scientific and socio-economic information on climate change by the IPCC. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN's World Meteorological Organization ".....

; however, the topic had received relatively little international discussion.

Specifically, the conference explored three issues:
  • For different levels of climate change what are the key impacts, for different regions and sectors and for the world as a whole?
  • What would such levels of climate change imply in terms of greenhouse gas stabilisation concentrations and emission pathways required to achieve such levels?
  • What options are there for achieving stabilisation of greenhouse gases at different stabilisation concentrations in the atmosphere, taking into account costs and uncertainties?


The symposium's conclusions:

Among the conclusions reached, the most significant was a new assessment of the link between the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the increase in global temperature levels. Some researchers have argued that the most serious consequences of global warming
Effects of global warming
This article is about the effects of global warming and climate change. The effects, or impacts, of climate change may be physical, ecological, social or economic. Evidence of observed climate change includes the instrumental temperature record, rising sea levels, and decreased snow cover in the...

 might be avoided if global average temperatures rose by no more than 2 °C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels (1.4 °C above present levels). It had generally been assumed that this would occur if greenhouse gas concentrations rose above 550 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent
Carbon dioxide equivalent
Carbon dioxide equivalent and Equivalent carbon dioxide are two related but distinct measures for describing how much global warming a given type and amount of greenhouse gas may cause, using the functionally equivalent amount or concentration of carbon dioxide as the reference.- Global warming...

 by volume. This concentration was, for example, informing government in certain countries, including the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

.

The conference concluded that, at the level of 550 ppm, it was likely that 2 °C would be exceeded, according to the projections of more recent climate model
Climate model
Climate models use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice. They are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the climate system to projections of future climate...

s. Stabilising greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 concentrations at 450 ppm would only result in a 50% likelihood of limiting global warming to 2 °C, and that it would be necessary to achieve stabilisation below 400 ppm to give a relatively high certainty of not exceeding 2 °C.

The conference also claimed that, if action to reduce emissions is delayed by 20 years, rates of emission reduction may need to be 3 to 7 times greater to meet the same temperature target.

Reactions to the symposium:

As a result of changing opinion on the 'safe' atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, to which this conference contributed, the UK Government changed the target in the Climate Change Act from 60% to 80% by 2050.

See also


  • 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference
    4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference
    The 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference, subtitled Implications of a Global Climate Change of 4+ Degrees for People, Ecosystems and the Earth-system, was held 28-30 September 2009 at Oxford, United Kingdom. Implications of...

  • Action on climate change
    Action on climate change
    Individual and political action on climate change can take many forms, most of which have the ultimate goal of limiting and/or reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, toward avoiding dangerous climate change.-Political action:...

  • Climate change mitigation scenarios
    Climate change mitigation scenarios
    Climate change mitigation scenarios are possible futures in which global warming is reduced by deliberate actions, such as a comprehensive switch to energy sources other than fossil fuels...

  • Environmental impact of aviation
  • Hypermobility (travel)
    Hypermobility (travel)
    The term hypermobility in regard to travelers arose around 1980 and is a concept that has increased in useage since the early 1990s: Damette ; Hepworth and Ducatel ; Whitelegg ; Lowe ; van der Stoep ; Shields ; Cox ; Adams ; Khisty and Zeitler ; Gössling et al. ; and Mander & Randles...

  • Index of climate change articles

Further reading

  • Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, Editors: Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Wolfgang Cramer, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Tom Wigley, and Gary Yohe
    Gary Yohe
    Gary Wynn Yohe is the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of economics at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, and Director of the John E. Andrus Public Affairs Center at Wesleyan. He holds a PhD from Yale University....

    , Cambridge University Press, February 2006, ISBN 9780521864718 DOI: 10.2277/0521864712.

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