Developed Nations Must Cut Emissions In Half By 2020, Says New Study

By Kelly Levin, via WRI Insights.

After a year of extreme weather events and recent studies outlining climate change’s impacts, it’s become increasingly clear that we must understand what emissions reduction pathways are necessary to avoid these risks. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) last Assessment Report, for example, outlined the emissions reductions needed from developed countries to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) consistent with limiting warming to 2°C.

Further research has continued to examine the global GHG emissions reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate change. And as countries implement existing policies and consider new ones, the scale of required emissions cuts is a fundamental question. In fact, it’s one of the most pressing questions facing the international climate change community.

One new study shows that we have to reduce emissions even more than scientists initially thought in order to avoid climate change’s worst impacts. A paper published in Energy Policy on February 20 by Michel den Elzen and colleagues examines new information on likely future emissions trajectories in developing countries. This includes recent clarification of assumptions and conditions related to developing country pledges. In addition, countries have also come forward with further information on their emissions projections. As a result, the report finds that developed countries must reduce their emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have a medium chance of limiting warming to 2°C, thus preventing some of climate change’s worst impacts.

This level of reductions is considerably higher than what the scientific community thought was necessary to meet the 2°C goal. The most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report laid out a recipe for a medium chance [1] of limiting warming to 2°C. This report — compiled by the world’s leading climate scientists — stated that developed countries would have to reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and developing country emissions would have to be reduced substantially from their business-as-usual emissions trajectories.

Are We on Track to Achieve These Reductions?

While the den Elzen and colleagues’ paper is just one of many studies on necessary levels of emissions reductions, it lays out a troubling issue: the world may need to reduce its emissions even more significantly than previously thought. The bad news is that we knew we were already far from a 25 to 40 percent reduction in developed countries by 2020. And in light of den Elzen’s new data, we are even further from a 50 percent reduction decline.

In the last few years, both developed and developing countries have come forward with emissions reduction pledges for 2020, and several initiatives have assessed whether meeting these pledges would achieve the level of ambition required. For example, an early WRI analysis found that emissions reductions from developed country pledges added up to only 12 to 18 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. We have since participated in the U.N. Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, which has found the gap between current pledges and what’s needed to limit warming to 2°C to be between 8 and 13 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. (For context, in 2005, emissions from the world’s cars, buses, and trucks were roughly 5 gigatonnes.) It is clear that the world is currently not on course to limit warming below 2°C unless it changes its energy and land use policies dramatically and quickly.

Meeting the 2 Degree Goal Will Require Ambitious and Immediate Action

The findings from this most recent study suggest that the challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult. But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, the study does show that a 2°C goal is still attainable — if we act ambitiously and immediately.

The early seeds of transformation we are seeing in Europe, the United States, and some developing countries need to be scaled up quickly (WRI recently laid out several policy recommendations for the United States to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions). At the same time, we need further financing and technology transfer to bend developing countries’ emissions trajectories. Equally important is for the international community to work together to identify additional opportunities for raising ambition. The UNFCCC negotiations have started a dialogue on this, but these conversations need to lead to action. WRI has outlined how “international clubs” could make a difference.

This research demonstrates that now more than ever, leaders must understand the risk of inaction and put in place ambitious, effective policies to build a low-carbon economy. The gap between current and necessary ambition is growing, as is the urgency of addressing global climate change.

[1] A 450 ppm CO2e goal is associated with a 26 to 78 percent risk of overshooting a 2ºC goal (Meinshausen 2005).

-– This piece was originally published at WRI Insights and was reprinted with permission.

74 Responses to Developed Nations Must Cut Emissions In Half By 2020, Says New Study

  1. Bill says:

    Sadly the 26 to 78 percent risk at 450 ppm is a 2005 published report reflecting the science of 3 to 5 years prior to that. It does not incorporate the newer assessments of sensitivities and feedbacks since then.

  2. Lore says:

    Yes, it can be done if we first;

    a) Park our cars and trucks and stop flying while turning to mass surface transport.

    b) Close most consumer outlets that depend on the importation of goods and services that travel farther then 1,500 miles. Making and using 80% of what we need locally.

    c) Begin to dismantle suburbia and recycle the old infrastructure for a more sustainable and densely populated city core leaving vast tracks of the countryside to revert back to its natural surroundings.

    d) Enact the one family, one child rule.

    e) Reduce our diets to just the basics, eliminating high cost, high protein meat and processed foods.

    f) Change our nature from the efforts towards accumulating capital with its things and stuff to a pure pursuit of furthering mind, body and spirit.

    If everyone can do all the above, we then have a fighting chance of cutting emissions by 50% in 7 years.

  3. Superman1 says:

    So, how much does this differ from what Anderson has been saying? And, isn’t it based on the much too high 2 C target that even Anderson excoriates, as well as climate models that exclude positive feedback mechanisms? If we use a more realistic target of 1 C, and estimate corrections for the effects of feedback mechanisms, aren’t we really talking about effectively eliminating fossil fuel use now?

  4. Superman1 says:

    In what other technical discipline would people do computations based on a self-acknowledged meaningless target, using known overly optimistic models, and then attempt to use the results to suggest policy?

  5. Bill says:

    Based on Wadsell’s 2012 Istanbul presentation, he suggests that 396 ppm equilibriates (assuming we are not in runaway mode anywhere along the way to equilibrium and we stop here at 396 ppm) at 4 C. Good luck on those assumptions.

  6. Bill says:


  7. Mike Roddy says:

    WRI has always been pretty good with research. A 50% reduction can only happen if WRI and other green NGO’s are prepared to make enemies of the oil, gas, and coal companies. This has not happened, and I doubt it’s even being contemplated, especially among the more deeply compromised organizations such as NRDC and EDF.

    Unless these organizations decide to champion serious transformations, all the talk about “targets” etc will change nothing.

  8. staying below 2C is still technically doable based on recent papers in Nature Climate Change:

    Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    Doable and doing two very different things. but can’t do it if keep making problem worse i.e. Keystone XL

  9. Sasparilla says:

    Good point.

  10. Lore says:

    How would shutting down 65% of the coal plants not be expensive to the public? Isn’t it better to honestly address that we will have to suffer some sacrifice and a measure of discomfort now for future benefits? Although, I understand when you do suggest this it’s not a message that sells.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    The medicine is just going to get nastier and nastier (larger CO2 emissions decreases) as we move along – which of course makes them much less likely (since they’ll be much more expensive in a short amount of time).

    Nice to see this paper updating things some…of course that arbitrary 2.0c target, as Superman1 has pointed out, wasn’t a good target in the first place and almost certainly much too high (as the ice cap and permafrost melt before our eyes).

  12. Superman1 says:

    “Isn’t it better to honestly address that we will have to suffer some sacrifice and a measure of discomfort now for future benefits?”. If we had more realistic models and targets, we’d find the level of sacrifice and discomfort is more than ‘some’. No one wants to pay that price up-front, so we’ll pay the ultimate price later.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    OK. Half by 2020.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want implementation strategies, with objectives cleanly and honestly complete by 2020.

    I need objectives for each decision sector and decision strata, broken down by each of the six and 3/4 years.

    We must succeed.

  14. M Tucker says:

    “It is clear that the world is currently not on course to limit warming below 2°C unless it changes its energy and land use policies dramatically and quickly.”

    Does it seem to anyone that the world is doing anything “dramatically and quickly?” No. No single nation or group of nations is implementing any dramatic or quick solution. The resolve is just not there. So not only are we decidedly not on track to achieve these reductions the tracks have not even been laid.

  15. Lou Grinzo says:

    As others have said, the notion that 2C is the appropriate goal is absurd. In fact, a new paper says that the long-term sea level rise associated with 400 to 450ppm is 9 meters:

    But beyond that, we have yet again the problem of what to do with China. It is considered a “developing” nation, despite accounting for nearly half of world coal consumption and being the biggest CO2 emitter. So what it does has a big influence on what the “developed” countries must do.

    I would also point out in response to Superman1’s question above about 1C: There’s no way we can stop short of 1C at this point unless we find a way to perform massive extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. Realized plus in-the-pipeline warming are already over 1C.

  16. Nor that of paleoclimate. The Pliocene showed CO2 averaging 365-410 ppm with temperatures ranging 3-4 degrees C hotter. We are in the upper portion of that CO2 range now (396 ppm) and ramping higher at the rate of 2.2 ppm each year (at least).

    We have feedbacks starting in the Arctic which will likely push world atmospheric carbon values even higher (permafrost carbon release, seabed carbon release). And we have increasing evidence that sea-bed clathrates around the world are starting to add their own emissions to the mix.

    If we stopped emitting CO2 now, one could make a strong argument that the Earth’s environment would continue increasing world CO2/GHG through feedbacks for a long time. So I don’t think it likely that the 2 degree goal is possible long-term. Maybe we could keep the temp rise to 2 degrees C by mid-century.

    And this is not to say that efforts should not go forward to cut emissions as rapidly as possible. Cuts should be pushed with all urgency. Because we certainly don’t want to see 5,6,7 degrees or more. But we will need to look at stopping fossil fuel emissions while putting in place ways to reduce atmospheric CO2 if we are to prevent the (at least) 3-4 degrees of long-term warming already in store.

  17. That’s what probably needs to happen. The phasing out of fossil fuel use starting now.

  18. Robert in New Orleans says:

    Short of a world wide pandemic that kills 80% or more of humanity, I just do not see an answer for this problem in the cards.

  19. Paul says:

    I wouldn’t worry about that the collapse of agriculture will mean most of us starve to death any way wont be in time for climate change to be ameliorated though

  20. Chris says:

    50% by 2020! LOL Yep, we are so screwed.

  21. fj says:

    Of course, to zero would be better and a lot more definitive.

  22. fj says:

    What’s really laughable is how clueless most people are as to what can be done.

    There was this saying from some famous person early last century; to the effect:

    Sufficiently advanced civilizations appear as gods to lesser ones.

  23. SecularAnimist says:

    Lore wrote: “How would shutting down 65% of the coal plants not be expensive to the public?”

    You need to look at the ACTUAL DATA on the effect that scaling up wind and solar electricity has on consumer cost for electricity. The bottom line is that renewable energy reduces consumers’ electric bills.

    This is, of course, one reason why dozens of large US corporations are installing as much rooftop PV on their facilities as they can, and saving millions of dollars by doing so.

    We can shut down ALL coal-fired power plants in the USA in ten years if we choose to do so, and in my view that is exactly what should be mandated — forget about “market-based mechanisms” like cap-and-trade or a carbon tax, and just pass a law stating that as of January 1 2023, it shall be illegal to burn coal to generate electricity in the USA.

    Unfortunately, for now the Koch Brothers have more money to bribe politicians than do the wind and solar industries.

  24. David Smith says:

    I would be willing to pay the price up front. It would be good to know what was the right thing to do, that the sacrifice might have a chance of making a difference. I believe that there are and will be others so willing. Knowing what to do is a challenge.

  25. David Smith says:

    Eliminating now and beginning to phase out now are radically different options, conflicting options.

  26. Nell Reece says:

    We are ruining our childrens lives. What kind of parents are we anyway?

  27. Kota says:

    I also would pay the price up front and find it to be an honor. Even a relief. I don’t need my toaster oven to be available 24/7 on 80% coal fired electricity. If someone could assure me that the planet had even a 50% chance of returning to what it was back in the 70s if I took a poison pill, I would take it today. Absolutely … seriously. I’m almost 60, I wouldn’t expect that from younger people, in fact the point is that they and the plants and animals would continue, all that has been discovered would mean something again. It is that everything still had a chance like I did growing up with birds, rabbits, streams, flowers and frogs. We were just discovering the wonders of the world when I was young, it’s impossible to believe that I am watching it all end. Yet I am and I would stand with anyone that stands to try to stop this insanity. Cut the wire on 80% of my electric tomorrow – I’ll get by best I can or I won’t. I don’t care if I knew it might work.

  28. Robert in New Orleans says:

    I just reread this blog article and for some reason the ABC docudrama(?) Earth 2100 keeps popping into my mind as an increasingly probable future for humanity.

  29. BobbyL says:

    More evidence that we will almost surely pass by 2C as if we needed any more. At some point I would expect the US to ramp up climate adaptation efforts. Sea walls, genetically modified plants and farm animals, giant water diversion projects, etc. Also, I expect more efforts will be directed toward geoengineering projects to reflect sunlight. That seems to be the future we are heading toward.

  30. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I, like thousands of others, have voluntarily paid a couple of cents extra on the power bills for green energy for years. That money has paid for the construction of wind farms, enlarging hydro etc. Virtually painless and my fridge is perfectly happy with its electricity from renewables, ME

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Absolutely true! The fossil fuel interests, and their stooges (check out the UKIP of Duce Farago and Baron Monckhausen notoriety for a glimpse of just how far into suicidal lunacy the Right have already fallen)are the enemy of mankind, in my humble opinion, in a manner unprecedented in history. No other group, not the Nazis, the Thuggees, the ‘hashasins’, not the slave traders, nor even the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ nutters, has ever pushed on, with fanatic determination, along a path that they know, for surely they know it to be true, that will see billions dies, within a half century or so. That the so-called Greens have not, even now, taken the only moral, intellectual and spiritual path open to the morally sane, and called out these monsters, and to Hell with the consequences, is an epic moral debacle.

  32. David Goldstein says:

    Hey all: I just got my 2nd climate change article published at Huffington Post a couple minutes ago. It’s titled No Option: An Adult Response to Climate Change and relates very much to the subject matter of this report. I wanted you all to know that I am representing the Climate Progress folks! (hopefully, proudly). Please go and check out the article:

  33. Jeff Poole says:

    You’re thinking of Clarke’s Third Law.

    ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

    So, yes the practitioners might appear as gods.

  34. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Not as expensive as auto-genocide. I believe that seeing your children and grandchildren suffering and dying is considered by most to be quite ‘expensive’, however you like to define it. However the transition need not cause monetary suffering, not for the 99% at least. The money for the transition, for massive compensation for the poor, working and middle classes, and for planetary ecological repair exists, tens of trillions of it, squirreled away in tax havens and in the assets of the global ruling class. Once that is redistributed (in fact it would be restitution, because it was all produced by working people, then stolen) we can do anything. Why are people so frightened of economic justice, even when it is, in truth, the only means by which we can now save ourselves? How does brainwashing become so effective?

  35. Lore says:

    I live about 3 miles from one of the biggest windmill installations in Michigan and next to that is one of the largest pump storage facilities for generating electricity in the country. Consumers Power, the company responsible for these has stated that they are done with supporting anymore windmill farms as being too expensive on both ends and are backing fully the continued use of coal to generate electricity.

    I guess facts and figures are not effecting them.

  36. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Have you seen the even more contemptibly laughable ‘40% reduction by 2035’ sick joke?

  37. BillD says:

    Last night’s Nightly Business Report featured oil execs saying that US oil demand would be 65% in the next 20 years and assuring us that big oil will be able to meet the rapidly rising demand. No mention that climate change and CO2 emissions might be important issues or even issues at all.

    We need a strong public realization that climate change is a serious problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

  38. Lore says:

    I hope you took this with a grain of salt? The use of oil is increasing globally up about a million barrels from last year projected for 2013.

    We are using less in the U.S. not only because the price is getting more expensive since the extraction of the remaining oil that exists is more costly, but also, we have exported a great deal of our manufacturing and associated use overseas.

  39. BobbyL says:

    Forget a 50% reduction by 2020. Why even bother talking about something so out of the question. What the study really shows is that unless China begins reducing emissions within the next year or two there is no possibility of having a reasonable chance of staying below 2C. If China continues to increase its emissions overall emissions will still be rising in 2020. It’s now too late for the developed countries to do it alone until 2020. China in particular has to help.

  40. It’s all about visualizing how bad it can be and how fast that can happen. We here have done it. But most people cannot imagine–literally–that it could be as bad as we know it will be.

    Nothing will happen without popular support. How do we create the visualization that will generate it? Well, we can write novels. Some of us have done that. But we need bigger vehicles with great impact.

    A movie. Not silly sci-fi stuff, like The Day After Tomorrow. But something so compelling, so plausible, its in the papers for weeks. Start the national conversation.

    That takes a lot of money. Where do we get it?

  41. Solar Jim says:

    In America the tracks were literally and figuratively torn up long ago. Call the US a war economy, with an “energy system” based on fuels/explosives of war. Radioactive poisons and carbonic acid gas are collateral damage, now ubiquitous.

  42. Solar Jim says:

    . . . gods in the short term, devils in the long term. We are living in the long term today.

  43. Solar Jim says:

    We are parents of plutocracy and an economic system for militant psychopathy. Read the Constitution – see any fossil or fissile “fuels?”

  44. ozajh says:

    Hate to say it, but wasn’t “An Inconvenient Truth” exactly such a movie? The denialist industry proved capable of easily overcoming the message then.

    I live in a country, like some regular posters on this blog, where we are almost certain to have a hard-core straight out denier in charge before the end of this year. The rest of the world is then likely to see a first world country WALKING BACK from measures already taken.

  45. Solar Jim says:

    Temporary, bankrupting and dystopic. What don’t you understand about 100 feet of sea level rise, ocean acidification and death of oxygen suppliers (forest and phytoplankton)?

  46. frostieb says:

    We need James Cameron to tackle this. I think he could do the job that’s needed and really jump-start a conversation. I’m sure he can make any movie he wants, anytime. How do we get him to do it?

  47. Solar Jim says:

    Thanks very much. However, 80% reduction by 2050 is insufficient, and carbon pollution from fuels can also be described as “fossil carbonic acid gas.” Your brother has sacrificed for a life – may he live a long and honorable one.

  48. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In addition, today it has been reported that the institution for studying the Murray-Darling, our major river system, and its myriad problems, is being radically defunded by the Rightwing state genocidist regimes. They will have to begin sacking scientists by the end of the month. Don’t ever try and tell me that this is all an accident of ideological viciousness-this is so plainly a plan to cause ecological collapse that it is truly mind-bending.

  49. Duncan Noble says:

    Define “technical”. This happens every day in economics.

  50. Nils Peterson says:

    I want to agree – we can do it. I understand and agree with the urban planning changes you point to and am trying to help on my town’s Planning and Zoning commission move out community in those directions.

    But to understand if I can agree I have been doing some personal reflection and analysis, the first phase of which was to see if there is a path for my family to eliminate its _direct_ carbon burning in 10 years. I know its only one component, but it was the place I chose to start the analysis. Have a look

  51. Regimes usually start with goals that all players can stomach, then ramp up. We can’t even get buy-in for phase-out starting now. But I think we could if we campaign on it. Phase out and replace.

    Now, as for elimination, I’d go for coal first. Then other fossil fuels once that is accomplished.

    And I agree, we should have been off fossil fuels yesterday.

  52. Not conspiracy. Just capitalism. Just cynically profiting from the problems. Just not giving a whit about outcomes.

  53. J.R. says:

    “It is clear that the world is currently not on course to limit warming below 2°C unless it changes its energy and land use policies dramatically and quickly.”

    We have all read countless statements such as these, which now border on the ridiculous, being so far from the truth and virtually “impossible” to even realistically contemplate, much less adopt.

    So why is this kind of rhetoric even in print?

    “The findings from this most recent study suggest that the challenge we already knew was great is even more difficult. But even with an increased level of reductions necessary, the study does show that a 2°C goal is still attainable — if we act ambitiously and immediately.”

    More of the same empty pablum that “suggests” a sense of false promise (hopium). The 2°C “goal” is NOT attainable even if we shut down our entire civilization.

    Acting “ambitiously” and “immediately” speaks of deep ignorance of reality and the political processes (and oil money) involved behind every government in the world.

    Why are we still reading this sort of nonsense?

    Because there is yet to be a recognized writer who will speak the plain unvarnished truth for fear.

    It is my opinion that we are being deeply misled about the reality of our situation. I further posit that this is being done on purpose to prevent panic.

  54. Mike Roddy says:

    A 40% global clean energy portfolio by 2035 is out of sync with events of the last year. There will be population and economic growth between now and then, meaning that this clean power ratio will accomplish little in terms of gross emissions.

    We need to move the bar, and be much more aggressive here. This can only happen with a stiff carbon tax and aggressive global negotiations.

  55. Mike Roddy says:

    Cameron is working on a Showtime series on climate with Swartzenegger.

  56. wili says:

    “This happens every day in economics”


  57. Joe Romm says:

    2C is possible technically, but not, apparently, politically. Makes it a challenge to right about. But there’s no conspiracy.

  58. Thom Gardiner says:

    Aww c’mon folks, you all know better than this. Ya gotta stop thinking about these changes in a linear way. It’s not going to be a nice clean escalator ride up two degrees over the next hundred years or so. This is an enormously complex, non-linear system and when it pops, it pops big and it pops fast. Every single one of you can see the rapidly accelerating escalation already if you just look around.

    There appear to be 4 stable climate states that are attractors for phase changes: snowball earth, glacial epoch, interglacial and a PETM-like hot state. There is a fifth state that the planet has not seen since its origins and since before the beginnings of life when Gaia was first evolving, and that is dead planet under runaway global heating, a condition much like what is present now on Venus, where ambient atmospheric temps are hot enough to melt lead. Let’s all just pretend we haven’t triggered that nasty outcome already, and hope that it’s true.

    All this talk about limiting global warming to a 2 degree rise is absurd, or maybe it’s just too scary and is simple defensive denial, because that’s not how things work and you know it, even if you won’t say so publically. 2 degrees is well inside the early motion of a tipping point in between changes of state. We are currently in one attractor state – the interglacial – that has been quite stable historically until we came along and discovered fossil fuels. When we came out of the last ice age, ice cores and other empiric data samples tell us the phase change after that tipping point was about 18 degrees warmer in about 60 years, but that 8 of those degrees were in one year. CO2 went from 180 ppm to 280 ppm during that pop to hot. That’s how sensitive this system is, a hundred ppm of an apparently inconsequential trace gas makes the difference between a glacial epoch and an interglacial. And remember, CO2, methane and temps are coupled in this system.

    The last time we had a stable hot state planet was 55 million years ago during the PETM, and the scary thing about that occasion was that the planet was already in a very warm period, so warm that there was no ice or snow anywhere – there were crocs in North Dakota and date palms on Baffin Island. Even so, with all living species well adapted to a hot planet, we still lost about half of all benthic foraminifera and coccolithophores when it popped even hotter – into the PETM. The living systems for managing carbon were so damaged by extinction that it took Gaia 200,000 years to evolve new species capable of managing carbon pump-down again.

    Ehux is already missing from 40 percent of its natural range, so there goes the primary oceanic carbon pump-down system as well as albedo over the oceans. And once the polar ice is gone and the latent heat effect kicks in we are well and truly screwed. The blooming times of local plants are already pointing at least a two degree rise here in northern New England and there’s little doubt global dimming is masking at least another 2 degrees that is already in place but has been concealed. Think about it, 22 percent of photonic energy is not currently reaching the ground. And then there’s the clathrates, the permafrost melting, the boreal forests migrating north, the increased atmospheric water vapor content, the slowing of the jet stream and the rise of persistant blocking patters, the increased intensity and frequency of all these mega-storms.

    How long before human infrastructure damage outruns our ability to repair and replace because all the resources are all gone, used up by previous disasters? By the way, how is the 9th Ward doing? Oh, and what percentage of the New Jersey/New York coastline towns are fully repaired and up and running again?

    You can do the math. Add it up and multiply it out – six tenths of a watt per square meter of increased heat gain globally. Add in the fact that the Amazon has shifted from being a carbon sink to a carbon source and that source is now so huge that all by itself the Amazon outgassing of CO2 exceeds all industrial sources in the US combined. And part of the Gulf Stream is now sliding up the Fram Strait dumping warm tropical water into the underside of the polar sea ice. What do you think that’s going to do. There’s so much extra heat in the system now that even if the thermohaline circulation stops globally we still can’t go back into a cool state.

    I’m not so optimistic. I think it’s already too late, that AGW is a symptom of overshoot and Humpty Dumpty is already in pieces. Unless every human on the planet came to their senses right now today and stopped the carbon outgassing from fossil fuels and switched to full scale world wide food-forest permaculture practices for our food and waste, then maybe we might slow down the over-heating. It would take a thousand years before we find out if it worked because of the flywheel effect and the current residence time of CO2, but maybe we could pull it off. But it would have to include every government, every city, every town and village and every human being alive today, and we would need serious population control measures, maybe some kind of limits like China.

    But of course, how likely is all of that? And so off the edge we go, which means billions will die and so will millions of other species and habitats and entire ecosystems. Sigh…

  59. Paul Klinkman says:

    Perhaps we might set firm carbon dioxide, methane and smoke particle “sequester” goals, year by year, and attach federal money for states that actually meet those goals without creative carbon accounting. Setting an energy goal off in 2020 is like saying you’re going to eventually start dieting for your 2020 reunion seven years from now. Eventually never comes.

    I put “sequester” in quotes because a real carbon sequester is when your local environmental group creates a box of biochar and buries it for 2500 years. We want the planet to get back below 350 ppm if not 300.

  60. Paul Klinkman says:

    Allete in Duluth provides about the cheapest power in the nation to its customers, and they’ve gone heavy on wind, replacing wind with hydro when the wind doesn’t blow.

    Electric utilities grew up with the basic idea that their profits are a percentage of their revenues. Therefore, if they can charge their customers double because their expenses are double, their profits magically double. If gold-plated utility poles were legal we’d see them. Many state regulatory boards have looked for ways to break this profit cycle. Few have found a foolproof way, probably because utility campaign money is always big in state elections.

  61. wili says:

    As someone at neven’s site opined, we have not only screwed the pooch, the bitch is about to drop a litter.

  62. wili says:

    It is as if a man with a spot of gangrene on his toe decided to ignore it because it probably wasn’t anything important, despite what he thinks he remembered say about it once.

    As the gangrene spread, he mostly denied ever more firmly that anything was wrong, even as people started saying if he cut off his toe, he could save losing his foot.

    But he didn’t do anything.

    Now the putrid rot has spread well into his leg seems to have started to affect vital organs.

    But still, no real plan is in line to even try to seriously address the creeping death. The most ambitious proposals are to take off part of the toe in a few years.

    Of course, this analogy, like all comparisons, eventually breaks down–it is not just our own ‘body’–human civilization and existence–that is at stake, but we are taking much of complex life and life systems down with us by our neglect.

    This is what it means to live at this moment in the history of civilization and in the history of life.

  63. Sasparilla says:

    Yes, we’re down to implausible possibilities to fix things without China and India coming along – which is a necessity now.

  64. Sasparilla says:

    Good points M, not only have the tracks not been laid, the plans for the tracks are not even being contemplated by our “leaders”. in answer to your question:

    “Does it seem to anyone that the world is doing anything “dramatically and quickly?””

    Developing fossil fuel resources is the answer…as rapidly as possible, we have to figure out how to halt that as rapidly as possible.

  65. Tom says:


    We have about 20 yrs left – if that. All the interacting tipping points we’ve already crossed, given a bit of time, will make life on the planet impossible. Despite the assertions to the contrary by our host here, it’s not only not politically possible to decrease our carbon output, it’s actually physically not going to happen because it wouldn’t be tolerated by the sheeple (that’s you and i). So we’ll keep the genocide going as long and in any way (geo-engineering ourselves into oblivion) we can.
    Enjoy the time you have left, before civilization all goes to hell.

    Live as if the day were here.

  66. Sasparilla says:

    Wow, 9m (27 feet) at 400-450ppm? And we’re already just a year away from 400ppm, if that? Ugh.

    All this latest information keeps pushing me towards that mental state of the Marine Hudson, in the movie Aliens when he looses it mentally.

    As you point out we need to be pouring money into research on a whole range of things and a primary one is the massive extraction of Carbon from the atmosphere and or Ocean (probably via multiple natural and artificial processes).

  67. Sasparilla says:

    Yes, very foolish gods indeed.

  68. Sasparilla says:

    I’m sure you’re right Solar Jim, but that doesn’t mean our societies won’t be trying to “block out” the effects for as along as they can….its human nature.

  69. Sasparilla says:

    That was a great article David and very well thought out – I’m looking forward to your next one.

    Be sure and post it up. As far as details like percentages for 2050 that Solar Jim was talking about, any issues would get resolved en route once we get going on the path.

  70. Sasparilla says:

    Within the financial community that follows and guides the oil and natural gas industries – climate change is not even considered – it has been off to the races since 2009/10 when it became obvious Obama would play ball and not get in the way.

    Now, if we actually started contemplating a serious carbon tax or other restriction, then it would affect the industry and its analysis’s immediately (and cause their values to crash to an extent, especially if we had an ultimate limit on emissions – since a majority of their reserves would become worthless).

  71. Sasparilla says:

    Very true Mike and I’d move that they need to do worse than just make enemies of the fossil fuel industries (Coal, Oil and Natural Gas) as 10-15% reductions in emissions over this decade would make enemy’s – we need nearly all major governments (especially the U.S.) to commit to killing off their fossil fuel industries over the course of a decade (Coal) to couple of decades (Oil, then Natural Gas).

    That and willingly taking the side effects (a massive stock market drop on the order of the banking crisis as fossil fuel stocks collapse when its realized most of their reserves are worthless) seems rather implausible – we need a miracle (probably a bunch of them).

  72. Sasparilla says:

    Wow, cut CO2 emissions in half (50%) by 2020.

    That’s 6.5 years from now!

    And I’m sure that’s without permafrost feedback (and others) considered.

  73. Guest says:

    “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless.”

    – Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute

  74. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice summary, Thom. Myself and other readers here know most of it, but we’d like to see links or citations for some of the key points. Alternatively, a book reference would be helpful. I don’t doubt your statements, but many of us here are curious types and want to dive in further.

    I’m decently educated on the subject, but would like to explore more of the data on decline of Ehux, for example, a phenomenon not widely reported in blogs or books. Likewise re the abrupt phase changes you describe. Popular books by Mann and Hansen address these subjects, but don’t dwell on them because the conclusions are just too dire. We’d like more details here.