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Moving The Goalposts

November 10, 2015

By Paul Homewood


h/t Green Sand




STOCKHOLM — The U.N.’s environmental authority has quietly raised its assessment of the level at which global greenhouse gas emissions must peak to avoid dangerous climate change, as governments seek a new accord to fight global warming.

In its first four annual emissions reports in 2010-2013, the United Nations Environment Program said emissions must not exceed 44 billion tons in 2020 for the world to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).

But with real-world emissions rising far beyond that level, UNEP has since last year downplayed its focus on 2020 as a make-or-break year for emissions reductions.

In this year’s Emissions Gap report, a summary of which was released Friday, UNEP says the world can still reach the 2-degree target with emissions of 52 billion tons by 2020, which is just slightly below today’s level.

The new analysis assumes that emissions cuts will drop faster after 2030 than was assumed in previous reports.

UNEP chief scientist Jacqueline McGlade told The Associated Press the earlier assessments weren’t wrong, but were based on emissions scenarios that are "no longer realistic."

Critics said the change reflects political pressure to show the 2-degree goal is still feasible as governments work on the U.N. climate agreement that’s supposed to be adopted in Paris next month.

"The emissions gap report gives the questionable impression that despite increasing emissions there’s always a way to reach the 2C target," said Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

The 2-degree target was adopted in U.N. climate talks in 2010. Two degrees of warming compared with pre-industrial times, is widely seen as a level where climate change becomes unmanageable, with fast-rising sea levels, intensifying droughts and other impacts.

Scientists say temperatures have already risen more than 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F) since the industrial revolution, and that the warming is mostly man-made, mainly due to emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

UNEP now places little emphasis on its earlier view that emissions must peak before 2020. Last year it just said emissions "need to peak soon" and this year’s summary didn’t even mention a peaking year.

Its scenarios assume the world will be able to remove more greenhouse gas from the atmosphere than what is added by human activity in the latter half of the century to make up for overshooting benchmarks earlier, which Geden called a "dubious" concept.

The idea of so-called "negative emissions" is that humans would plant more emissions-absorbing forests and crops, and deploy expensive technologies that capture emissions from the energy and industry sectors.

The UNEP reports are based on scientific assessments by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

IPCC scientist Chris Field said that at some level questions of what peaking year or emissions reductions are feasible aren’t really about science.

"It is about the priority that the topic is assigned," he said. "With a high enough priority, societies or even the world community can do amazing things. But amazing accomplishments require amazing efforts."


As suggested, the move appears to be no more than a political tactic to avoid having to admit that targets were going to be widely missed. The idea that emissions will fall more quickly after 2030 is laughable. Indeed the opposite seems more likely.

Much of the current effort has been to fix targets for 2030, which MIGHT be slightly lower than they would have been otherwise, and which MIGHT peak around then.

Even if all of this happens as planned, nobody has given the slightest thought as to how decarbonisation on a massive and global scale after then can be brought. The only possible scenario at the moment is a mammoth switch to nuclear.

In any event, China and India, or anybody else in their right minds, aren’t going to shut down modern coal and gas fired power plants that they have only just built.

There really does seem to be a mass delusion about.

  1. November 10, 2015 4:45 pm

    So then, the previous guess was “unrealistic,” therefore an updated guess is required? Is there a limit on how many unrealistic guesses are allowed or do they keep guessing until something happens?

  2. Joe Public permalink
    November 10, 2015 4:57 pm

    The wriggling & squirming will intensify in front of 50,000 spectators at COP21

  3. Roy Hartwell permalink
    November 10, 2015 6:38 pm

    The science is settled !!!! Maybe?

    • November 10, 2015 8:14 pm

      The term “settled science” is an oxymoron used by real morons to manipulate their fellow morons at the expense of everyone, moron or not.

  4. Robin Guenier permalink
    November 11, 2015 4:45 pm

    Like so many commentators, Karl Ritter (the author of the article you quote) says: “The 2-degree target was adopted in U.N. climate talks in 2010.” I believe that’s incorrect.

    The matter was referred to in the Report of a working group meeting held in March 2011 – three months after the 2011 meeting in Cancun. But it was referred to, not as something that was agreed, but as something that was recognised (an important distinction in UN-speak). The Report goes on to describe it as a “long-tem goal” and subject to the understanding “that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries”. Moreover, the matter was deferred for further consideration in Durban in 2012 (COP 17). But there is nothing in the record of the Durban meeting that indicates any progress to turning a goal into an agreed commitment.

    Click to access 07a01.pdf

  5. Peter Langdon permalink
    November 13, 2015 11:31 am

    Below is a copy of my letter to the DECC and their replyand received the following reply. Do they still have their heads in the sand?

    Dear DECC,
    Thank you for your unsigned reply on behalf of Amber Rudd to my earlier email (these both reproduced below). Instead of a bland reply which completely failed to address the imminent danger facing the UK’s energy supplies, I would have thought something along the lines of today’s Daily Telegraphs article (also reproduced below) pointing out the failure of Government to address the country’s energy needs and how these are to be practically realised at sensible cost, would have been more appropriate. Closing down industry on cold days when the wind is not blowing or the sun not shining is not a solution – and more importantly, neither is being committed to the now proved to be nonsensical, Climate Change Act! For example, I challenge you to explain the Vostok ice core record reproduced below.
    Wishing to live in Yurts, it seems ‘Greens’ think the economy doesn’t matter. Looking at plans for a secure energy future, I’m beginning to worry that the DECC holds the same view. People want to know when we will see our worn out nuclear power stations replaced (and even a contact placed!), fracking producing gas and coal, oil and imported gas and holding the fort until reliable alternatives are in place.
    The ‘green religion’ that man’s production of CO2 is a danger to the planet is nonsense. Some 8,000 of the world’s top scientists (stand fast high earning IPCC delegates) now agree and have signed up to this view.
    Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will slightly increase how effective an insulator the Earth’s atmosphere is, but since the amount of energy that CO2 is responsible for is so small already, the effect of doubling the amount of CO2 will be even smaller. The current energy balance shows that CO2 is responsible for about 3.3 W/m2 of energy to the atmosphere, Doubling the concentration will increase that to 3.7 W/m2. The impact that would have on the total 33 degree C greenhouse effect would thus be 0.1 °C increase in temperature. (the other greenhouse gases are water vapour 22W/m2, evaporation 5, convection 4.7, ozone 0.3 and other minor gases/particles at 0.2).
    Since the CO2 level has increased only 30% of a doubling in the past 100 years, the current impact of increased CO2 levels in that period of time is a mere 0.03 °C.
    While CO2 is the 2nd most important greenhouse gas overall it plays a very small role in the total greenhouse effect. However, CO2 is critical to life on earth. (For example, an average size tree using CO2 for photosynthesis provides just enough oxygen to keep one person alive).
    Some 8,000 scientists now have signed up the fact that man made CO2 has no significant effect on temperature. It’s not before time that the DECC adopted the same view. May I suggest that all those involved in wasting vast sums of public finance putting the country’s energy supplies at risk by chasing the global warming religion, read the science, scrap the Climate Change Act without further delay and formulate science based sensible energy polices.
    I suggest the following two books, the best of the many now published, are essential reading for those concerned about the Earth’s weather:

    ‘the inconvenient SKEPTIC’, John H Kehr, The Comprehensive Guide to the Earth’s Climate, ISBN 978-0-9847829-1-8
    ‘Not for Greens’ Ian Plimer, Emeritous Professor of Earth Sciences, ISBN 9781925138191
    both available from Amazon.
    Peter Langdon

    Department of Energy & Climate Change
    3 Whitehall Place
    SW1A 2AW
    Our ref: TO2015/12307/VD

    Dear Mr Langdon,
    Thank you for your email, dated 10 October, to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I apologise for the delay in replying.
    The Government takes security of supply very seriously and has worked with National Grid to put in place an effective plan which worked well last winter. This plan has been robustly stress-tested to cope with the toughest system conditions, and is flexible enough to adapt to individual plant closures.
    National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report confirms that margins are manageable this winter – the report shows a loss of load expectation of around 1.1 hours per year which equates to a capacity margin of 5.1%. National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report confirms that margins are manageable this winter – the report shows a loss of load expectation of around 1.1 hours per year which equates to a capacity margin of 5.1%.
    National Grid has secured around 2.4GW of capacity through Contingency Balancing Reserve for this winter.
    We are already taking prudent steps to manage the margins in winter 2016/17 – National Grid and Ofgem agree that we should retain the ability to procure balancing services (Contingency Balancing Reserve) for the next two winters. Government supports this position.
    In the longer term we have the Capacity Market which will start delivering from 2018/19
    With regard to the Vostok ice core record you attach, this is readily explained by changes in solar insolation due to periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, known as the Milankovitch cycles1. Although Milankovich insolation forcing is the primary driver of the ice age cycles, the full magnitude of the glacial-interglacial temperature changes cannot be explained without also including the changes in CO2 concentration and the resulting change in the strength of the greenhouse effect2.
    Your figure of 0.1°C for the temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide is inconsistent with the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that the Earth is likely to warm by between 1.5°C and 4.5°C in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration3.
    Although there are a minority of scientists who claim a small climate impact of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, DECC’s view is informed by the overwhelming evidence published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the findings of the (IPCC)4. They say that, if left unchecked, the long-term global temperature rise from increasing concentrations of CO2 will be sufficiently large to impact on many aspects of our society, thus bringing great risks to human health, global food prices and economic development.
    I hope that this is helpful.
    Yours sincerely,
    DECC Correspondence Unit

    1 The theory is described in section 6.4 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report: The Physical Science Basis.
    2 For a description of the greenhouse effect see
    3 Section D2 of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change Summary for Policymakers 4

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