### CO2 equivalents

Filed under: — gavin @ 11 October 2007

There was a minor kerfuffle in recent days over claims by Tim Flannery (author of “The Weather Makers”) that new information from the upcoming IPCC synthesis report will show that we have reached 455 ppmv CO2_equivalent 10 years ahead of schedule, with predictable implications. This is confused and incorrect, but the definitions of CO2_e, why one would use it and what the relevant level is, are all highly uncertain in many peoples’ minds. So here is a quick rundown.

Definition: The CO2_equivalent level is the amount of CO2 that would be required to give the same global mean radiative forcing as the sum of a basket of other forcings. This is a way to include the effects of CH4 and N2O etc. in a simple way, particularly for people doing future impacts or cost-benefit analysis. The equivalent amount is calculated using the IPCC formula for CO2 forcing:

Total Forcing = 5.35 log(CO2_e/CO2_orig)

where CO2_orig is the 1750 concentration (278 ppmv).

Usage: There are two main ways it is used. Firstly, it is often used to group together all the forcings from the Kyoto greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs), and secondly to group together all forcings (including ozone, sulphate aerosols, black carbon etc.). The first is simply a convenience, but the second is what matters to the planet. Many stabilisation scenarios, such as are being discussed in UNFCCC negotiations are based on stabilising total CO2_e at 450, 550 or 750 ppmv.

Magnitude The values of CO2_e (Kyoto) and CO2_e (Total) can be calculated from Figure 2.21 and Table 2.12 in the IPCC WG1 Chapter 2. The forcing for CO2, CH4 (including indirect effects), N2O and CFCs is 1.66+0.48+0.07+0.16+0.34=2.71 W/m2 (with around 0.3 W/m2 uncertainty). Using the formula above, that gives CO2_e (Kyoto) = 460 ppmv. However, including all the forcings (some of which are negative), you get a net forcing of around 1.6 W/m2, and a CO2_e (Total) of 375 ppmv with quite a wide error bar. This is, coincidently, close to the actual CO2 level.

Implications The important number is CO2_e (Total) which is around 375 ppmv. Stabilisation scenarios of 450 ppmv or 550 ppmv are therefore still within reach. Claims that we have passed the first target are simply incorrect, however, that is not to say they are easily achievable. It is even more of a stretch to state that we have all of a sudden gone past the ‘dangerous’ level. It is still not clear what that level is, but if you take a conventional 450 ppmv CO2_e value (which will lead to a net equilibrium warming of ~ 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels), we are still a number of years from that, and we have (probably) not yet committed ourselves to reaching it.

Finally, the IPCC synthesis report is simply a concise summary of the three separate reports that have already come out. It therefore can’t be significantly different from what is already available. But this is another example where people are quoting from draft reports that they have neither properly read nor understood and for which better informed opinion is not immediately available. I wish journalists and editors would resist the temptation to jump on leaks like this (though I know it’s hard). The situation is confusing enough without adding to it unintentionally.

### 193 Responses to “CO2 equivalents”

1. 51
Holly Stick says:

Re 42; it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other. I’ve seen journalists make a mess of reporting on another complicated issue because they simply did not know much about the issue; and it would take time to develop an understanding of it. How would a journalist know whether Flannery is wrong or not, unless they’ve studied the specific science or can consult someone knowledgeable?

But you also do get the newspapers like Canada’s National Post, which has an agenda of pushing denialism.

2. 52
Stormy says:

Question: Is the fact that the melt of Arctic sea ice has progressed faster than IPPC projects meaningful?

If so, are not the IPCC projects possibly behind the curve?

3. 53
David B. Benson says:

Stormy (52) — Yes and in my humble opinion, yes to your second question…

4. 54
Mark A. York says:

Let’s use Lou Dobbs’ recent comment. “Some argue the science around global warming is questionable.” And in one fell swoop denialists gain equal standing in big media.

5. 55
Bob Clipperton (UK) says:

Has Tim Flannery clarified which CO2 equivalent he was quoting in the light of these criticisms?
(BTW, I ‘converted’ a strong AGW sceptic to an AGW believer by buying him Flannery’s book)

6. 56
Hank Roberts says:

Steve, I read that AlterNet piece and emailed the link to the Contributors here asking if they can check it. AlterNet’s thread is full of garbage. But the article looks unedited (unpaired quote marks so the reader can’t tell what’s a real quote; “Artic” [sic].

I really want to see something better than that to support that story’s claims.

Moulins the size of Niagra Falls?

and this chunk is not checked by anyone for facts or punctuation:

[a melt water lake 500 metres deep causing the glacier “to float on land. “These melt water rivers are lubricating the glacier…]

I’d guess that’s the thickness of ice over top of the meltwater that’s below the ice. Can’t be as stated.

I suspect gross failure of fact checking at AlterNet.

7. 57
8. 58
Dick Veldkamp says:

Re: Nobel Prize (OT)

Since IPCC got the Nobel Prize, I guess that means that all scientists contributing to the IPCC’s work were honoured. And of course that includes the people at RC. So congratulations to you!

Although the political situation with respect to AGW seems as dismal as ever, I think this calls for a little celebration.

9. 59
Karen Street says:

I want to confirm my understanding.

Calculations of atmospheric GHG levels include assumptions about the lifetime of various greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This value is decreased by the negative GWP of aerosols, not including their lifetimes but rather the assumption that pollution levels will continue high. If fossil fuel emissions are cleaned up more or less rapidly than assumed, this will change assumptions about atmospheric GHG levels.

10. 60
Hank Roberts says:

Karen, the estimated ‘lifetime’ of the GHG changes, see the link I posted a few responses earlier.

But that’s not because of changes in aerosols. The aerosols (some of them) reduce warming by reflecting incoming sunshine, so they’re a “minus sign” versus the GHG “plus sign” contribution — sulfates from burning high-sulfur diesel and coal, for example.

They wash out within a few years — they have a shorter lifetime.

But lifetime of sulfates doesn’t subtract from lifetime of greenhouse gases. The _effect_ of sulfates subtracts from the effect of the other at any particular point in time, but their lifetimes differ.

11. 61

#52-53, Arctic is key, yet very little attention is given to present dramatically underestimated Polar Amplification effects. Imagine this, a vast new body of open sea water, still open, never yet filmed or reported in person, no human contact makes it detached as if this melt happened on Europa. “Out of sight out of mind” is more important to change, than presenting clashing scientific personalities, irrelevant they are, given that we have failed to measure the magnitude of this warming.

12. 62

An interesting perspective from our neighbor Venus:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20071013/sc_space/strangemoleculefoundinvenussatmosphere

It would make sense that an anharmonic molecule would have broader absorption lines.

13. 63
Jim Eager says:

Re 46 Lee Menningen
To assert that so called “logical discrepancies” raised by skeptics never seem to be addressed, that no one has ever explained to you why “we must prevent the earth from warming”, or why the current warming trend isn’t just another harmless 200-yr cycle, or why the news a generation ago was constantly lamenting a cooling earth, or why it follows that “man” has to do something about it indicates that you have not been very thorough in your own research and reading.
Apparently you have some work to do. I recommend you start here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/

14. 64
Timothy Chase says:

Dick Veldkamp (#58) wrote:

Re: Nobel Prize (OT)

Since IPCC got the Nobel Prize, I guess that means that all scientists contributing to the IPCC’s work were honoured. And of course that includes the people at RC. So congratulations to you!

Although the political situation with respect to AGW seems as dismal as ever, I think this calls for a little celebration.

From what I have been reading the political situtation regarding climate change has improved a great deal – just not in the United States and a few other select countries. Countinental Europe? It gets taken seriously. Asia, Africa? For the most part it gets taken a great deal more seriously. United States? Not so much.

But that will undoubtedly change. After a while.

15. 65

Lee Menningen, Re:46, It would appear that my point was lost on you. I will spell it out: By embracing antiscience, conservatives have given a formidable weapon to their opponents. Al Gore has wielded that weapon to his advantage. Now, as we start to talk about mitigations and solutions, many conservatives–the ones I call the nutjobs–are still arguing about whether warming is occurring. They have left empty the place at the table where they could present their ideas and solutions. It would appear that either you have not been paying attention or you have some poor sources of information. However, the question of whether we are causing warming is now beyond debate. The conversation has moved on to what we should do about it. I would recommend using the resources on this site to come up to speed so you can discuss the situation intelligently.

Oh, and re 42–have you ever even known a journalist?

16. 66

Re. #52, see Realclimate’s article covering the IPCC AR4 WG1 Summary for Policy Makers, which states:

“For sea level rise the unknown is how large an effect dynamic shifts in the ice sheets will be. These dynamic changes have already been observed, but are outside the range of what the ice sheet models can deal with (see this previous discussion). That means that their contribution to sea level rise is rather uncertain, but with the uncertainty all on the side of making things worse (see this recent paper for an assessment ((Rahmstorf, Science 2007))).

Note that some media have been comparing apples with pears here: they claimed IPCC has reduced its upper sea level limit from 88 to 59 cm, but the former number from the TAR did include this ice dynamics uncertainty, while the latter from the AR4 does not, precisely because this issue is now considered more uncertain and possibly more serious than before.”

So one would expect the IPCC sea level rise projections to be “behind the curve”, as you put it – it would be odd if they were not.

17. 67
Lynn Vincentnathan says:

Of course, the atmosphere doesn’t care whether the GHGs are emitted by humans or by nature responding to the initial warming humans are causing. If it were just a matter of humans reducing their emissions, we’d probably be more sure about being able to avoid a “tipping point.”

However, if nature’s emissions in response to the current warming (including warming that’s already in the pipeline) are themselves slated to increase in a spiralling fashion, causing more warming, which causes more of nature’s emissions, which causes more warming and so on, then who knows, we may have already passed the tipping point, since CO2_e (Total — both from human emissions and positive feedback from nature) of more than 450 may be a done deal (for some point in the future) no matter how much we reduce. And then there’s the reducing albedo/warming positive feedback loop.

The longer we wait to reduce our GHG emissions, the more it’s becoming a Russian roulette game with our life-support systems.

18. 68
Alan says:

I’ve been a fan of both RC since it startyed, and Tim Flannery for even longer. Here in Australia his name is as recognisable as Gore’s on the subject of climate change but he has been a much bigger political thorn to John Howard.

I also like the fact that RC will disagree with it’s supporters when they think their supporters have screwed up a technical point. I don’t have the patience to follow the math and attempt to judge who is technically correct, from my point of view both RC & Tim are credible scientific sources so I will wait for the IPCC.

Quoting from the “implications” above – “It is even more of a stretch to state that we have all of a sudden gone past the ‘dangerous’ level“. Here I have equated “dangerous” to “tipping point” and if we are going to be subjective I’m putting my money on Tim since even the rabid doomsday alarmists grossly underestimated the recent extent of ice loss in the Artic.

19. 69
PHE says:

Re 64 (Dick V)
When you consider that each year: 4m die of malnutrition, 3m of HIV/Aids, 2m from lack of clean drinking water, I think you will find that those not living in a comfortable Western society have more immediate concerns. This IS happening NOW – not something predicted by computer models. How is it that these are all problems we could do so much more to address, but instead the international focus is on the more glamorous and popular priorities of Al Gore?

20. 70

PHE, Your concern for the poor is touching. What have you done about it?
Do you think that the poor will fare well in a warming world? The only place where I can think of where they have an advantage is Rio de Janiero and Salvador, where the favelas are on hills, while the expensive real estate is along the beach. Moreover, the way to help the poor is to facilitate growth in developing nations and poor regions within so-called developed nations. This growth will be derailed by climate change–which by the way IS happening NOW.

If you would like a suggested itinerary for viewing the plight of the world’s poor, I can suggest travel tips.

21. 71
Johnno says:

Some practical consequences of CO2 equivalence.
1) methane flaring – either seeping from coal mines or perhaps 80% of the gas at an oil wellhead. Some carbon abatement schemes reward this flaring (note moles CO2 = moles CH4) but I think no GHGs at all is even better ie reinject rather than flare.
2) nitrous oxide from fertilizer – rather than tax the farmer on N20 emissions I think it should be included in an upstream carbon equivalent cap or tax payable by the fertilizer manufacturer. This worsens the existing food vs fuel trade-off but it’s consistent.

22. 72
Detlef van Vuuren says:

Just returning to one of the points made in the original posting : Quote “the full definition of CO2-eq concentration is lower and therefore 450 ppm CO2-eq (total) is still within reach while 450 CO2-eq (Kyoto-gasses only) is not”.

1. Somehow we did get into a mode of thinking of stabilisation (UNFCCC calls for stabilisation; most model runs stabilise GHG concentrations). There is, however, a very reasonable alternative, i.e. peaking profiles that first “overshoot” an certain target, but further reduce concentrations after the peak is reached. There are already several papers published of authors showing the benefits of such strategies. Allowing for such overshoot implies that 450 is within reach both definitions.

2. Given the fact that S/aerosols emissions are likely to be reduced (see e.g. comment 10) either for health/air pollution reasons and as a “co-benefit” (;-)) of climate policy implies that the two definitions will slowly converge over time. The CO2-eq (Kyoto) has “accididently” already accounted for the negative feedback of reducing S/aerosol impact; the more correct CO2-eq (total) definition has not. Therefore, the error made by Stern (using CO2-eq Kyoto for now; and CO2-eq total in the future), for instance, is less bad as it looks like from current forcing levels. Finally, according to (nearly) all scenarios of emission modellers in both cases we need to allow for overshoot to be able to get to 450 ppm CO2-eq (total) in the end. The reason is the inertia in reducing emissions.

3. There are several scenarios published in literature that account for this – showing that 450 ppm CO2-eq is in reach, even including the removal of S/aerosols forcing – including an article we have published ourselves in Climatic Change earlier this year.

P.S. The clear description of the CO2-eq concentration concept at the beginning of this post is pretty helpful. There is quite a bit of confusion on the CO2-eq concentrations (Kyoto vs. total) but also on CO2-eq concentrations vs. CO2-eq emissions. In recent IPCC discussions we decided to use W/m2 for forcing instead of ppm CO2-eq in order to avoid people (mistakingly!!!) using the arguments against the use of GWPs in CO2-eq emissions against the proposed forcing levels. There was a very obvious downside to this, however, as the group of people that had already got to know the meaning of certain CO2-eq concentration numbers (450 ppm co2-eq for instance) found themselves now in doubt on the corresponding W/m2 numbers.

23. 73
barry says:

Off topic request:

Gore’s film has been criticised by a UK court (don’t know how many scientists were attending). Most of the criticism is aimed at the way the information is framed but there are some items that appear to be at odds with the post on RC about the science in the film being being quite accurate.

http://newparty.co.uk/articles/inaccuracies-gore.html

While I’m aware that RC does not usually concern itself with the political side of the debate, might some of the fact-based findings of the court (which found the film was broadly accurate) be worth a post?

[Response: You can expect to see something from us on this very soon. – mike]

24. 74
Dick Veldkamp says:

Re #64 More pressing problems than AGW?

We have no disagreement here. I think we should also address malnutrition, tropical diseases, lack of drinking water etc. But AGW will most probably makes all the aforementioned problems much worse, so we should be concerned about AGW as well.

I don’t buy the Lomborg dichotomy, that we should choose between either solving AGW or the other problems. By the way, Lomborg is now acknowledging that AGW exists! But it’s just not serious, really, probably even a good thing.

25. 75
concerned says:

re: 61

I believe you are right, and that ice free arctic water in the summer is closer than you think.

Taking the look at Cryosphere today, the ice has yet to recover significantly, and we are now at 3 million sq. km. below the long term average (off the bottom of the chart).

Scientists are now whispering in the hallway (but not to the media) that we could have an ice free arctic by 2013. This will result in greater release of green house gasses by the melting of the permafrost, not to mention the possible release of methane-hydrates if the arctic ocean as it gets warmer.

The denialists will still say this is part of normal varibility, and they will probably still say it even when half of Florida is under water.

26. 76
Jim Eager says:

Re 65 PHE: “How is it that these are all problems we could do so much more to address, but instead the international focus is on the more glamorous and popular priorities of Al Gore?”

Why is it that you and your ilk, sir, continually attempt to portray the argument as an either or situation? You also seem to expect the public to conveniently ignore the fact that those in government and industry who take the lead in obfuscation on climate change are hardly leading the charge to address HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and drinking water. Seems like a classic case of deliberate misdirection to me.

27. 77
Jody Aberdein says:

Re: 65
I find that pitting one issue against another in this style, most popularised by Bjorn Lomborg, quite depressing.

The fact of the matter is that the proposed solutions to many of the world’s problems would act synergistically.

Contraction and convergence of CO2 emmissions would necessarily result in a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor nations. Furthermore the coupling of this transfer with tools to accelerate sustainable development, i.e. universal primary education, but specifically targeted at girls, and free access to birth control would result in a reduction of sexually transmitted diseases and a reduced fertility rate.

To set up these problems against one another is to miss the point. It does allow us to dither. It is also quite something to hear the rich west go on about it when going on about it is pretty much all we have been doing for the last 50 years or so.

28. 78
SecularAnimist says:

Lee Menningen wrote: The “other” viewpoint should have equal prominence in the news, and I mean equal.

No, when the “other” viewpoint is demonstrably objectively wrong, it should not be given “equal prominence in the news”.

This is the case with the “viewpoint” that global warming is not happening, or is not caused by human activities, or is unlikely to have any serious negative consequences — it’s a “viewpoint” that is simply wrong, untrue, and incorrect. It is a “viewpoint” that should not be given any prominence in the news, except perhaps to note in passing that there remains a tiny group of people (some of them being paid propagandists for the fossil fuel industry and its political allies) who insist on denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming in spite of the overwhelming and utterly conclusive scientific evidence of its reality and its dangers.

And yet this objectively wrong “viewpoint” is, in fact, often given equal or greater prominence in the “news” with the actual reality that global warming is happening, is caused by human activities, and is likely to have very serious negative consequences not only for the entire human species but for life on Earth.

So, you are doubly wrong: what you are asking for is wrong; and you are also wrong to complain that you are not getting what you are asking for, since the “news” already gives unwarranted “prominence” to the objectively wrong viewpoint that you refer to.

29. 79
Jody Aberdein says:

This may be a repeat as the fist attempt didn’t go.

Re: 69

I find the pitting of these issues against one another, most popularised by Bjorn Lomborg, a depressing spectacle.

Let us leave aside for the moment the exemplary behaviour of the richer nations in fighting the problems of food and water scarcity and the HIV pandemic. No doubt had climate change not hijacked the minds of the benevolent classes these issues would by now be consigned to history.

The fact of the matter is that the solutions would happen to be rather synergistic.

Contraction and convergence would by necessity result in a massive transfer of wealth from rich to poor nations.

The decarbonization of society will by necessity result in improved public health, as we eat better and do more physical work.

The sustainable development of poorer nations, paid for by this mechanism, primarily starting with universal primary education especially for girls, and freely accessible family planning, would result in great health advances, a reduced fertility rate, reduced population and therefore resource demands.

The fact that we have pretty much failed to address these issues at least on one continent should be worrying in the face of climate change, because after all the brunt of the effects on disease, food supply, water supply, and land supply will be felt not by the rich but the poor.

30. 80
Jim Eager says:

Re 75 concerned: “This will result in greater release of green house gasses by the melting of the permafrost…”

It’s already happening. The closing segment on yesterday’s CBC Radio Quirks and Quarks science program was on permafrost melting.
[2007-10-13 podcast mp3 file available here: http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/podcast.html ]

In the segment, When The Permafrost is No Longer Permanent, physical geographer Dr. Scott Lamoureux of Queens University reports that annual average depth of permafrost melt on Canada’s Melville Island in the high Arctic has increased from aprox. 50 cm to over 1 meter in depth, leading to sloughing of entire hillsides. Plant biologist Dr. Merrit Turetsky of Michigan State University reports Increases in CO2 and methane off gassing have also been observed, although it turns out much of the CO2 is then taken up by new plant growth at the tundra surface.

31. 81
Steve Reynolds says:

Jim Eager> Why is it that you and your ilk, sir, continually attempt to portray the argument as an either or situation?

Probably because in reality, it is mostly either-or. Doubling (or more) the cost of electricity to mitigate AGW may be bearable for you personally, but for many it means no electricity at all in their shortened lifetime.

I can understand questioning whether this is correct, but why do you (and others here) so question the sincerity of those of us who believe this?

32. 82

Steve Reynolds asked: “I can understand questioning whether this is correct, but why do you (and others here) so question the sincerity of those of us who believe this?”

Steve, if someone brings up a concern for the poor whenever the need to mitigate climate change is mentioned, is it not fair to ask what they are doing to improve the lot of the poor in the absence of such mitigation? As I see no bold proposals coming from those most vocal in their protests, is it not fair to question their sincerity?
In any case, the “choice” between development and climate change mitigation is a false dichotomy. If we concentrate on the latter at the cost of the former, poor nations will continue to grow in population and burn dirty fuels, spoiling our efforts. If we concentrate on development while ignoring climate change, the effects of climate change will frustrate our efforts. These are two sides of the same coin.

33. 83

#75, 2013? It all depends on this years refreeze, as an example from time immemorial, pack ice offers a reprieve from winds, facilitating freezing of its interspersed open water. If there is a wide open body of water, this refreeze is more difficult. there are winds, currents, tides and huge waves to overcome before the surface freezes, but there is also sea surface temperatures and its temperature profile from the surface downwards. In a wind storm mixing of the underlying water occurs. If it is much warmer than the air above this impedes
the freeze up even further. Finally there is the cloud seeding biology factor,
usually from creatures living under the ice cover, no ice no seeding production.
2013 may not be too far off. So far I’ve seen near by sea water in relatively calm winds survive open even when temperatures dipped to -13 C (location 74 43N 94 57W). Whatever mini pack ice patches there was, freezing occurred in between the old ice cakes.

But the question of when it wil the Arctic Ocean be wide open is not as important as to why it melted so fast this year. I suggest hot anticyclones
as one of the reasons, the evidence about that seems quite clear. The long standing ongoing yearly momentum in a downward melting trend seems unstoppable.

34. 84
J.C.H. says:

In economics there is a continual churning of prices. In the not so distant past I can remember buying gasoline for a \$1.10 a gallon. It has more than doubled. Other things are cheaper, which is why there has been far less inflation than the doubling of a pervasive commodity in the economy might suggest would happen. The fact that other things are cheaper is a big reason why higher gasoline prices have not resulted in lower demand for gasoline.

So it is not necessarily true that a doubling of electricity cost to mitigate AGW will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Nothing happens in isolation. There are robust economic opportunities – unless one is dumber than the rock Larry Kudlow is dumber than – in mitigating global warming.

35. 85
Dick Veldkamp says:

Re #73 AIT judged by UK Court – useful links

A summary of the verdict is:
1. The main claims of AIT are undisputed and solidly backed by science (curiously, all newspapers forgot to to mention this part)
2. There’s a couple of details which are a little outside the consencus view.

The New Scientist looked at the ‘errors’ in AIT:
http://www.newscientist.com/blog/environment/2007/10/al-gores-inconvenient-truth.html

And Tim Lambert already wrote a good piece about the issue. See here:
http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/10/an_error_is_not_the_same_thing.php

36. 86
PHE says:

Re 82 (Ray L). Al Gore is the one making the strongest arguments and winning the acolades. How does he demonstrate his sincerity? Carbon offsetting does not count. I agree with AGW compaigner and journalist George Monbiot on this – that it is the equivalent of the medieval buying of indulgences. If Gore can resist flying to Oslo to receive his Nobel prize in person, I would have a bit more respect for him. If he genuninely believes the threats he is claiming, it would be a powerful symbol to receive it by video link. Let’s see.

Of course, a lot is being done to deal with problems in the developing world. But it seems the international establishment (with Oscars, Nobel prize, etc) is putting more emphasis on what is PREDICTED to happen sometime in the future than disasters of today. However much you accept AGW is real and happening today, the idea that impacts will be greater than today’s tragedies or natural disasters (of any time) is little more than speculation.

37. 87
podwalker says:

I’m sitting here in Africa frizzling away in higher and higher temps each year.
It is my opinion that the powers that be – governments, the UN, the super wealthy, the world’s movers and shakers – WANT global warming, and they want it quickly and they are promoting, encouraging and advancing it.
Why? OIL of course. The melting of the polar regions – north and south will open up huge oil reserves for easy access. The Northwest passage linking Asia and Europe has melted and is open for shipping. Shipping of OIL from the melting Siberian tundra oilfields….
Media coverage is a pretence. I am sick to death of the northern hemisphere nations thinking they own the world and can mess it up at will.
Thousands of scientists can sit and ponder the problem for the past decades and the decades to come. “At least we tried…” is what the govts will proclaim. The solution is simple: International laws need to be passed that will prohibit the use of gas guzzling, huge emitting vehicles to be manufactured; industry emissions must be cut to minimal – there are laws governing every aspect of our daily life. Why not to save our planet? People must be told – if you do not stop flying you will not have an earth to live on in 10 years time. Not 100 years time – not 50 years time. 10 years time… And if you don’t stop consuming like gobbling monsters you will wipe your one and only home, the earth, off the face of the universe.
But above all – it does not take a thousand scientists to work out the most simple of all. It does not take a genius to arrive at the most easy solution. FORESTS. I will say it again – FORESTS. 24% of the earth’s surface used to be covered by forest. Not just rainforest – but all forest – arboreal, equatorial, arctic, etc. All that is left after our plunder and consumption is 6%. I will say it again – 6%. A fourth-grader knows that trees suck up carbon. No trees + more carbon = disaster. So simple solution – INTERNATIONAL LAW – NO MORE FOREST DESTRUCTION – PLANT MORE TREES. Every person, even those living on a suburban plot in a city must plant trees. Factories and industries must plant trees. USE EARTHWORM COMPOST TO FERTILISE THESE TREES (and get rid of waste at the same time in an ecologically mindful way). SIMPLE..
Oh, and refreeze the arctic with liquid nitrogen (could this be done?????) Money and economics should not be an issue. Money is a man-made phenomenon, as is economics – money and what the cost would be cannot be of the slightest concern in this most dire calamity facing us.
So, this sounds like unscientific claptrap? Well, I’m from Africa – what do I know?

38. 88
Bob Clipperton (UK) says:

re post 83:- I have seen somewhere that 2 anti-AGW ‘experts’ advising in this case were Bob carter & prof ? Philip? Stott (london). I am trying to find out who put pro-AGW arguments.

And re my earlier posts, back on topic, has Tim Flannery clearly stated which CO2 equivalent he used ? & Why, or has he conceded that he was not 100% correct?
I just want to know the truth – having great respect for him and the RC team.

39. 89
petefontana says:

Tim Flannery’s statement and statements in a similar vein from Al Gore that we need to “save the future of this civilization” – a direct quote – seem likely to push climate science from “important research” to abetting “hysteria.” At what point will the credibility of good people be ruined beyond repair by all of this.

40. 90
Steve Reynolds says:

Ray Ladbury> Steve, if someone brings up a concern for the poor whenever the need to mitigate climate change is mentioned, is it not fair to ask what they are doing to improve the lot of the poor in the absence of such mitigation?

Yes.

Ray> As I see no bold proposals coming from those most vocal in their protests, is it not fair to question their sincerity?

No. That assumes that the best solution will come from ‘bold proposals’. I see the people of China and India making faster progress in improving their lot than just about any people at any time in the history of the world. I can and do help them by investing in their development and buying their products.

My (not so) bold proposal for the people of less rapidly developing areas (including our commenter from Africa) is to emulate China and India. My opinion is that involves massive reductions in government corruption.

Ray> If we concentrate on development while ignoring climate change, the effects of climate change will frustrate our efforts.

Maybe it is because I do not see AGW being quite the immediate crisis that many here do, I think there is time for the rapidly developing peoples to become rich enough to solve their pollution problems (and becoming rich appears to automatically solve population problems).

I expect there are benefits to helping to educate the people of slowly developing nations (education is something difficult for a government to steal, and it reduces population growth).

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Re. #76, Jim Eager:

You also seem to expect the public to conveniently ignore the fact that those in government and industry who take the lead in obfuscation on climate change are hardly leading the charge to address HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and drinking water. Seems like a classic case of deliberate misdirection to me.

It’s even more hypocritical than that implies: the primary reason the US Government gave for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol was precisely the fact that the protocol contained no target for developing countries to reduce their emissions. In other words, unless the poorest nations had to pay part of the price of tackling the problem from the very start of the agreement, the US wasn’t willing to pay any of it.

See for example, Wikipedia, which states:

“On July 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized … the U.S. Senate unanimously passed by a 95–0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations” [The full text of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution is here].

“The current President, George W. Bush, has indicated that he does not intend to submit the treaty for ratification, not because he does not support the Kyoto principles, but because of the exemption granted to China … Furthermore, the U.S. is concerned with broader exemptions of the treaty. For example, the U.S. does not support the split between Annex I [i.e. developed countries] countries and others [i.e. developing countries].”

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Ike Solem says:

Nice post, and it’s nice to see the IPCC being recognized for their work despite the constant attacks they get from all sides. Keep in mind that they take the most conservative viewpoint, scientifically speaking.

Journals and editors are busy and understaffed, but instead of jumping on IPCC leaks, they might instead want to spend more time looking at the recent scientific literature – which does attempt to address the issue of carbon cycle feedbacks, which seems to be the underlying theme here.

Regarding CO2 equivalents usage: (quote) “There are two main ways it is used. Firstly, it is often used to group together all the forcings from the Kyoto greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs), and secondly to group together all forcings (including ozone, sulphate aerosols, black carbon etc.). The first is simply a convenience, but the second is what matters to the planet. Many stabilisation scenarios, such as are being discussed in UNFCCC negotiations are based on stabilising total CO2_e at 450, 550 or 750 ppmv.”

One point: due to the windows in the CO2 IR spectrum, can’t reducing the levels of some of the ‘window-filling’ gases have an effect that lies outside the “CO2 equivalents” notion? Thus, by reducing methane and nitrous oxide and CFC’s, we keep the CO2 windows open – an effect which is underestimated by the ‘CO2 equivalents’ measure?

So, as I understand it the most recent IPCC report didn’t consider two issues due their uncertain nature: carbon-cycle feedbacks in a warming world, and ice-sheet dynamics. Hopefully they’ll attempt to address this in their new report. That might be something worth reporting on.

Considering that in the past, CO2 and methane emissions have been triggered as a secondary effect of a warming planet, to what extent are we risking this under the above-mentioned stabilization scenarios? Do we really know at all? Considering the amount of carbon stored in permafrost and shallow sea sediments, and also considering the accelerating warming in the Arctic, and the potential for similar effects in the Antarctic, can we be sure these ‘stabilization scenarios’ would really be stable?

Here are some news reports on papers addressing the carbon-cycle feedback effect:
Melting Russian Permafrost Could Accelerate Global Warming, ENS 2006

Polar ocean is sucking up less carbon dioxide, Nature News 2007

This seems pretty important. Imagine if a 50% reduction in fossil fuel CO2 emissions had no effect on the rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere due to a combination of ‘natural’ CO2 release and weakened CO2 sinks – that’s worrisome.

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Neil Bates says:

OK, I see the need for a “CO2 equivalent”, but is CO2 itself all that simple to measure and simply report? It seems easy to just measure CO2 content at various places, but the concentration varies from place to place, with altitude and season, etc – Could someone give a primer on that, and also rebutt criticism from skeptics about a major CO2 monitoring station being near a Hawaiian volcano which often belches CO2, etc? Thanks.

44. 94

Re. #87, Bob Clipperton, the pro-AGW arguments were put by Peter Stott.

45. 95
Brent Hoare says:

I would like to offer congratulations to Tim Flannery for drawing attention to the importance of the contribution of fluorocarbons to rising global warming emissions. I eagerly await the Synthesis eport figures, but this really should come as no surprise as the IPCC established that halocarbons have been a very significant and rapidly growing slice of the emissions in 2005 – 13% relative to pre-industrial levels of greenhouse gases and 23% relative to 1970 levels – see below.

Accumulation in the atmosphere of all refrigerants apart from CFCs are growing at alarming rates (see http://agage.eas.gatech.edu/data.htm ), yet these very powerful greenhouse gases are much neglected in discussions of the causes and solutions of global warming.

If the 20 year GWP timeframe for these gases were used (which is much more closely related to the atmospheric lifetimes of HCFC-22 and HFC-134a) the CO2-e values would be dramatically higher than currently accepted, and I would welcome some further comment from real climate on this issue.

Huge opportunities exist to control the use and emissions of these dangerous gases by introducing an appropriate mix of polices to provide incentives for the development and uptake of technologies, and an effective carbon-equivalent price signal to create incentives to invest in low-GHG refrigeration and air conditioning products, technologies and processes, as recommended by the IPCC. Ammonia, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons offer a wide range of solutions to reduce HCFC and HFC emissions, and there need to be much great efforts taken worldwide to reclaim the existing refrigerant bank.

Much greater attention to these issues is urgently required from all stakeholders in the climate change debate.

Brent Hoare

[from p.25 of the Technical Summary of the IPCC Special Report on Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System Issues related to Hydrofluorocarbons and Perfluorocarbons, 2005]

2.4 How much do the halocarbon gases and their replacements contribute to positive radiative forcing of the climate system relative to 1970?

The direct radiative forcing due to increases in halocarbons from 1970 to 2000 was 0.27 0.03 W m2, which represents about 23% of that due to increases in all of the well-mixed GHGs. The contribution to direct radiative forcing due to HCFCs is presently dominated by HCFC-22, while that due to HFCs is dominated by HFC-134a and HFC-23, with the latter being emitted mainly as a byproduct of manufacture of HCFC-22. [1.1, 1.5] 10

46. 96

petefontana, re 88. What do you suppose will happen in a world with 11 billion people if we lose the ability to grow wheat? Potatos? What if precipitation becomes unpredictable and falls predominantly in destructive, impulsive events? What if it does not fall at all for years in many places? Ask Australian farmers about their futures.
All of human civilization has evolved during the past 10000 years–a time of exceptional climatic stability. Remove that stability, and do you think that will be a boon to that civilization. There is an old saying: If you can keep you head when all around you are afraid, you probably don’t understand the situation.

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Surly says:

Tim Flannery’s statement and statements in a similar vein from Al Gore that we need to “save the future of this civilization” – a direct quote – seem likely to push climate science from “important research” to abetting “hysteria.” At what point will the credibility of good people be ruined beyond repair by all of this.

petefontana, I realize this is off topic, and I understand if this post doesn’t make it to the board. I’ve been lurking here on and off for a while and over at other blogs so I can get a handle on the history and basis of this whole debate that should be past debate. I can understand the frustration people here feel with the politicization of the science. Politicization of an issue so fraught with economic interests and implications is inevitable and unavoidable. It’s the reality we face.

Policy analysis is my profession and I can tell you that developing policy is maddeningly complicated and hair-pullingly frustrating. I compile (I don’t do it) the research; I have a sense of what should be done based on the research, but then the politics, resources, competing interests, etc., come into play and affect the policy process. Ultimately, if it isn’t in “the plan”, if it isn’t part of “the vision” – of the party in power or the administration – and no matter how convinced the analysts might be based on the science, it doesn’t matter what the science says. The politicians have the final say in what gets written.

Conversely, if it is in the vision, it’s possible to twist the research to say what you want it to say or support whatever policy you want to put forward. Argh! I’ve seen both happen in my time.

Part of me doesn’t like to see scientsts become politically active because then they lose a certain aura of objectivity and that adds an additional layer of complexity to the whole process. It’s also painful to see scientists used as pawns in a game they might not completely comprehend. That said, I can appreciate that scientists are citizens and have concerns based on the research they are conducting. I also don’t like to see laypeople get the science wrong and overstate case, for that also affects the policy process and political will and just adds to the aura of uncertainty. Earnest laypeople with an incomplete understanding of the science can throw a spanner in the works, so to speak.

Policy makers need the very best unbiased science at hand in order to take us from the science to the best most effective policies and legislation and then on to the implementation and enforcement.

Ultimately, if there is no political will, all the best most objective science will go nowhere. That’s what some are working to accomplish. Kill the political will that might exist already and/or prevent it from materializing.

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Re. #91, Neil Bates.

The Hawaiian volcano is covered on Gristmill.

I’m not sure how the global mean concentration is calculated though.

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PaulM says:

Man, is it going to get hot in the next 200 years. Once those landmasses start heating up, combined with the sea level rise and co2 levels that will keep those feverish temps in place, e don’t stand much of a chance. I personally believe both the ocean currents will stop and the ice shelf will fall into the ocean, you people are way too optimistic. The globe is warming, and we are in big, big trouble.

50. 100
Eli Rabett says:

A major point which appears not much commented on is most of the GHG equivalent consists of gases with relatively short atmospheric lifetimes. Thus their effect diminishes with time. This is caught in GHG potential over specific time periods, which captures both the IR activity of a gas and its atmospheric lifetime. For example, quoting from the Wikipedia on greenhouse gases:

“Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 ± 3 years and a GWP of 62 over 20 years, 23 over 100 years and 7 over 500 years. The decrease in GWP associated with longer times is associated with the fact that the methane is degraded to water and CO2 by chemical reactions in the atmosphere.”