Friday, November 7, 2014

Latest climate change report: Situation normal, awfuller and awfuller

The latest climate change report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists is out and has the usual grim warnings.  I read with interest the “summary for policymakers” of the final report.  Unfortunately, it’s a difficult summary (22 pages of dense text and 18 pages of complicated tables and charts) and probably not much use to policymakers.  All the pieces of the 2014 status report can be found here, including a set of “headline statements,” which are a bit easier to follow.
The important takeaways (from my point of view):
·      Yes, things are continuing to get worse.
·      The good news, mitigation works: “Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.”
·      The bad news, it’s still going to get worse: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
·      The bad stuff that can happen?  “In urban areas, climate change is projected to increase risks for people, assets, economies and ecosystems, including risks from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, and storm surges.”  (Yowsers!)
·      How urgent is mitigation?  “Delaying additional mitigation to 2030 will substantially increase the challenges associated with limiting warming over the 21st century.”  (How is that looking after Tuesday’s election results?)
Although the document doesn’t offer much for policymakers (I don’t think that was their mandate), it does suggest some guideposts for further policy work.  For instance, they note that mitigation strategies and adaptation strategies can often yield “co-benefits.”  Examples: “(i) improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, leading to reduced emissions of health-damaging climate-altering air pollutants; (ii) reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; (iii) sustainable agriculture and forestry; and (iv) protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.”  There are also, however, tradeoffs that may need to be made.
There is no attention paid to transportation, other than the barest mention that very large investments in “low carbon electricity supply and energy efficiency” in transportation and other sectors will be vital to any mitigation strategy.  (This fits with my view that electrifying the transportation system is job number one.)
Unfortunately, the chances for an educated public policy debate on climate change in this country are bleak and have become bleaker.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of urgent work to be done, and the latest IPCC report documents both the gravity of the problem and the size of the gap we in the transportation policy world need to close between the facts of climate change and workable, real-world policies and programs.

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