A climate for geoengineeing? And the “very worst” case for net emissions…

Since the end of last term COP21 happened. Biosphere management emerged as a theme in discussion of carbon emissions in Paris. Did this come under the category of Geoengineering and carbon dioxide removal technologies? What role might Geoengineering eventually play and what issues arise? Matthias investigated these questions in the wider context of the global commitment that was made. Jakub meanwhile considers what would happen to climate if we only burned through our entire fossil resource and did nothing in mitigation.

By Matthias: There has been a number of climate negotiations before, why is this one being celebrated and perceived by many as a great success. Well, it is certainly quite unique and impressive that not a single country has refused to sign the agreement, which would have been enough to throw the whole agreement overboard. The reason for the Paris agreement to be signed by each country, is the fact that this time national contributions to restrict climate change will not be imposed upon countries, but they get to choose how much they contribute themselves.

So what is actually legally binding?

There will be a legally binding annual $100bn fund from developed economies to help developing/emerging economies to diversify their energy mix with renewables.
Also, each country has to submit a national reduction target and the regular review of this target will be legally binding too. However what is heavily criticised by many is that national emission reduction targets will be determined by nations themselves.
So what is being celebrated is that finally for the first time in the history of climate conferences, the world has collectively agreed upon the goal of restricting global warming to a 2°C maximum by 2100. The attempt to impose binding targets on countries was the major reason for previous climate negotiations to fail. There will certainly be new talks and reviews the next five years.  A depressing side note: the 100bn will still be less than 8% of worldwide declared military spending this year.

Is Geoengineering probable in the light of the talks?

The deliberate large scale manipulation of the planet to counter the effects of climate change has long been a taboo subject, but in recent years more voices say that there won’t be a way around it. The concept of Geoengineering has been around since 1965 but was not promoted much by scientists, since many believed it could divert attention from governments to prevent / mitigate climate change in the first place. I personally think that Geoengineering will certainly not take place within the next 40 years, since people are rightfully worried about the unknowns. However, if the biosphere gets to a critical stage some will probably resort to geoengineering, but the question will be which country will be in charge. Since actions to cool the earth in some region can have serious consequences in other regions. This is why I think atmospheric measures (i.e. aerosols, or reflectors) will be more problematic and hence unlikely than pumping liquefied CO2 back into the earth.

References: Gunther M. 2009. Suck It Up: How capturing carbon from the air can help solve the climate crisis, 51pp;  BBC news coverage of COP21 and details of the deal on the BBC website

 

And with ALL the organic carbon sequestered in the Earth’s crust back in the atmosphere…

Bu Jakub: The amount of carbon emitted through fossil fuels has an influence on greenhouse effect. Since the onset of industrial era the humankind emitted significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere which has increased average global temperature by approximately 0.85C[1]. This is almost half of the internationally accepted increase of 2C. Such ceiling on increase in average temperature is thought by experts to preserve the integrity of most ecosystems, limit the increase in the ocean levels to protect vulnerable coastal and island countries from drowning and other negative impacts on humankind.
What would happen if all fossil fuels were burnt and total of 5 trillion tonnes of carbon would be emitted to atmosphere?

According to scientists, such emissions would cause global average temperature to rise by 6–11C, with warming more pronounced in Arctic (15–19C)[2]. Although not immediately, subsequent melting of world glaciers would cause rising of global oceans by over 50 metres over next centuries[3], an event which would drown major cities in the world.  Increased temperatures would also result in inability to cultivate most of the grains common in our diet and threaten many terrestrial and marine animals. For example, large proportions of coral reefs worldwide which provide habitat to majority of marine animals are under greater risk of bleaching due to climate change[4]. Local weather patterns would be amplified with rainy areas experiencing more rainfall and arid areas suffering severe droughts. Increased atmospheric concentration of carbon would also result in acidification of precipitation and oceans, which would contribute to decrease of both plant and animal diversity[5,6].  Eventually, burning all fossil fuels would make majority of the planet uninhabitable by humans[7].

1. http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a004100/a004135/index.html
2. http://www.bcsea.org/events/how-much-would-five-trillion-tonnes-of-carbon-warm-climate
3. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/8/e1500589
4. Iglesias-Prieto, R., Matta, J. L., Robins, W. A., & Trench, R. K. (1992). Photosynthetic response to elevated temperature in the symbiotic dinoflagellate Symbiodinium microadriaticum in culture. Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, 89(21), 10302-10305.
5. Dubinsky, Z., & Stambler, N. (Eds.). (2010). Coral reefs: an ecosystem in transition. Springer Netherlands.
6. Wei, G., McCulloch, M. T., Mortimer, G., Deng, W., & Xie, L. (2009). Evidence for ocean acidification in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 73(8), 2332-2346.
7. Sherwood, SC, and Huber, M. An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010, 107:9552-9555.

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