13 january 2013

[4C note: This article elicited the following "blog" comment, which seems to us very relevant: "That is of course assuming the 'best' scenario - if we get another 'tipping point' before any action becomes effective, the costs can be multiplied if it is indeed possible to keep it below extreme danger level. If the methane locked up in permafrost and deep sea get released all bets are off."]

Fiddling while Rome burns – the £3trn cost of climate delay

Expert warns that Doha agreement to wait until 2020 to tackle global warming is a mistake

Tom Bawden, The Independent, Sunday 13 January 2013

The Doha climate summit agreement which delayed vital action to tackle global warming for another seven years will cost $5 trillion (£3.1trn) to remedy, according to research by one of the world's leading climate change scientists.

Delaying until 2020 measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions enough to give the world a fair chance of containing global warming would cost 25 per cent more than taking action to achieve the same reduction now, according to the first research to quantify the financial impact of deferring remedial measures. The increase would take the cost from $20trn if action started today to $25trn if it began in 2020, as agreed in Doha last month.

"It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change," said Dr Keywan Riahi, of the renowned International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria (IIASA), which conducted the research.

"With a 20-year delay, you can throw as much money as you have at the problem, and the best outcome you get is a 50-50 chance of keeping the temperature rise below two degrees," said Dr Riahi, a lead author of the last two influential "assessment reports" for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the next one, due out in 2014.

Most experts agree that once global warming exceeds two degrees centigrade the consequences become increasingly devastating. Last month the world's leading nations reaffirmed a goal of two degrees at the UN climate change conference in Doha and agreed to launch a co-ordinated global campaign to ensure the target was met.

However, they gave themselves until 2015 to finalise the details of the campaign and five more years to prepare for it, meaning action to combat global warming will not happen until 2020.

Dr Riahi's calculations demonstrate the costs of such a delay. The $5trn, or 25 per cent, figure represents the increase in the total cost of ensuring emissions are reduced to a level that give the world a fair – 60 per cent – chance of keeping global warming to two degrees.

This includes the cost of switching from polluting coal-fired power stations to renewable energy sources and from petrol to biofuels – as well as areas such as introducing measures to improve energy efficiency.

"Climate is a cumulative problem and so the 'headroom' with respect to the emissions that can be vented into the atmosphere in order to stay below two degrees is limited," said Dr Riahi, who calculated the cost of delay for The Independent, which he derived from research his organisation published in the journal Nature this month.

"Any lack of emissions reduction now needs to be compensated by more rapid and deeper emissions later on and this makes it more expensive ," he added.

The extra spending would be spread between 2020 and 2100, and much of will be needed by 2050, says the IIASA.


Editorial: The unaffordable cost of climate change delay

Independent Sunday 13 January 2013

If there was ever a case of fiddling while Rome burns, then the sadly dilatory global response to the threat from climate change is surely it. Even as weather patterns become measurably more extreme the world over; even as the polar ice caps melt back ever further each summer, opening up newly navigable shipping lanes; even as average global temperatures continue their inexorable rise; still, attempts to forge an international consensus make only glacially slow progress. Yet as research published in this newspaper today makes clear, the longer we take to act, the more unaffordable remedial action becomes.

The most recent foot-dragging was at the UN talks in Doha, which concluded last month. The hope was that the 18th conference on the Convention on Climate Change, attended by nearly 200 countries, would agree rules for an updated treaty – to be signed by 2015 and come into force in 2020 – to impose legally-binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on all countries of the world for the first time. But for all the blustering commendations from politicians accompanying the 11th-hour "Doha Climate Gateway", the outcome was disappointing.

In fairness, there was some progress. The existing Kyoto protocol was extended and discussions about the technicalities of the future treaty's negotiating procedure were determined. But the thorniest issues – how, for example, to share the cost of mitigating climate change between developed and developing countries – are no nearer to resolution.

If there were any remaining doubts as to the need for concerted and swift action, however, the latest draft US National Climate Assessment, published on Friday, puts paid to them. The Washington-commissioned analysis makes clear that America is already feeling the impact of global warm- ing; infrastructure, water supplies, crops and coastal geographies are being noticeably affected, it says, while heatwaves, downpours, floods and droughts are all both more common and more extreme. The 240-strong panel of experts also explicitly state, contrary to Republican lore, that rising temperatures are "due primarily to human activities".

It can only be hoped that the findings will galvanise the world's second-largest carbon emitter into action at last. But although President Obama has brought in a smattering of regulations on greenhouse gases, and his energy strategy ultimately aims to wean the US off foreign oil, explicit references to climate change are still few and far between in Washington, and most Republicans refuse to acknowledge any link between human activity and a changing climate. With America central to any meaningful follow-up UN treaty, the tone of the three-month consultation on the Climate Assessment has far-reaching implications.

Evidence is growing, however, that the UN timetable is insufficiently ambitious. Waiting until 2020 rather than pressing ahead now will add £3 trillion to the price tag for corrective measures such as renewable power sources, according to leading climate scientist Dr Keywan Riahi. Seven more years of delay also steadily erodes the probability that the rise in global temperature can be kept below the 2C level at which the consequences become devastatingly destabilising.

As economic malaise leaves the case for environmental policies harder to make, and international efforts lose their gloss, climate change is slipping off the agenda. We cannot afford for it to do so. As the US report says: "Climate change, once considered an issue for

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