Too Little, Too Late

By Carr, Simon | Geographical, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Too Little, Too Late


Carr, Simon, Geographical


IN MY OPINION, the current global response to climate change is simply too little, too late and there is an overwhelming lack of will to implement initiatives to restrict climate change to within the limits that are considered 'safe'.

I'm not a climate scientist; I'm a physical geographer who has witnessed the effects of climate change on the glaciers that have been my passion for the past 20 years. I've observed glacier retreat with increasing despondency, mixed with somewhat cynical regard (ignorance?) for the political issues that influence climate change.

Consequently, I recently introduced a third-year undergraduate module on the science and politics of climate change, which has given me an opportunity to explore the subject from both the scientific and social-scientific perspectives with my students. This has confirmed my belief in the important role that geographers have to play in attempts to regain the initiative in the global response to climate change.

Despite the efforts of sceptics, the climate change debate is no longer about proving an anthropogenic component to the changes observed. William Anderegg of Stanford University in California has established that 97 per cent of climate scientists agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) view that increased anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) largely explain recent global warming trends.

We also have fairly sophisticated models that predict future global climates based on different scenarios of GHG emission. The debate has now moved toward how to avoid 'dangerous' climate change, and this is where the problems begin.

What is a 'safe' level of global warming, and for whom is it safe? The 2009 Copenhagen Accord proposed restricting global temperature increases by 2100 to 2[degrees]C above pre-industrial temperatures, marking a global upper limit of 'safety'. This corresponds to the IPCC 'B1' emissions scenario of continued globalisation with an emphasis on slow economic growth and environmental sustainability. The 2[degrees]C target was a political compromise at Copenhagen without a clear scientific basis of what defines 'safety'; on current trends, by 2100 we are, in fact, looking at something closer to 4[degrees]C of warming.

Research suggests that 2-4[degrees]C of warming will result in a global mean sea-level rise of more than one metre, with serious consequences for low-lying coastal communities, which probably don't consider 2[degrees]C of warming 'safe', and certainly not 4[degrees]C. Safety, apparently, is defined by location, size and global economic status. Climate change will most affect those regions that have the least capacity to cope.

The good news is that climate scientists have identified the action needed to fulfil the 2[degrees]C 'safe' warming scenario by 2100--a global net annual reduction in GHG emissions of one to two per cent for the next 40 years. …

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