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1 Americas Climate Choices Highlights of a National Academies Project and Personal Thoughts Robert Socolow Princeton University Forum.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Americas Climate Choices Highlights of a National Academies Project and Personal Thoughts Robert Socolow Princeton University Forum."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Americas Climate Choices Highlights of a National Academies Project and Personal Thoughts Robert Socolow Princeton University Forum on Climate Change Science and Consequences American Chemical Society National Meeting Boston MA August 23, 2010

2 2 Americas Climate Choices A congressional initiative in 2008 to: …investigate and study the serious and sweeping issues relating to global climate change and make recommendations regarding what steps must be taken and what strategies must be adopted in response to global climate change, including the science and technology challenges thereof. Products already: A summit (March 2009) and four reports from panels. Product in progress: A Final Report from the overarching Committee on Americas Climate Choices (of which I am a member). Information at

3 3 Four panel reports are out Advancing the Science of Climate Change Science panel Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change Limiting panel Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change Adapting panel Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Informing panel Available at http://www.nap.edu

4 4 Science Panel: Sorry, its real. CONCLUSION #1: Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.

5 5 Science Panel: A new era of climate research The nation needs a comprehensive and integrative climate change science enterprise that not only contributes fundamental understanding but also informs and expands Americas climate choices. Scientists need to engage stakeholders/citizens in order to build trust, access local knowledge, and learn about priorities. The federal climate change research program should develop, deploy, and maintain a comprehensive observing system that supports all aspects of understanding and responding to climate change.

6 6 Never in history has the work of so few led to so much being asked of so many! The few are the climate science researchers. The many are the rest of us. Understandably, we wish we lived on a larger planet, with a larger atmosphere so that our emissions would be less significant – and also a planet with larger fisheries, bigger forests, more abundant ground water, so that all our actions mattered less.

7 7 Managing Risk Climate science today sends a difficult message: 1.Both mild and severe climate change is consistent with each future global atmospheric gas concentration. This frustrating lack of predictability has its roots in poorly understood feedbacks (notably regarding clouds, ice, and the biosphere). 2.Climate science cannot now provide tight upper bounds on the probability of very bad outcomes. Climate change could be extremely disruptive – well beyond what is conveyed in descriptions of mean expectations. 3.Scientists are not on the verge of breakthroughs that will result in a significantly better predictability. We are not only flying blind, but the fog is not about to lift.

8 8 A challenge to the educators of chemists Needed: Chemists who understand: the planetary scale – the science and technology required to achieve insight into fitting on the Earth rich and poor people, rich and poor countries future and present human domination vs. accommodation ambiguity

9 9 A robust U.S. response requires: An inclusive national framework for aligning the goals and efforts of actors at all levels Aggressive pursuit of all major near-term emission reduction opportunities and R&D to create new options Iterative management of policy responses Limiting Panel: Prompt, sustained efforts

10 10 Representative budget: 170–200 Gt CO 2-eq, 2012–2050. Business-as-usual consumes this budget well before 2050. Limiting Panel: U.S. budget to 2050

11 11 Meeting an emissions budget in the 170–200 Gt CO 2 -eq range could be technically possible, but it is very difficult. Essentially all available options (e.g. efficiency, renewables, CCS, nuclear, biofuels) would need to be deployed at levels close to what is estimated as technically possible; and these estimates are based on very optimistic assumptions. Limiting Panel: Tough goals are real hard

12 12 1. Adopt a mechanism for setting an economy-wide price on carbon. 2. Complement the carbon price with policies to: –Realize the practical potential for energy efficiency and low-emission energy sources; –Establish the feasibility of carbon capture and storage and new nuclear technologies; –Accelerate the retirement, retrofitting or replacement of GHG emission-intensive infrastructure. 3. Create new technology choices by investing heavily in research and crafting policies to stimulate innovation. Limiting Panel: Recommendations* *first three of seven recommendations

13 13 An idealization of mitigation BAU E(t) CPM pace Time Emission rate BAU: Business As Usual CPM: Constant-Pace Mitigation Today, approximately half of emissions are retained in the atmosphere and half move to other reservoirs.

14 14 Procrastination and Pace E(t) BAU CPM E(t) BAU CPM E(t) BAU CPM pace Procrastination can lead to… (1) Extra total emissions, because pace cannot be increased, OR (2) Constant total emissions, with a faster pace. BAU: Business As Usual CPM: Constant-Pace Mitigation

15 15 Every strategy can be implemented well or poorly Every solution has a dark side. ConservationRegimentation RenewablesCompeting uses of land Clean coalMining: worker and land impacts Nuclear powerNuclear proliferation GeoengineeringTechnological hegemony Risk Management: Because mitigation and adaptation are not risk-free, the lowest conceivable greenhouse-concentration targets are not optimal. The risks of disruption from climate change must be traded against the risks of disruption from solutions.

16 16 There is a real risk that impacts could emerge rapidly and powerfully. Mobilizing now to increase the nations adaptive capacity can be viewed as an insurance policy against an uncertain future. Key sectors: ecosystems, agriculture and forestry, water, health, transportation, energy, and coastal regions. Adapting Panel: Go for iterative risk management

17 17 Adapting Panel: The short term can borrow from climate variability Example: The Hot Weather–Health Watch/Warning System, Philadelpia, 1995 Whenever the National Weather Service issues a heat wave warning, local media are required to provide information on how to avoid heat-related illnesses and how to help elderly persons. Those involved include Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging Department of Public Health Local utility company and water department (halt service suspensions) Fire Department Emergency Medical Service (increase staffing) Senior centers (extend hours of operation of air-conditioned facilities)

18 18 Examples of transformational adaptations: Movement of people and facilities away from vulnerable areas Changes in ecosystem and land management objectives Revisions of water-rights law Contingency planning for high-impact/low-probability outcomes requires vigilant monitoring to detect early signals and continuous assessment of the adequacy of responses. Adaptation needs to be adaptable. Adapting panel: The long term requires transformational change

19 19 What is a crisis? Needed: much more effort to describe vividly: What losing control of the planet looks like. What taking charge of the planet looks like. Is losing control of the planet mostly about moving cities inland? About losing ecosystems? Does taking charge of the planet require a new level of planetary governance?

20 20 Informing Panel: Improved information systems Federal coordination of diverse decision-making Institutions that will produce improved tools

21 21 Climate response is and will always be decentralized. Federal roles include: –clear leadership –regular evaluation and assessment –aggregation and dissemination of best practices –development and diffusion of decision-support tools –training of researchers and practitioners. The federal government must avoid preemption that discourages productive decisions by other actors. Informing Panel: All sorts of decisionmakers

22 22 Informing Panel: Paths toward better decision-support tools The federal governments immense infrastructure for data collection and analysis – including satellites, climate models, and in situ monitoring systems – can be enhanced via national climate- service institutions. These institutions can provide diverse users with high quality, harmonized, accessible information at multiple scales.

23 23 The Planetary Perspective The ACS needs to understand not only Americas climate choices but also the worlds.

24 24 Per-capita fossil-fuel CO 2 emissions, 2005 1- World emissions: 27 billion tons CO 2 STABILIZATION AVERAGE TODAY Source: IEA WEO 2007

25 25 ActivityAmount producing 4 ton CO 2 /yr emissions a) Drive24,000 km/yr, 5 liters/100km (45 mpg) b) Fly24,000 km/yr c) Heat homeNatural gas, ample U.S. home, average climate d) Lights 300 kWh/month when all coal-power (600 kWh/month, natural-gas-power) Four ways to emit 4 ton CO 2 /yr (todays global per capita average)

26 26 Stabilization: 1 ton CO 2 /yr per capita It is not sufficient to limit emissions in the prosperous parts of the world and allow the less fortunate to catch up. Such an outcome would overwhelm the planet. The emissions of the future rich must eventually equal the emissions of todays poor, … …not the other way around.

27 27 The developing world will decide what kind of planet we live on. For a while longer, the industrialized countries will lead. But countries now industrializing will dominate global environmental problem-solving over this century.

28 28 Prospicience Prospicience: The art [and science] of looking ahead. In the past 50 years we have become aware of the history of our Universe, our Earth, and life. Can we achieve a comparable understanding of human civilization at various future times: 50 years ahead – vs. 500 years and vs. 5000 years? We have scarcely begun to ask: What are we on Earth to do?

29 29 Fitting on the Earth Our planet, Earth, is the only one we have. Fortunately: Our science has discovered threats fairly early; We can identify a myriad of helpful technologies; We have a moral compass that tells us to care not only about those alive today but also about the collective future of our species. What has seemed too hard becomes what simply must be done.

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