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Six Ways to Save the World: Scientists Compile List of Climate Change Clinchers

Scientists at this week's conference in Copenhagen summarise findings for policy makers to discuss at UN summit in December

Complied by the Guardian Editorial Team

Scientists at the international congress in Copenhagen have prepared a summary statement of their findings for policy makers. This was handed today to the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in December he will formally hand this statement over to officials and heads of state at the conference. The full conclusions from the 2,500 scientific delegates from 80 countries that have attended the three-day meeting this week will be published in full in June 2009. The congress was conceived as an update of the science of global warming ahead of the UN summit in December. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in 2007 is now three to four years out of date.

The scientists' six key messages are:

1) Climatic trends

Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario projections (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

2) Social disruption

The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on "dangerous climate change". Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for countries to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

3) Long-term strategy

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid "dangerous climate change" regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

4) Equity dimensions

Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

5) Inaction is inexcusable

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches — economic, technological, behavioural, management — to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

6) Meeting the challenge

To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

This piece originally appeared in the Environment section of the Guardian

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That is spectacularly unhelpful.

Posted by: Josh on 12 Mar 09

I have read #6 a couple of times. It seems to me that it should be #1. Given that this list is coming from scientist, and if my my memory of physics serves me well, inertia is not a thing that can be reduced, but only overcome. Reducing inertia is, I believe, an oxymoron. I wonder how such a scientifically meaningless statement is something the scientific community would use, and why it is the last item in the list.

Maybe the reasons it is last are that the constant movement of the offending society is to: desire for governments to act on climate change, so that the citizens don't have to; keep in place our implicit and explicit subsidies that preserve our hegemony; reduce the responsibilities we have for our lifestyles' increasing emissions and reducing resilience; preserve our ineffective involvement in governance and ignoring institutions, such that leadership in government, the private sector and civil society are personal ego trips and not social service; and engage society in the framing of sustainability such that we do not have to transition from our norms and practices that foster our comfort.

Posted by: Greg Robie on 12 Mar 09

According to the BBC report, the Danish PM seems to get the gravity of the situation:

"Business as usual is dead - green growth is the answer to both our climate and economic problems.

"I hope the whole world will join us and set a two degree goal as an ambition of a climate deal in Copenhagen," said Mr Rasmussen.

See that? A 'two degree' goal. The message is not getting back to 'life as it was', but 'limiting the damage'.

Beat the t-two! We appear to be in for curious times ahead!

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 12 Mar 09

I hope that people can finally see that this is a very real problem. Keep up the green work

Posted by: wude72 on 13 Mar 09

You should take a look at this. These guys seem to have found an answer.
Introduction to the Y3000 Plan

Posted by: rayq on 16 Mar 09

As far as individual solutions:

Our best renewable energy source with current technology is solar thermal (CSP) with molten salt heat storage. Non intermittent base load power day and night from the sun. It's low tech, quick to build (compared with new nuclear or "clean coal") and will provide inexpensive electricity. Electric prices from CSP are projected to drop below 10 cents/kWh in 5 years or less and to 5-8 cents/kWh within about 10 years, or when the industry reaches economy of scale.

What's more, it can be combined heat and power, providing electricity and hot water. And CSP (concentrating solar power) can also act as desalinization plants while producing electricty.
This will be a big plus, especially in some third world countries where water is already a big issue.
CSP can be air or water cooled.

It's so simple and low tech, we could have done it 100 years ago.

The reason I say it's our best renewable, is because it can replace coal plants with base load power day and night. Plants are now being built with 6-8 hours of heat storage, with 12-14 hours feasable.

CSP does need to be in areas of intense sunshine, and are cost effective when done in large projects of 100 megawatts or more. There are some dish type solar thermal systems that are more applicable for siting near end users. These are a few MW each. They are also based on the Stirling engine rather than conventional steam turbines.

We could power the entire U.S. using less land than now used for coal mining and coal plants, or about 1% of our southwest desert lands.

Check out the proposal called TREC to build CSP around the Mediterranian and power Europe, North Africa and the Mid East, while also providing hot water and desalinization. If undertaken, this will have added benefits to the people of the region, improved water supply, clean inexpensive power and more jobs. Not to mention what that much co-operation might do for international relations.
It's been said that solar thermal could power the whole world using 1% of the Sahara Desert.

Also of interest is what Zenith Solar of Israel is doing. Concentrating PV solar(CPV) that also provides hot water from the cooling of the solar cells. A great idea.

from their website
"In conventional CPV systems, the excess heat generated in the solar cell needs to be removed to avoid damaging the cell and to maintain high efficiency of electricity conversion. ZenithSolar utilizes the heat generated at the solar cell receiver to provide usable hot water heating, improving overall solar power conversion efficiency to 75% ."

"An ordinary photovoltaic cell, which is 10 by 10 centimeters, normally produces one watt of electricity. We managed to extract more than a thousand times more - 1,500 watts. In this way, the cost of a cell is 1,500 less, becoming almost nothing."

"No one has ever produced so much electricity from a solar cell at this strength."

I believe they are using triple junction solar cells made by Emcore.

Here's where education of the public comes in.
Most Americans probably havn't even heard of solar thermal electric power plants. That's why I keep posting this information all over the internet.
How can they make informed choices when they don't have the information necessary?

Most people probably assume Wind power uses too much land. It actually only uses 2 1/2% of the land it is sited on. Turbines have to be spread out so they don't interfere with each other's wind. This means it can co-exist with agriculture or even conceivably with solar farms on the same land.

Wind's lowest carbon footprint and land footprint.

"Wind power's ecological footprint is so small — a million times smaller than ethanol's — that if all the cars driven in the United States were battery-electric, they could be fueled by wind turbines whose total land footprint, not counting spacing in between, takes up less than 1.2 square miles, Stanford University environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson found."

"To fuel the same number of battery-electric vehicles with cellulose ethanol would require an amount of land equivalent to eight Californias – literally a million times more land and equivalent to the amount of land harvested in the U.S. in 2003."

Wind is already competitive with fossil fuels at 6-8 cents/kWh.

Posted by: frflyer on 17 Mar 09

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