A week on from "End of the World Conference" and the implications of the climate scientists' latest findings are beginning to sink in.
Not the physical implications of rising sea levels, deadly heat waves and malfunctioning carbon sinks, nor the social implications of mass migration, resource shortages and climate wars - that sunk in pretty sharpish, as horrifying news is wont to do. More the immediate implications of what the accelerating rate of climate change means for current carbon reduction strategies.
The simple fact is almost all the current goals that have been adopted or are in the process of being adopted by both governments and businesses are woefully inadequate.
Factor in the latest scientific findings and emission projections and it soon becomes plain that well meaning targets to cut global emissions 50 per cent by 2050 and rich nations emissions 80 per cent by the same date are like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Actually, they are more like bringing a water pistol to a nuclear showdown, but let's not argue over similes.
As the new report from the Tyndall Centre makes plain, the carbon budgets currently being considered by the UK government were based on "naively optimistic" projections for global carbon emissions even before the latest science revealed climate change is happening even faster than first thought. While the government looks set to adopt targets to cut emissions by 34 per cent by 2020, the Tyndall Centre reckons it should be aiming for 42 per cent as a minimum if it is to have any hope of making an equitable contribution to limiting temperature rises to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The longer term targets being discussed as part of the Copenhagen process look similarly inadequate.
A few years ago agreeing a target to halve global emissions by 2050 and cut emissions from rich countries by 80 per cent would have been a cause for celebration (given the possibility we may not yet get a deal perhaps it still should be). But the science moves on, and all the latest evidence suggests such cuts simply won't limit warming to safe levels any more.
According to Professor John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, we should be now aiming to cut global emissions by 80 per cent to give ourselves even a "Russian Roulette" chance of limiting warming to two degrees. Given the developing world has next to no chance of delivering such deep cuts that means the developed world should be aiming for nothing less than the complete decarbonisation of its economies by mid century and may even have to develop means of removing carbon from the atmosphere as well.
It doesn't take an intimate knowledge of international climate change negotiations to understand that such targets are extremely unlikely to be adopted. A few governments - Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and now the Maldives - have made bold commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, but most countries are not even close to countenancing cuts on such a scale.
In an ideal world governments would allow their climate change strategies to be dictated by climate change science, would revise their existing targets upwards as quickly as possible, and use the new targets to justify levels of investment in clean technology that would make the recent wave of green stimulus packages look like spare change from down the back of the sofa (in the case of the UK this is already exactly what it looks like, but that's a topic for another day). Sadly, this is not an ideal world and everything about the current stand off between China and developed economies over carbon targets suggests this is not going to happen any time soon.
However, the equation is slightly different for businesses.
With growing numbers of large firms now having emission reduction targets of one form or another, there is a real commercial opportunity for those businesses willing to be amongst the first to say "the science has changed, so we are changing our targets".
For many companies 50 per cent cuts in emissions by 2020 and complete decarbonisation of their operations by 2040 are entirely realistic goals. Those businesses that come out and say so will not only bolster their environmental credibility they will also distinguish between themselves and rivals who they will be able to reasonably accuse of ignoring the latest climate science.
As the sixty energy companies that this week announced a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 have realised, the scale of the fight is greater than we first thought, so the scale of our response must become greater as well.
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