Whatever happened to 1.5°C?
29 July 2022
On the Kenny Report recently, fill-in host Chris Smith railed against the Greens’ demands that we ‘do much more to cut CO2 emissions by 2030’. Smith took the view that ‘doing all the heavy lifting’ this early in the march towards Net Zero by 2050 would irreparably damage our economy. He’s right, of course.
But his implicit assumption that if we achieve Net Zero by 2050 it will be ‘mission accomplished’ is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the so-called science. The aim of all this pain is to limit global warming to 2°C or, ideally, 1.5°C. That is the goal of the 2016 Paris Agreement.
I hate to say it, but the Greens are not ‘virtue signalling’ as many conservative commentators claim. By their own lights, the Greens are correct. They (or most of them) accept the IPCC ‘science’ and the IPCC does not say ‘Net Zero by 2050 will limit warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C’, although we don’t hear much about 2°C anymore. It’s all about 1.5°C these days.
The IPCC tells us in its latest report that limiting warming depends on limiting global emissions to specific carbon budgets. It does not care about the time-frame. The table below, which was extracted from the latest IPPC report, details the probability of achieving a limit of either 1.5°C or 2°C depending upon which carbon budget (in GtCO2) is adopted.
(Original can be found here on page 29.)
To explain, in order to have an 83 per cent probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the total global CO2 emissions must not exceed 300 GtCO2. Since globally we currently emit approx. 50 GtCO2 annually, this budget will be exhausted in six years. So, whatever cuts we achieve by 2030 are meaningless in this context. A budget of 900 GtCO2, which gives only a 17 per cent probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, also seems highly problematic.
If limiting warming to 1.5°C is the aim, then surely our action should be directed towards working within these budgets, rather than arbitrary time-frames? Well before 2050, on current trends, all those budgets will be exceeded. On current trends, China alone will emit 128 GTtCO2 by 2030 and 400 GtCO2 by 2050. In other words, there is a serious disconnect between the science as shown above and the time-frame based strategy adopted by this, and indeed all, governments. ‘Net Zero’ is not an end in itself. It is nothing more than a marketing slogan.
So if you believe ‘the science’ as Albanese and Bowen claim, then they are not acting in accordance with it. If catastrophic Climate Change is a real threat, then the trillions we are spending trying to stop it are already wasted and would be better spent preparing to adapt to it. Building more dams, for instance.
I have beaten this drum before, (https://www.spectator.com.au/2021/11/the-logic-behind-net-zero/) and I will continue to do so because the Australian people are being misled by the suggestion that achieving Net Zero by 2050 will limit warming to 1.5°C. You might argue that this is a counter-productive move and that it will only reinforce the Greens’ position. And you may be right. But we should not resile from the facts.
Which leads me to wonder, why haven’t the Greens deployed the above table to bolster their argument, rather than just mouth platitudes like ‘43 per cent by 2030 is not enough’ or ‘we need 75 per cent by 2030’? That is, after all, the very ‘science’ they profess to follow…
Could it be that they realise that if too much attention is brought to bear on these carbon budgets, it will quickly become clear that even the most generous – a budget of 2300GtCO2 – will give us only a 17 per cent chance of limiting warming to 2°C?
Being a realist, I believe that none of the budgets above have snowflake’s chance in hell of not being breached – not while China, India, and Russia relentlessly pursue their own self-interest. And don’t look to emissions reductions achieved so far as a guide – they were just the low-hanging fruit.
I’m sure any Green with half a brain must realise that these budgets are highly speculative. They would know that if that became widely known, people might start to think that, if warming is inevitable, then adaptation should be the way to go.
And adaptation – such as building dams, better forest management, and so on – is anathema to the Greens. They don’t really care about global warming. They just want to stop progress and destroy capitalism.
But rest assured, if they have their way, it won’t be Klaus Schwab or King Charles III dining on bug casserole in a pisé hut. It will be you and me.
What I find frustrating is that I seem to be the only one who cares about this serious disconnect between the so-called science and the destructive policies being enacted in its name. Perhaps I’m just the ‘fool on the hill’.