Climate hope amid melting ice, rising temps

Ilissa Ocko

As 2014 draws to a close, two recent developments show that global temperatures are rising at an alarming rate. The world, it seems, is on a run-away train – and yet, we have more reason to feel hopeful than we did a year ago.

I’ll explain why that is. But first, let’s have a look at where we are right now.

West Antarctica ice sheet loss is accelerating

The latest science shows that ice loss from West Antarctica has been increasing nearly three times faster in the past decade than during the previous one – and much quicker than scientists predicted.

This unprecedented ice loss is found to be occurring because warm ocean water is rising from below and melting the base of the glaciers, dumping huge volumes of additional water – the equivalent of a Mount Everest every two years – into the ocean.

If we lost the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, global sea level would rise 11 feet, threatening nearly 13 million people worldwide and affecting more than $2 trillion worth of property.

2014 may be warmest year on record

The World Meteorological Organization announced recently that 2014 is on track to be one of the hottest – if not the hottest – year on record.

Continued emissions of heat-trapping gases from energy use, land use, industry, and waste activities contribute to these rising global temperatures. 

But there’s hope

At Environmental Defense Fund, we spent a year talking to experts from academia, industry, and the activist community to understand what needs and can be done to address climate change.

We analyzed the scientific, economic and political landscapes, and we see that it’s possible to reverse the relentless rise of global greenhouse gas emissions within the next five years. But only if countries devote sufficient attention to the task.

What may surprise you is that this can be done with current technology, and at a reasonable cost.

There are two critical components of such a strategy.

One: A few countries can make big progress.

China, the United States, and Europe account for more than half of all global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use.

Improving energy efficiency, employing carbon markets, enacting power plant standards, and accelerating clean energy deployment are all part of our five-year strategy to curb emissions.

The European Union already has an emission reduction plan in place, the U.S. is taking action on carbon pollution from cars and power plants, and China recently reached a historic agreement with the United States to limit emissions.

Two: By reducing short-lived climate pollutants we’ll come a long way.

If we cut emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane, which only last in the atmosphere for at most a couple of decades, we can take a sizeable bite out of warming in the near-term.

Methane contributes to around a quarter of the warming we are experiencing today, so this is an enormous opportunity we cannot pass up.

We already have the technology in hand to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in a cost-effective way. Industry would spend just a penny more for each thousand cubic feet of gas it produces.

It’s not too late

While turning the corner on global emissions by 2020 is feasible, it can only happen with many partners working together.

EDF expects to take actions in alliance with many others that contribute to about half of the needed reductions in short-lived and long-lived emissions we’ve identified in our five-year strategy. We’re also working to set the stage for actions post-2020 that will drive down emissions even further.

While some of the climate change consequences may be irreversible – as appears to be the case with West Antarctica – we can still set ourselves on a much better path for the future by taking action now.

Comments

While some of the climate change consequences may be irreversible – as appears to be the case with West Antarctica – we can still set ourselves on a much better path for the future by taking action now. Please help end tax funded pollution of the commons.

Leif Knutsen
December 10, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Somehow, this EDF plan forgets to identify a common sense step:
** When you are stuck in a big hole - stop digging!!

Germany's per capita CO2 emissions are about 100 times greater than they are in France. Why is Germany shutting its cleanest energy source - nuclear - and INCREASING its emissions while building MORE coal plants?

Sure, it keeps people busy digging and burning coal, and it has some short term political appeal to the Green Party, but everyone else around the world is paying the price for digging the hole DEEPER!!

How can EDF ignore the pleas of so many true environmental activists, like James Hansen, while wishing for more magical solutions that have yet to make a DENT in the problem?
Cheers.

Michael Carey
December 10, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Hi Michael and thank you for your comment. There are serious questions about waste, safety, security and cost regarding nuclear power, but we can't afford to completely dismiss any form of low carbon energy. EDF recognizes that nuclear power represents a significant portion of the US electricity profile, and we believe that it will continue to be part of America's energy mix for some time to come.

Ilissa Ocko
December 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm

In reply to by Michael Carey

While nuclear can become part of the mix, it should stand on its own. all costs of Nuclear power must be factored into the cost of each kWh of power produced. From mining to disposal of waste to operating insurance. If that were done, you would see why Nuclear does not have a future in its present manifestation.

Then of course there is the whoops factor of things like Fukushima to contend with that will be on the public shoulders for centuries.

Leif Knutsen
December 12, 2014 at 6:38 pm

In reply to by Michael Carey

With continued warming permafrost melt and ocean sediment release will produce methane at a faster rate than any mitigation strategy for methane emissions reduction in fossil fuel activity.

EDF's recipe for slowing warming is great. However the formula is not good enough to reverse ocean acidification and keep sea rise at a manageable rate. We face ocean food chain collapse now. We face plummeting real estate values in Miami in just 20 years. Lloyds of London has moved climate change to position three in their list of risks for catastrophic property loss.

The planet must resort to massive expansion of zero carbon energy in the form of advanced nuclear molten salt reactor power generation (as in China) if we are to avoid the worst. No matter how much wind, solar, efficiency, and carbon market incentive is deployed, it is insufficient for keeping losses manageable.

The question is how much irreversible disruption are we willing to accept?

Rod Coenen
December 10, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Cold-war era thinking on nuclear needs to be discarded. The arms race is over. We desperately need cheap safe carbon free energy. It would help to have some new technology- the WWII nuclear designs are not the best we can do. And we should keep doing solar and wind as fast as we can.
But we should not bet our life on the clearly false proposition that we can stop climate collapse without using nuclear power.
With really cheap power we can do safe reversable geoengineering to directly fix some of the things we have broken.
We can actually evaporate ocean water upwind of glaciers.
We can remove acid from the ocean and thereby from the atmosphere.
But not if we refuse to use modern technology.

Carl Page
December 12, 2014 at 2:30 am

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