This document was written immediately after the Copenhagen conference. I intended to rewrite or update it when the final declarations were made at the end of January 2010. In fact these declarations are exactly the same as those discussed during the conference and used here. Since then many other organizations and scientific papers have come to the same conclusions. These, and other new information, were included in my letter to the new UK Minister for Climate Change of 14 May 2010 John Gorman June 2010
Why Copenhagen Failed.
By John Gorman. Chartered engineer.
This document is written to explain to politicians what happened in Copenhagen. The failure in Copenhagen was caused by bad science not by politicians. It is much to the credit of politicians that they refused to be railroaded into making promises that they knew were impossible to fulfill.
The "plan" for Copenhagen had four steps:
1) A 2°C rise is safe and acceptable for the world.
2) This will be safely achieved if we keep CO2 concentration to 450 parts per million.
3) This will be achieved if world carbon emissions peak before 2020 and fall rapidly thereafter.
4) This can be achieved with the sort of national percentage reductions being discussed prior to and at Copenhagen.
I will start with step 4 as this is where the most glaring failure of Primary School "sums" seems to have occurred.
The final Copenhagen Accord contains nothing so I have examined the "Internal Note by the Secretariat" dated 15th of December at 23.00. (Pages 8 to 15 of this document.) This suggests that negotiations are within 1.9 to 4.2 gigatons of success. (4% or so of 2020 emissions). This was exactly the wording used on the BBC one o'clock News the next day with the suggestion that a bit of leadership and flexibility by politicians would secure agreement.
It is very difficult to check these numbers as there is no basic data to work from, only reference to other models and organisations. However it is clear from Figure 1 in the Secretariat Note( page 10 of this document) that "peaking around 2015 and falling thereafter" implies that 2020 emissions are either the same as 2010 (upper curve) or substantially less (lower curve being about 40 gigatons -- down by 17% from about 48 in 2010). Alternatively using the figures in the text there is reduction of 16% from BAU (business as usual) in 2020 to the "necessary" 44 gigatons. (or even 19% from a BAU of 54 gigatons also mentioned.)
Note these percentage reductions in emissions. 16% and 17% reduction!
Doubting the realism of these figures, I decided to work from the US Environmental Information Administration figures listed and described by the Guardian on Monday the 30th of November 2009 as "the only credible source of carbon emissions for every country in the world". (Page 5 of this document).
For Copenhagen, countries were divided into two categories:
1) "Rich" developed countries called Annex 1. These countries are required to commit to a percentage reduction compared with now (or some earlier year -- 1990/2005 etc.)
2) Developing countries who are asked to make some promise to reduce 2020 emissions in comparison with business as usual (BAU defined by the country themselves.)
For each category I have listed and added the ten year emissions in gigatons and percentage growth in emissions and done simple maths to get a 2007 total. (Page 6 in this document.)
A few points of note:
1) Totals for the two categories in 2007 are almost identical at 17 gigatons each or 34 gigatons for the world.
2) This figure bears almost no relation to the figures in the Copenhagen Secretariat note. However, since the International Energy Agency 2009 World Energy Outlook (IEA2009WEO) is defined in the note as "chosen for this assessment" it is interesting that my totals are the same as those in IEA2009WEO, while I can't find in that document (Executive Summary), any figures vaguely similar to those in the Copenhagen Secretariat Note.
Next I need to predict 2020 emissions for the two categories. For the Rich Annex 1 I have taken the best proposed commitments in Table 1 of the Copenhagen Secretariat Note (page 14 in this document) even where, like the 30% reduction from the EC, they were never actually tabled. (Fourth column page 6) This reduces the 2020 total for Annex 1 countries to 13 gigatons an average reduction of 23%. (I won't consider here whether this is realistic by 2020)
Prediction to 2020 for the developing countries is more difficult as they first define business as usual, BAU, and then make promises to reduce the effect. There can be no more realistic figure for business as usual than to take the increase over last ten years and apply it to the next ten. I have therefore done this individually for all developing countries and made a 2020 prediction total of 28 gigatons -- an increase of 68% for these countries. (Last column page 6)
Adding this to the reduced 2020 total for the Rich Annex 1 countries gives 41 gigatons for the world in 2020, an increase of 20% on now.
Is there now a reason to lower the 2020 predictions for these developing countries on the basis of their "mitigation actions and policy goals" as listed in Table 2 of the Copenhagen Secretariat Note? (Page 15 in this document) Let's look at a couple of examples.
1) Singapore has offered to reduce emissions by 16% in comparison with Business As Usual. Fortunately someone has done a detailed analysis of this offer (available at www.asiaisgreen.com/2009/12/03/true-or-false-singapore-to-reduce-carbon-emissions-growth-by-16-from-2020-bau-levels/ ). Singapore has defined their BAU as 5% growth in emissions per year and have offered to reduce this by 16% bringing it to 4.2% per year. However their emissions growth over the last 10 years was 3.6% so that should be easy enough!
2) China has offered to reduce their "carbon intensity" by 40 to 45%. This means emissions as a ratio of GDP. At present growth rates Chinese GDP will grow by a factor of 3.5 in 10 years. (e.g. 1996 to 2006). So if emissions are limited to 42.5% less than this they will only double by 2020. (102% up). Coincidentally this is exactly the growth over the last 10 years in the Guardian table. Not much change there then!
This is not intended as a criticism of developing countries, all of whose per capita emissions, including China's, are far lower than those of the rich Annex 1 countries. It is just important to get the numbers right.
3) India's situation is similar to China’s. They will reduce their carbon intensity by 25%. But the Indian GDP, at present growth rates will be almost three times as big by 2020 (factor of 2.9 from 1997 to 2007) so a 25% reduction will still result in a doubling of emissions by 2020. As the increase over the last 10 years was only 60% (Guardian table) this allows for another gigaton or so of annual emissions above my calculation of business as usual.
4) Brazil has offered to reduce emissions by 39% from their prediction of business as usual but most of this -- 25% -- is attributable to "deforestation" (presumably not doing "deforestation") However, since the approximately 20-25% of total world emissions attributable to deforestation is clearly not in the Guardian/EIA figures for either Brazil or Indonesia there is no reason to reduce the predictions for 2020. (See more on "Deforestation" below.)
Conclusion from Examples and Calculations.
Even the most "challenging" or optimistic of commitments by the Rich Annex 1 countries cannot compensate for the inevitable growth in the developing countries and CO2 emissions in 2020 will be about 20% higher than now not 16 or 17% below as suggested by the Copenhagen Secretariat Note and by publicity from Copenhagen.
Deforestation. (Section rewritten January 29, 2010)
Since circulating the first version of this document I have been trying to find reliable figures for emissions due to deforestation. My conclusion is that there aren't any.
The paper “CO2 Emissions from Forest Loss” by van der Werf et al. published in November 2009 in Nature Geoscience (available at www.biology.duke.edu/jackson/ng09.pdf ) suggests that previous estimates back as far as 1980 were far too high including those used for IPCC 2007. This paper suggests that emissions due to clearing and burning are about 12% of total manmade emissions not the 17 or 20% previously quoted by most sources.
This makes it all more essential that energy related emissions (used in all my calculations) are kept separate from deforestation figures (or other agriculture figures). It also throws doubt on the overall CO2 emissions figures used by the Copenhagen Secretariat.
The best information I could find was the private website www.mongabay.com
are no reliable estimates for annual emissions from deforestation (http://news.mongabay.com/2009/1103-redd_emissions.html).
Going forward there probably will be however (http://news.mongabay.com/2009/1216-google_earth_engine.html).
Emissions from deforestation are thought to be declining and tropical
countries have pledged to dramatically reduce deforestation by 2020 (http://news.mongabay.com/2009/1228-rainforests.html).
So deforestation is not a stumbling point. In fact, many would argue that
it has been one of the only areas of progress in negotiations."
(private email from Rhett Butler. Site author)
It is obviously vital to stop the loss of rainforest for many reasons as well as the estimated 12 to 20% of total manmade carbon emissions caused by clearing and burning of rainforest. However this must not be allowed to hide the fact that world energy use will increase and this will release CO2 until we convert to alternative sources of energy, which will certainly not be before 2020.
This very large figure from deforestation is obviously not in the Guardian/EIA or in the World Energy Outlook 2009 figures for either Brazil or Indonesia. This is because both these figures are “energy use and generation figures”. Total emissions requires the addition of estimates for deforestation and agriculture. This probably accounts for most of the difference between my figures (34 gigatons in 2010) and the Copenhagen Secretariat Note. However I don’t know where these estimates come from and the source is not defined in the Secretariat Note.
Note however, that stopping deforestation is the one change that could be done instantly if there were sufficient political will and money giving an almost instant reduction in worldwide CO2 emissions of 12-20% as well as "saving the rainforests and their ecosystems".
A careful reading of page 4 of the Secretariat Note (page 11 of this document) shows where the real error lies. The note takes the most realistic 2020 predictions from various organisations, particularly the 2009 World Energy Outlook and subtracts from this the promises from various countries of reductions from their own defined projections for 2020. As we saw in the examples above these reductions only bring their emissions down to an historically realistic level, if that.
It is totally invalid to subtract these reductions from the realistic projections of independent organisations.
This is what I believe has led to the 19,000 accredited delegates leaving Copenhagen thinking that they had just failed to make an agreement when there never was any possibility of an agreement to get the 16, 17, 20% or indeed any reduction in emissions by 2020.
I will now look at the other steps in the “Copenhagen Plan” (first page)
Step 3. A limit of 450 will be achieved if carbon emissions peak before 2020.
This is more or less true arithmetically (or geometrically). The diagram on the left shows that the rate of increase is about 2.25 parts per million per year now and with 20% increased emissions will probably be 2.7 parts per million per year in 2020.
The diagram below shows the effect if we assume these values up to 2020 but then take two hypothetical scenarios for a fall to zero emissions.
A linear fall from 2020 to zero in 2100 allows the concentration to pass 450 in 2035 and reach 524 in 2100.
A linear fall from 2020 to zero in 2050 almost limits the concentration to 450.
Note however that my graph is only based on the actual rate of increase of concentration not on the emissions. The rate of concentration increase caused by certain level of emissions may well rise depending on the whole carbon cycle particularly the carbon “sink” capacity of oceans as sea temperatures rise.
Step 2. Global temperature rise will be safely limited to 2°C if we can keep CO2 concentration below 450 parts per million.
This is what is referred to as the “sensitivity” of the climate system and is normally expressed as the temperature rise that will result from a doubling of CO2 concentration to 560 parts per million from the preindustrial level of 280. Hence 2°C resulting from 450 parts per million means a climate sensitivity of 560 –280/450 –280 x 2= 3.3°C. Is this a safe assumption?
The IPCC report 2007 defined sensitivity as “likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded”
3.3°C sensitivity is exactly in the middle of the most probable range. However, if we are trying to choose a “safe” figure surely the figure of 4.5 should be chosen and as noted this does not exclude the actual figure being even higher. Some other references and reasons for the uncertainty are listed on page 7 of this document.
Step 4 A temperature rise of 2°C a safe and acceptable for the world.
I cannot explain how 2°C has become accepted as a “safe” rise that the world can adapt to. When we see what is happening in the Arctic and Antarctic at 0.7°C global rise it is difficult to see how anyone could look upon three times the rise as safe.
I can only suggest that 2°C is the minimum temperature rise that can possibly be predicted by “stretching” the science to its limits – or beyond.
Personal Note by the Author.
I have tried to keep this document as scientific and accurate as possible. This note explains my personal interest. Although none of my careers have anything to do with climate or weather I have studied global warming for about four years. I quickly came to the conclusion that emissions reductions alone could not solve the problem and keep the world safe. This conclusion has been very strongly confirmed by events in Copenhagen and it is very important that all the true results of Copenhagen are widely known and understood.
There is a massive gap between what is necessary to keep the world safe and what can be achieved by emissions reductions alone and that can only be filled by geoenginering. One of the few good things that came out of Copenhagen was the realization by some of the smaller, poorer and more tropical nations that they simply couldn’t adapt even to 2° of warming. I do very much hope that they will continue to refuse the 30 billion pieces of silver and demand that the rich, technologically advanced part of the world comes up with a better solution to the problem we have caused.
Chartered Engineer. MIMechE, MIET
New Mill Lane
Declaration of Interest. I am not employed in any area related to climate and have no financial interest. I have a proposal for a stratospheric aerosol project for which I am seeking a university partner.
This document may be used in whole or in part by anyone for any purpose. Those diagrams and tables that I have generated may also be used. For diagrams, tables and text from other sources I suggest you ask permission of those sources if obvious. This document is also available on my website at http://www.naturaljointmobility.info/WhyCopenhagenFailed.htm
This last column is generated by
taking the gigatons for 2010 as
the same as 2007 because of the
“recession” dip in the graph below.
Then taking the most realistic
prediction for ten-year growth
which is the growth in emissions
over the previous ten years. This
is the previous column.
This gives us the most realistic
figure for “Business As Usual” BAU for these developing countries.
See text for comments on whether
these figures should be reduced on the basis of mitigation promises.
Graph showing “recession dip”
In emissions 2008-2009
This page contains various references to “Climate Sensitivity”. Some of these are quite old but the situation has not become significantly more certain recently. This uncertainty was emphasised by Ronald Prinn, professor of atmospheric science and the director of the Center for Global Change Science at MIT in a recent interview available at www.technologyreview.com/video/?vid=502 In fact he seems to suggest that recent evidence leads us to believe that the sensitivity is significantly greater than was thought in 2003.
Page 17 of Stabilising climate to avoid dangerous climate change — a summary of relevant research at the Hadley Centre 2005
What does a given level of dangerous climate change mean for concentrations?
Assuming we know what the tolerable climate change is — for example, in terms of temperature — how low do we need to keep greenhouse gas concentrations to prevent this temperature being reached?
The relationship between increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and global average temperature rise is often expressed in terms of ‘climate sensitivity’, defined as the warming which would ultimately occur following a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For a particular climate model, the climate sensitivity will be mainly governed by the strength of climate feedbacks — for example, due to changes in clouds or sea ice — and this (and, hence, the climate sensitivity) can vary greatly from model to model. In the IPCC 2001 Assessment, the range was from 2 °C to 5.1 °C.
For a given level of global warming which could be called dangerous, this uncertainty in climate sensitivity translates into an uncertainty in allowable greenhouse gas concentrations. This is illustrated in the figure below, using the UEA/NCAR MAGICC 4.1 model, showing the temperature rise to 2150 resulting from different WRE stabilisation scenarios (stabilising CO2 at 350ppm, 450ppm etc) with climate sensitivity varying from 1.5 °C to 4.5 °C.
If the temperature rise by 2150 was required to be kept to 2 °C, for example, a climate sensitivity of 3 °C would mean stabilising CO2 (or its equivalent) below 350ppm. If the climate sensitivity was at the bottom end of the range — say 1.5 °C — stabilisation could be as high as about 700ppm and still allow temperature rise to be limited to 2 °C. On the other hand, if climate sensitivity was greater than 3 °C, stabilisation at concentrations well below those of today would be required.
Caldeira et al Science 2003
“Even if we could determine a "safe" level of interference in the climate system, the sensitivity of global mean temperature to increasing atmospheric CO2 is known perhaps only to a factor of three or less”.
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4-2007) “-likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded”
Copenhagen Secretariat Note
This is the “Copenhagen Secretariat Note” referred to at various points in this document. It has eight pages.
This note is also available at www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/17/copenhagen-emissions-cuts-future-temperatures and can be downloaded from the scribd website as a pdf. On screen and printed, that source gives a more legible version than I have been able to reproduce in this document.
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