Only this time they are “warmers” rather than septics, and even include some IPCC folk. That seems to be the take Nurture is using for the recent Copenhagen meeting. Ah well.

How dangerous is climate change? It is hard to say for sure, we will have to act in the face of uncertainty. But what is certain is that saying Delegates agreed that more stringent and urgent action is needed in order to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’, currently defined by the European Union as a temperature rise of more than 2°C above preindustrial values. is stupid. You cannot redefine “dangerous” to mean “> 2 oC” and expect anyone to believe you, unless they already believe, in which case there is no need to bother.

Presumably there was some new science to come out of the meeting, but Nature doesn’t bother report it, so it is hard to know. I didn’t find any but I wasn’t looking very hard. And RC hasn’t said owt :-).

Comments

  1. #1 cce
    2009/03/14

    The IPCC has not defined “dangerous climate change” so no one is “redefining” anything.

    [Yes they are: the EC is apparently redefining "dangerous" to mean "> 2 0C".

    The EU defines it as 2 degrees. If you want to stay under that limit, then "more stringent and urgent action" is certainly needed.

    [Yes indeed they do. And this is silly. You can't do that -W]

  2. #2 crandles
    2009/03/14

    >”The EU defines it as 2 degrees.”

    To ask the obvious – Why do you think this is a ‘definition’ rather than an estimate of the temperature level that will tip(????) us into a dangerous state?

    Definitions and estimates are very different things.

    [It was the bit where they said currently defined by the European Union as... that gave the the hint. Of course, that may just be Nature misreporting things -W]

  3. #3 Vinny Burgoo
    2009/03/14

    Radio 4′s Any Questions/Answers today managed to kick the IPCC while using the IPCC as a boot. Sez various people (not contradicted by Dimbleby, who can’t really be expected to know any better):

    2500 IPCC scientists have just said in Copenhagen that their previous estimates for 2100 sea levels and atmospheric temperatures were both off by as much as half; Hansen said that we have four years to save the world; if we don’t act soon, the planet won’t be able to provide enough oxygen for us all to breathe.

    That last claim (oxygen) was right at the start of a very long contribution – nay, manifesto – that Dimbleby allowed an industry-hating Green to make in full because he, Dimbleby, clearly didn’t know how much of a scientific moron the chap had just proved himself to be. The Listen Again isn’t available yet. When it is, it’ll be worth a listen again, honest. The more self-confident and ‘plausible’ the speaker, the more errors there were about climate change. A few ‘denialist’ weirdos were allowed on to prove how weird it is to ‘deny global warming’, but most of the airtime and (thus?) most of the errors came from those who were convinced that we’re all doomed.

    Shouldn’t someone like yourself tell the BBC that the meaningful debate has moved beyond ‘deniers’ vs.’Monbiots’, that alarmist bollocks is at least as dangerous as the bollocks of total denial, and that the BBC is giving far too much implicit support to a version of the ‘scientific consensus’ that goes far beyond anything that might be termed a consensus?

  4. #4 crandles
    2009/03/14

    >”[It was the bit where they said currently defined by the European Union as... that gave the the hint. Of course, that may just be Nature misreporting things -W]

    I had seen the word “defined” in the sentence. I quoted cce’s “The EU defines it as 2 degrees” so the question was really directed at cce. To me that seems much worse than the sentence in Nature.

    I fully agree with you William that saying the ‘ “definition” of dangerous climate change is over 2C global average temperature change’ is stupid. However do you really think that a significant proportion of people parses the sentence concerned as being any different to:

    Delegates agreed that more stringent and urgent action is needed in order to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’, currently interpreted/estimated by the European Union as a temperature rise of more than 2°C above preindustrial values.

    Accuracy of language is undoubtedly something to be aimed for. However, overdoing the semantics could be seen as a bit embarrassing.

    [I disagree. THe EU is something of a bureaucratic monster. It doesn't like targets such as "avoid dangerous climate change" - too hard to measure. It loves targets such as "keep T under 2 oC" or even better "keep emissions under X" because they are measurable. It then goes off and pursues the target, happily forgetting what the original problem was. Not only the EU but the more enthusiastic portions of the blogosphere fall for the same problem - there is a danger that "2 oC" is coming to be seem as a meaningful, scientifically well justified target. It isn't -W]

  5. #5 cce
    2009/03/15

    The word “dangerous” is ambiguous and the goals are arbitrary. It means whatever policymakers says it means, and the EU says 2 degrees.

    ["dangerous" isn't ambiguous. What exactly might be dangerous is certainly unclear. A global change that is dangerous to some people will be advantageous to others, so universal agreement is unlikely. The goals are arbitrary? This is an odd thing to say (unless you mean the EU goal of emissions levels?). I would have thought that the EU goal would be the well being of it's citizens, which is hardly arbitrary -W]

    http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/future_action.htm

    If all of this is about the distinction between the arbitrary threshold that causes dangerous climate change and the arbitrary details of what makes up dangerous climate change then who’s kicking who?

    Frankly, I don’t understand what William is complaining about. What does this sentence even mean? “You cannot redefine ‘dangerous’ to mean ‘> 2 oC’ and expect anyone to believe you, unless they already believe, in which case there is no need to bother.”

  6. #6 Magnus W
    2009/03/15

    The goal with EU mainly was to stop us from killing ourself?

    [That is what they said when the forced every piece of climbing hardware to be sold with an explanatory leaflet. It was nonsense then -W]

  7. #7 crandles
    2009/03/15

    “bureaucratic monster” agree.
    “It doesn’t like targets such as “avoid dangerous climate change” – too hard to measure. It loves targets such as “keep T under 2 oC” or even better “keep emissions under X” because they are measurable.”

    Agree, but is a target that isn’t measurable even a target in the first place?

    “It then goes off and pursues the target, happily forgetting what the original problem was.”

    Err, wouldn’t that be preferable to continuing arguing over what an unmeasurable target means and not getting anywhere? Yes there is a potential problem of changing their course in future if the estimate used turns out not to be a good one but isn’t that is a more minor problem for the future rather than a more important and immediate problem?

    “2C … meaningful, scientifically well justified target. It isn’t”

    I have no problem with you saying 2C isn’t scientifically well justified but when you do so it such a way that it appears you would prefer to throw the baby out with the bathwater, is that much better than being a septic?

    [Um well don't get me started on the EU. Mind you I do support the idea of the EU, and I even had an flag flying in the back garden for many a year. Anyway: It looks to me like the EU has declared 2 oC dangerous, set this in stone, with thin (though not utterly zero) scientific backing. If that was likely to work I would be a bit irritated but reluctantly supportive. The problem is that it simply won't work. No-one with a moment to research the background is going to be fooled, and that includes all governments and major corporations. This could easily be the EU treaty all over again. Without convincing the public, little can be done -W]

  8. #8 Smal Vinstra
    2009/03/15

    Re Vinny Burgoo’s comment: The BBC is totally sold on the alarmist interpretation of anything to do with climate change. It’s utterly counter-productive. They were headlining ‘More bad news’ on climate change’ to come from the Copenhagen meeting before it started. (Reading the story reveals that the ‘more bad news’ quote they used in their headline comes from … themselves. No-one else said it.)

  9. #9 Phil Hays
    2009/03/15

    You cannot redefine “dangerous” to mean “> 2 oC” and expect anyone to believe you, unless they already believe, in which case there is no need to bother.

    Isn’t there a fair case to be made that less than 2 oC warming most probably isn’t “dangerous”? One bit of evidence that less than 2 oC is “safe” is that the last interglacial period probably got close to that warm, and the differences between that climate and ours are not all that drastic.

    http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/info/lite/index.html

    Some larger amount of warming is dangerous, but how much? Well clearly before the LPTM, and ever more so before the PT, but that’s not much guidance, now is it.

    Or would it better to ask how much climate change is “safe”? Somewhere about 3C warmer a geologic case can be made for an summertime ice free Arctic. Slightly warmer are the Oligocene climate steps, relatively abrupt climate shifts in geologically short time periods, complete with a mass extinction, the “Grande Coupure”.

  10. #10 Zeke Hausfather
    2009/03/15

    You also need to remember that 2 degrees relative to pri-industrial temps is ~1.3 degrees relative to current temps. Given that the lowest assessed mitigation scenario in the AR4 led to 2-2.4 degrees equilibrium temp above pre-industrial (associated with 350-400 ppm CO2 and 445-490 ppm CO2e), this seems like a rather impossible task in the absence of an effort on the scale of global wartime mobilization.

    Now, if you are talking about 2100 temps rather than equilibrium temps, it is somewhat more in the realm of possibility, but still wildly improbable. But than again, its easy for politicians to set targets when they don’t realize just what it would take to meet them.

  11. #11 Magnus W
    2009/03/15

    They do many stupid and good things… but that don’t change the intent?

  12. #12 MikeB
    2009/03/15

    Re Vinny Burgoo & Smal Vinstra strop at the BBC.

    The Beeb is not ‘alarmist’ on climate change. The Copenhagen meetings conclusions (its worse than IPCC 2007) was well trailed, and Roger Harabin’s reporting has been scrupulous – he speaks to the people who matter, knows his stuff, and judges the situation fairly. Anyone who’s read the reports that were presented would be perfectly justified in using the headline ‘more bad news’.

    What’s more worrying is the number of times that ‘Today’ continues to ask guests like Vicky Pope (which Naughtie did this week) whether there is actually evidence of climate change. Presumably they ask the question because of some strange idea of ‘balance’, but it just shows a lazy ‘he said, she said’ attitude to the whole subject. The BBC gets the science in science/nature programmes, but often forgets it in the news.

  13. #13 Michael Hauber
    2009/03/15

    I think the question of what is dangerous is a great question that hasn’t been discussed much as it is overshadowed by the warmer vs septic argument.

    My understanding is that the closest thing to a scientific justification of 2 degrees being ‘dangerous’ is claims by Hansen that 2 degrees is a ‘tipping point’ for ‘catostrophic climate change’. I think this means the point at which changes such as complete melting of the Arctic or the Greenland ice sheet become unavoidable (without drastic cooling from somewhere).

    Other ideas are that I think I’ve seen somewhere that 2 degrees is the point at which negative consequences start to predomoninate, whereas below 2 degrees there are significant benefits with increased rain/decreased snow in the colder parts of our planet to offset subtropical drying.

    And of course if 2 degrees is ‘dangerous’ the question is how dangerous? I think we could make the case that climate change to date is dangerous if suspected links between increased warming and increased natural disasters can be established. But is what we’ve had so far dangerous enough to justify a carbon tax? If increases in insurance premiums of late are a good measure of the increase in danger (some of which is due to other factors than AGW), then I for one would rather pay the increased insurance, rather than a carbon tax.

    But I’d rather pay a carbon tax than risk what might happen in the next 100 years. An alternate definition of dangerous might be the maximum point at which we feel safe.

    So if we are confident that the climate will stay safe up to 2 degrees, then this is the ‘danger’ point, because anything beyond this, we just don’t know…

  14. #14 Nosmo
    2009/03/16

    2 deg in 2050, 2100 or 2200 seem to me to be completely different. Is it 2100 we are talking about?

  15. #15 George Darroch
    2009/03/16

    I’m not a climate scientist, but it’s pretty clear that if you look at the “Reasons for concern” red bar graphs in IPCC AR4, that 1.3 degrees is well within the “danger zone”. You’ve got a lot of red at that point.

    I don’t think that anyone is redefining anything, and how you could say that this was “kicking the IPCC” I’m not sure.

    Anyhow, since we don’t presently know how all feedbacks will behave (and even one strong positive feedback could be catastrophic), keeping the earth’s climate within 2.0C of preindustrial conditions seems like a bloody good idea.

  16. #16 cce
    2009/03/16

    A sharp knife is dangerous. So is a hydrogen bomb. Of course the word “dangerous” is ambiguous.

    Re arbitrary goals
    I mean the emission levels/temperature limit necessary to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic intereference with the climate system.”

    On the topic of “well being” — if such a concept was so easily defined, there wouldn’t be knock down, drag out fights over the proper “discount rate.”

    2 degrees is about the best we can expect with considerable worldwide effort. Given that we are already far beyond anything the atmosphere has seen in many multiples of human existence, it is wreckless to continue to tempt fate. Even if we set aside media darlings like arctic sea ice, SLR, hurricanes and the like, there’s things like melting glaciers/snow pack, drought, disease vectors, coral bleaching, and ocean acidification that require serious mitigation effort beginning yesterday.

  17. #17 cce
    2009/03/16

    “Reckless”, that is.

  18. #18 Oliver
    2009/03/16

    I admit we didn’t cover the hell out of it, but here are a few more bits of science from the meeting that got onto the nature site

    Food Insecurity

    Has the Amazon tipping point tipped?

    Greenland tipping points

    and a bit of para/meta science:

    The truth is not yet out there

    Who’s reporting

  19. #19 Luke Warmer
    2009/03/16

    Best practice with environmental management in the real world using ISO14001* is to recognise the difference between the impacts (i.e. the 2degC rise) and the aspects (i.e. emissions of CO2) which cause the impacts and come from your activities. The reason for this is that one can manage the aspect but not the impact (imagine warmers are right, we miraculously hit EU CO2 reductions and then sun goes mental or we have a super-El Nino).

    The EU recognises ISO14001 under its EMAS scheme and yet doesn’t heed its own advice or approach.

    It’s all very Cnutian and like nailing jelly to the wall. If US/China/India don’t play ball then there ain’t nothing the EU can do to make a difference anyhow but talk is cheap as are declarations, policy papers etc.

    The other get-out is that word “pre-industrial” – when they really mean the temperature just before we became industrialised. The semantics of climate change mean that pre-”pre-industrial” temperatures have been higher when you look at the longer term record (4.6Bn yrs).

    * Whether ISO14001 works is another matter as per the ADL Defra report.

  20. #20 Alexander Ač
    2009/03/17

    Now, let’s forget about 2°C.

    What was (also) told in Copenhagen is, that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 % by 2050. This makes more sense?

    Or maybe we should forget percentage of CO2 reduction and better concentrate on financing the renewable technologies? What about increasing ratio of GDP into research?

    Maybe it would help, if there a correlation between amount of invested money into research and per capita CO2 emissions…?

    [Um. Setting grandiose targets for 2050 is all very well; you get to travel to lots of nice places and get well fed and well paid and the best bit is that there is no hassle and no pain, because all the effort can occur at some mythical time in the future and no-one now need to pay. By contrast, just setting up a carbon tax would be useful and actually produce benefits and would require no travel or expensive meetings or consultants... you can see already why it is doomed, can't you? -W]

  21. #21 Alexander Ač
    2009/03/18

    “By contrast, just setting up a carbon tax” – I agree that this is more straightforward approach – that’s also why it is more difficult (or almost impossible) to get through. Because it really *does something* with CO2 emissions.

    It would make installations of coal power plants far less attractive – for instance, there is one coal power plant planed right now to be built in Slovakia and it will increase country’s total CO2 emission by 10 %! (+0.7tCO2/per capita). For at least 50 years.

    Ministry of environment commented: “We cannot see *any* evidence, that this project would be harmful to the environment” – now, what can one think about that?

    At least, they should wright: “We f*ck about climate change and future generations, that’s not our bussiness” – that would be fair…

  22. #22 Michael Tobis
    2009/03/18

    Transcript of Copenhagen closing plenary courtesy Paul Baer: http://mtobis.googlepages.com/copenhagenclosingplenary

    My own belief for what it’s worth is that Rasmussen got it just about right.

    Of course 2 C is arbitrary. Why is that a problem? Is it not a reasonable judgment?

  23. #23 Michael Tobis
    2009/03/18

    Transcript of Copenhagen closing plenary courtesy Paul Baer at

    mtobis.googlepages.com/copenhagenclosingplenary

    [Thanks for that link. I'm going to read it carefully (ha, empty promises. OK, I'm going to skim it, steal the bloggable material, and blog it :-)

    My own belief for what it's worth is that Rasmussen got it just about right.

    Of course 2 C is arbitrary. Why is that a problem? Is it not a reasonable judgment?

    [This needs more careful attention. You can't agree that 2 oC is arbitrary, and then call it a reasonable judgement. If it is arbitrary, it isn't reasonable (this isn't a case like driving on one side of the road, where someone makes an arbitrary judgement as to which side we use, and it is then reasonable for everyone else to do it). The problem I see is that the EU has substituted "2 oC is dangerous" for thought. It could be right; but it could be wrong (depending on what you mean by "dangerous". It isn't dangerous in the sense of "will lead to net bad consequences with a high degree of probability". It is dangerous in the sense of "might lead to bad consequences with unknown probability, or will lead to consequences with an unknown probability of being net bad". Assuming you accept that distinction of different meanings of dangerous, the next question would be, can you even tell from the EU statement which one they mean?) -W]

  24. #24 Luke Warmer
    2009/03/18

    William – ooh you cynic. Now repeat after me – incentives create behaviour.

    Re 80% reduction targets – interesting to speculate what will be the impact(globally) by 2050. China’s marginal or delta C02 emissions for 2010 over 2004 (not allowing for credit crunch) are the same as combined 2004 total for UK, Canada, Germany and Japan.

    Even for lowered growth, China’s per capita CO2 is coming up from such a low level to meet a western one (and with such a large population any change per cap. is dramatic)

    They’re now subsidising fridges and washing machines for the rural poor to try to ease their manufacturing downturn increasing energy demand.

    But taxes, well Blood and Gore will be rich. What’s the Pigouvian level on petrol? We’re already at 75%.

  25. #25 Alexander Ač
    2009/03/18

    Dear Luke, I think I am not alone, but I don’t believe, that we will achieve 80 % reduction by 2050. Maybe yes, but only together with population reduction…

  26. #26 Michael Tobis
    2009/03/19

    Perhaps your complaint and Paul’s are similar after all.

    Much though the optimum policy ought to be expressed as a very elaborate Kalman filter, though, the fact remains that the policy sector is not competent to set one up, enact it and maintain it. Parliaments and publics need goals that are easy to state and understand.

    Much as we’d want the policy sector to just trust us: “the algorithm is clearly published and is available for anyone to peruse” for most people this is Vogon poetry. What we really mean by 2 C is “put the brakes on as hard as you can without injuring anybody, now”, and that is pretty much what we ought to be saying. Had we actually implemented what we said we would back in 1992, the target would be much more complex.

    Right now it makes sense to aim at the most stringent reductions consistent with existing social and economic structures and hope for the best. Turning that into a number yields 2 C as about the best we can do. The issue is what is politically and economically feasible at the margin, not what is actually optimal.

    This in turn follows from the fact that one’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, and if we don’t urgently aim for 2 C the policy people are thinking we almost surely won’t manage to stay under 3 C. 2 C is political speech, not scientific speech; they are practically not commensurable.

    A member of our local humanist group advised putting our endowment into shares, now that we have withdrawn from a mutual fund. I objected, not on the grounds that I distrust the gentleman’s goodwill or abilities as an investor, but that I did not have confidence in the organization’s abilities in that regard. Therefore I thought it not a good precedent.

    The situation here is comparable. The goals of the policy sector cannot possible be complex and agile, even though conceptually the optimal policy must be so.

    The political process is not competent to process contingent policies. It is necessary to set coarse targets and not change them frequently, and if you had asked me, I would have picked exactly 2 C at this point in time. Ask me in a few years and, alas, as things are shaping up I will likely have to settle for 3 C.

  27. #27 Michael Tobis
    2009/03/19

    Perhaps your complaint and Paul’s are similar after all.

    Much though the optimum policy ought to be expressed as a very elaborate Kalman filter, the fact remains that the policy sector is not competent to set one up, enact it and maintain it. Parliaments and publics need goals that are easy to state and understand.

    Much as we’d want the policy sector to just trust us: “the algorithm is clearly published and is available for anyone to peruse” for most people this is Vogon poetry. What we really mean by 2 C is “put the brakes on as hard as you can without injuring anybody, now”, and that is pretty much what we ought to be saying. Had we actually implemented what we said we would back in 1992, the target would be much more complex.

    Right now it makes sense to aim at the most stringent reductions consistent with existing social and economic structures and hope for the best. Turning that into a number yields 2 C as about the best we can do. The issue is what is politically and economically feasible at the margin, not what is actually optimal.

    This in turn follows from the fact that one’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, and if we don’t urgently aim for 2 C the policy people are thinking we almost surely won’t manage to stay under 3 C. 2 C is political speech, not scientific speech; they are practically not commensurable.

    A member of our local humanist group advised putting our endowment into shares, now that we have withdrawn from a mutual fund. I objected, not on the grounds that I distrust the gentleman’s goodwill or abilities as an investor, but that I did not have confidence in the organization’s abilities in that regard. Therefore I thought it not a good precedent.

    The situation here is comparable. The goals of the policy sector cannot possible be complex and agile, even though conceptually the optimal policy must be so.

    The political process is not competent to process contingent policies. It is necessary to set coarse targets and not change them frequently, and if you had asked me, I would have picked exactly 2 C at this point in time. Ask me in a few years and, alas, as things are shaping up I will likely have to settle for 3 C.

  28. #28 Michael Tobis
    2009/03/19

    But I repeat myself.

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