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So much for green growth

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

The assertion that we can achieve the emission reductions we need through pursuit of the ‘business-case for sustainable development’ cries out to be stared hard in the face, and a recent paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research seems to do just that.

First, ‘Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends‘ challenges the 2’C threshold. The paper suggests that:

“In the absence of an almost immediate step change in mitigation (away from the current trend of 3% annual emission growth), adaptation would be much better guided by stabilization at 650 ppmv CO2e” [which corresponds to a temperature rise of approximately 4’C]. “However, even this level of stabilization assumes rapid success in curtailing deforestation, an early reversal of current trends in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions and urgent decarbonization of the global energy system.”

It goes on:

“Even atmospheric stabilization at 650ppmv CO2e demands the majority of OECD nations begin to make draconian emissions reductions within a decade… Unless economic growth can be reconciled with unprecedented rates of decarbonization (in excess of 6% per year), it is difficult to envisage anything other than a planned economic recession being compatible with stabilization at or below 650 ppmv CO2e.”

In reflecting on the challenge that this poses, we should bear in mind that:

(1) Over the period 2000-2006, “the UK Government’s emission inventory suggests, at best, that emissions have been stable.” (p.4) This is despite the fact that one might expect initial attempts to curb emissions to be focussed on the most straightforward efficiency improvements where economic and environmental objectives most easily coincide.

(2) According to Sterne, “annual reductions [in emissions] of greater than 1 per cent have ‘been associated only with economic recession or upheaval'” (p.18)

Tom CromptonSo much for green growth

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  • jules - September 24, 2008 reply

    Thanks Tom..

    And the report says our politicians are misguided and completely out of synch with the science. Now that really isn’t news to anyone…………………..

    Also scientists are confirming their worst fears about impending runaway climate change. In what is being dubbed ‘the ultimate gas leak’ it is feared that millions of tonnes of methane are escaping from melting permafrost right across the arctic and in particular in Siberia. As global warming – driven by our lifestyles – heats up the planet the worlds huge areas of permafrost have started to melt. Within the ice and snow is trapped this huge source of methane – a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2. As this methane is released it in turn causes even more rapid global warming and releases of even more methane so it becomes an escalating loop – and one than any meagre CO2 reductions by us will not be able to control. This effect has been know about for some time but now evidence is fast mounting that it is under way on a large scale. The science of CC just gets more and more scary by the day.

    Its amazes me how this is not all over the news…….. Well I guess there are other things to worry about like the goings on within New Labour and Sarah Palin’s crash course in world-diplomacy……………

  • admin - September 24, 2008 reply

    Yes, Jules. I read about an interesting distinction between different forms of denial recently; literal, interpretive and implicatory.

    Environmentalists wring their hands about the first two – which relate to whether we have the knowledge: why is it people set out to debunk the climatology? why is it that more people don’t understand that this is happening?

    But maybe our problem isn’t lack of knowledge; it’s what we (don’t) do with the knowledge; implicatory denial. Here knowledge itself is not the problem; the problem is ‘doing the right thing with the knowledge’; how can a problem be both almost completely invisible on the public radar, yet common knowledge? This has been called ‘the social organisation of denial’, and seems to be about the most important thing that we can be trying to address right now.

  • Niamh - October 1, 2008 reply

    That’s a good way of putting it, Tom. It’s another demonstration that knowledge doesn’t lead directly to understanding, let alone to action, without support. Educators, for example, use a series of different steps to take learners from knowledge through to application, and even further, through to reflection and evaluation. Unfortunately, environmental messages often remain just that, messages, based on the assumption that awareness-raising leads to action. This is why collective change processes are, I think, a practical and supportive way of enabling change to happen.

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