Global Temp Targets

I have been hearing for years from very knowledgeable professors that we, as a global community, are not going to be able to hold warming to the European Union goal of just two degrees of increase. The best models and best possible politics still do not really allow for it. But I have never heard someone put it as clearly as Proferesor David Victor, who simply said on February 24th: “Two degrees is a fantasy.”

Two years ago, people like Rob Socolow, one of my main advisors, was asking “what is our ’soft landing,’ as we will not reach two degrees?” Folks where considering that we re-frame the target in terms of three degrees, so it would not seem as bad when we blew by two.

The truth of the matter is that this is a very, very hard problem. We are dealing with a stock pollutant (CO2) that has built up over more than two hundred years. It will be a big deal if we meet 450 or 550 parts per million by the end of the century. It is a very hard problem politically as well. There is a time issue. Politicians, understandably, do not now want to take on a very difficult and expensive problem to help a future constituency that cannot speak up for itself.

Diplomacy up to this point has not worked very well. In 23 years, it has only slowed the problem by three weeks worth of growth. Part of the issue is that with binding agreements, countries are very risk averse, and want to be sure they can easily meet the goal they agree to.

I have heard from several sources that the new IPCC report will have to grapple with the fact that two degrees is not going to be met, but it is important to keep mitigating, and go for a slightly higher target, such as three or four degrees. Adaptation will also become more important, as some impacts will be unavoidable. Some countries will undountedly consider geoenginering, which brings with it an entirely new set of issues.

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