Think a 2°C hike sounds bad? Try 6°C. That's how much average global temperatures could rise, according to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) soon-to-be released 2008 World Energy Outlook. Reuters and The New Scientist's Catherine Brahic write that the report, which will be released November 12, says that even stringent emission-reducing caps, coupled with action from the energy industry, could prove insufficient in stopping the worst of climate change. The international community, which will meet next year to discuss the successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the Copenhagen climate summit, will need to set ambitious targets if it wants to tame the looming climate crisis, the report cautions. A European Union goal to keep a global temperature rise below 2°C relative to what it was before the industrial revolution will not be enough if temperatures rise 6°C.
A report released last year by the Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change estimated that global temperatures would rise between 1°C and 5°C over the next century. According to a UN climate panel, a temperature rise above 3°C would result in "hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress."
Stronger action to fight climate change involves rapidly escalating costs, for example to deploy expensive, untested technologies such as carbon scrubbers and even to leave stranded assets -- where high-carbon coal plants, for example, have to be closed prematurely.
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The IEA analyzed two scenarios to limit warming to 2 degrees and 3 degrees, and estimated that these would cost about $180 and $90 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions respectively.
The present EU carbon price is about 18 euros ($23.20), and accounts for about one fifth of European consumer electricity prices, say analysts.
"The scale of the challenge ... is immense," the IEA said of a 2 degrees target. "The technology shift, if achievable, would certainly be unprecedented in scale and speed of deployment."
Furthermore, the IEA also believes that oil reserves could last until at least 2030 if consumption continues to increase at current rates. The report also highlighted the need to tackle energy poverty in oil-rich developing countries like Nigeria and Angola.
As with all such reports, this one should be taken with a large grain of salt. Future temperature estimates are, almost by definition, imprecise and subject to change (based on the latest available science). Also, the report shouldn't distract the US and other developed nations from continuing their progress in developing new clean energy technologies and setting ever more ambitious carbon reduction targets. However, since the IEA isn't exactly a skeptic-funded think tank, its report should be taken seriously -- temperatures could rise above 2°C, just as they could remain below.
How well we manage future climate change will largely depend on the efforts of the global community, scientists and clean energy companies.