03 December 2012

Monday Infographics: World Bank Climate Report

This weekend marked the middle of the current gathering of delegates to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is being held this year in Doha, Qatar. This is the 18th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-18) and the 8th Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocols (MOP-8), along with several other key meetings in the same place. Existing cooperation under the Kyoto Protocols will expire at the end of this year unless some extension, or an unlikely new agreement, is negotiated. This may be the last chance for both developed and developing nations to come to some agreement on emissions abatements, cost-sharing and funds transfers and "carbon taxes," and any effort to curb our destruction of the very Earth systems (oceans, forests, rivers) that may save our own and innumerable other species.

I've posted previously on the UNFCCC COP process:
My goodness, was it really that long ago that I posted those? Time flies...

While much of the UNFCCC negotiation remains focused on the notion that we want to avoid 2°C of warming (actually, I suppose the meetings remain focused on even more fundamentally political issues, such as responsibility), the World Bank recently published a report "Turn Down the Heat" indicating that we are actually on a path to 4°C warming by 2100. They produced an infographic to accompany the report's release:

Companion infographic to the World Bank report "Turn Down the Heat."

The science of climate change tells us that setting our time horizon at 2100 is actually a highly arbitrary choice. We could set a goal at 2100, work to meet that (and I mean actual actions, not just more negotiating over who and what and where and how much $$$), and still see additional warming beyond that date. There is a certain amount of thermal inertia in the Earth system that ensures we are not seeing all of the potential warming immediately, and that even if we stopped all carbon emissions right now, the climate will still warm for centuries to come. A large part of that inertial effect comes from storage of heat and gases in the oceans, something that climate scientists know well and are still working to get the models to represent as accurately as possible. Another large part of the effect comes from feedback effects in the Earth - atmosphere system that many scientists, far more than those who focus specifically on climate dynamics (such as myself), are still working to understand and quantify for addition to those models. Some feedback effects have been under study for some time, such as aerosols in the atmosphere and the thawing of permafrost in high latitudes, but there are many others on which we are just beginning to gather data and make hypotheses for testing and modeling.

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