Recent Jim Hansen testimony — higher risks?

November 26 Testimony before Environmental Audit Committee of UK Parliament.  

Basically this was Hansen and the view that IPCC report is too sanguine given latest data vs. government scientists more supportive of the IPCC report and more inclined to weigh economic considerations that might limit climate response.   Inconclusive on the science issues — question of whether climate sensitivity is higher than believed.  Probably clearest points are need to move on conservation retrofits of housing (even in UK, penetration limited) and the essential desirability of carbon capture and storage (although no great confidence on its viability).  And most generally, all are in favor of more aggressive action from a climate standpoint — differences are on where to place economic trade-offs:  Even the major science disagreements are beyond the question of a danger of great climate change.


See recording at:

Jim Hansen of NASA and Tim Helweg-Larsen, Director, Public Interest Research Centre (Climate message group)

Question:  What are the developments in climate science since last IPCC report in 2007:

1.                   Unexpectedly rapid melting of arctic sea ice which will lead to more blue sea water with higher heat absorption, contributing to a regional warming which will melt Siberian tundra, releasing carbon, and also reduce ice cover in Greenland.

2.                   Additional observations (unclear about comparison to IPCC) — expansion of subtropical dry regions; damage to reefs.

3.                   Should stop burning oil gas and coal, carbon reservoirs.  Cannot be building coal fired plans.  Need to draw down carbon 50 ppm by improving forestry practices (dramatic use or marginal lands)

4.                   Argue that have not passed an irreversible carbon tipping points — Arctic sea ice may not be that.  If large ice sheets on West Antartica or Greenland disintegrate, may reach point of no return.  Hard to estimate where the point of no controllable return is.  Probably haven’t reached it yet — melting is in terms of millimeters of sea level and a small percentage of their total volume.

5.                   May have passed points for some eco-systems and extinctions.

6.                   Recent analysis Looking at 100 year budget, back out emissions todate in this century; back out carbon cycle feedback losses (27%); back out deforestation results; remove non-GHG emisisons.  Remaining budget for manageable emissions:  Must reduce 8% per year, but no-country has reduced carbon by more than 1% per year outside of economic collapse.  Must look at much more aggressive carbon reduction path – stop new commitments to carbon (coal plants).

7.                   Warning of methane hydrates beginning to dribble out.  Must go back to 350 ppm.  2 degrees is much too much to allow.  That target was based on measurements from glaciers that were accurate, but did not reflect total global average.  New ocean historical measurements suggest a 1 degree increase was maximum in previous interglacial periods.  Sea level and climate zones have shaped our civilization.  Changes in the climate beyond 1 degree may result in a very different world.  Rise of 0.8 (current) is probably too much????

8.                   Previous IPCC work correlated 450ppm to 2 degree rise.  But this was based on range of sensitivity and high end, which would be considered conservative, would link 450ppm to 3 degree rise.  More rapid warming tends to suggest that climate sensitivity is higher than believed, linking a 450ppm level to 4 degree warming with a 6 degree sensitivity?  [But note, arctic effects are not indicative, necessarily of more rapid total warming or higher sensitivity .  . .]

9.                   At the same time, Hansen talks (at around 40 minutes in hearing), in terms of 2-3 degree rise over the next 100 years, based on per decade increases from history – not a sensitivity analysis approach.

10.                Not betting on success of carbon capture and storage.  Interested in improved agricultural practices – twice as much carbon in the soil as in the atmosphere.  Vision of British windpower.     

11.                Major imponderables:  (a) cooling effect of particulates; (b) ocean temperature dynamics in depths (air holds little in the way of heat).  Suggest that these are only a matter of improving precision.

12.                Recommends the next thing be a carbon tax with a 100% dividend for people.

Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [past chair, IPCC III], and Professor John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office of Science

13.                Agrees real causes for concerns – believe in one of worst scenarios:  Emissions at upper end of range.  Also, indications from Arctic.  (@1:13).

14.                Believe in strength of policy process in IPCC – does not buy climate sensitivity of 6 defined by Hansen in recent paper.

15.                Buys into 400 to 450 ppm.  Buys into 2 degrees.  Does not buy in to 550ppm in Stern Report.  Sticks with 80% by 2050, which was a change from 60%.

16.                Unable to defend setting of high carbon discount rate which was supplied to permit a new runway at Heath Row.  (Low discount rate protects future generations by valuing their impact higher.)

17.                Path matters.  Not sure about 2020 target for reductions.  (Government is shooting for 26% right now.)  EU is at 20%, but “if others do their share” would like to see 30%.  But we need US, China, India, Russia too.

18.                If there is inertia and a failure to act by others, shouldn’t we do more, not less?  Hard to say, this is negotiation.  Future target doesn’t matter that much — have to be very aggressive regardless whether we are targeting 70, 80 or 90%.

19.                We will have a need for increased food (50%), water (30%) and energy (50%) production by 2030 within carbon reduction frameworks.

20.                Move away from subsidies in agriculture, energy and transportation.  Other concepts, changes in trade.

21.                Believe that scientists in other branches have been blunt . . . does not concede that other government branches have been ignoring.   Questioned further on investment in highways, etc.  “There are resource constraints . . . changing investment patterns in transportation is difficult.”  We are investing in alternative energy – wind, clean coals, electric cars, etc.

22.                Agrees that much more does need to be done – built environment is key:  Loft insulation has only 30% penetration although its very effective; need to get local authorities and small groups moving with measurement and local generation.  With progress in built environment, can make a big difference.  Require carbon neutrality of new buildings, but in 2050, 70% of housing stock will be pre-2000, so have to look at retro-fit. . . .  On supply-side, biofuels, new nuclear, expansion of wind, etc.  Have to, in a post-Kyoto process, bring into aviation into a global policy framework; probably can’t continue to allow expansion of aviation [underlying question regarding Heathrow expansion].

23.                Does not favor sector specific targets – need to allow movement between sector.

24.                Question:  Even public housing has not met retrofit target.  Granted can improve.

25.                Coal is big – big reserves in key country. CCS is important to hope for.  Possibility by 2015???  Cannot achieve 450 without CCS or even 550.  Even by 2050, most projections are that 50% or more of electricity produced will still be produced using coal. Cannot achieve reductions without CCS; also need the renewables, etc.  

26.                Shouldn’t we stop all coal plant creation?  Economic decision through political process.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.