Ten new insights in climate science (Johan Rockström at #COP26)

We are on average, moving towards four degrees warming this century. And we haven’t been in a four-degree warmer world for the past four million years. So it’s not as if it’s a place we know very well.

Johan Rockström (2016)
Johan Rockström at #COP26: 10 New Insights in Climate Science | UN Climate Change

Dr. Wendy Broadgate: So, I’d like to turn the floor to Professor Johan Rockström to give an overview of the report. Professor Rockström is Director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research. He represents both Future Earth and Earth League. Over to you, Johan.

Prof. Johan Rockström: Thanks, Wendy, and good morning, everyone. So, just to set the report again in stage, I mean, the purpose of this is for the scientific community to hand over the ten new insights that we believe every climate negotiator must have in his or her back pocket to be an effective negotiator at any COP meeting and certainly here in Glasgow. So, this is the scan of the latest insights.

1) Insight number one is that, from an Earth systems science perspective, we land in the conclusion that 1.5°C is still a possible landing zone. We can still achieve it. The question is how will we do that from a feasibility perspective, and that an overshoot is likely. It translates to a two gigaton, two billion tonnes, of carbon dioxide per year reduction pace in a linear level, that’s five percent per year; but if you want to have a two-thirds chance of success, it requires a doubling, to four billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. And we emit today 42 gigatons or a billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. [Brief break while a new participant arrives.] So, here you have the pathways in the report in terms of the landing zone to 1.5°C.

2) Insight number two is what has been very much in discussion here in Glasgow; namely that there is no safe landing to deliver the Paris Agreement only by decarbonising the global energy system carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide; the non-CO2 gases are worsening global warming. The climate models show clearly that we need to follow the same pace of reductions as carbon dioxide to have a chance of delivering the Paris Agreement. Here you see the latest assessments of the warming versus cooling gases, and that nitrous oxide and methane are fundamental here, and that the discussions here and agreements is one step along the way, but not sufficient scientifically. Also important in this context is to remind ourselves that air pollutants are actually cooling the planet, so we have a paradox, and a very dramatic one, which is that one environmental problem, air pollutants, are camouflaging another environmental crisis. The global warming crisis. And this is well established scientifically.

3) Insight three is that we’ve entered the age of intensified megafires. This is also causing, apart from social impacts on humans, enhanced climate positive feedbacks, which is a warming amplifier. And here you have the 2019-2020 mapping of the accelerated forest fire outbreaks, which are now covering more and more area and caused by human global warming, or accentuated by human global warming.

4) Tipping elements are real. It’s a real risk that we cannot rule out. The IPCC is clear here; here you see the trajectory in terms of the risk assessments from science, from the third assessment of the IPCC all the way till today. What you see here is that the more scientific advances, the lower in global mean temperature is the scientific assessment of the risk of crossing tipping points and that the tipping point risk today is down between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius with low probability, high impact events. We don’t have scientific certainty here yet, but we are seeing more and more risk landscape that is coming very closer within the Paris range. The scientific frontier here is that we are not only seeing the risk of crossing tipping points, but it’s also that we are seeing the risk of interactions, so-called ‘cascades’, between tipping element systems. And you see here, for example, when the Greenland ice sheet melts fast, releasing cold freshwater in the North Atlantic, slowing down the overturning of heat of the North Atlantic, impacting on the monsoon over the Amazon, which can explain higher degree of droughts and forest fires in the Amazon rainforest, which in turn also locks in warm water in the southern ocean, accelerating potentially the melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf. These cascades is on the scientific frontier; we are still working very hard on this, but it just gives even stronger message to negotiators here that precaution is important.

5) Climate action must be just; and this justice factor has very dramatic numbers. We know them all, but just to give you the latest statistics, the richest 1% must reduce emissions by a factor of 30, while the poorest 50% in the world can actually increase emissions by a factor of three for the world to stay within the global carbon budget in a fair way.

6) Now, insight six is really on behavioural change. We need to have a transition not only into decarbonisation of the energy systems in terms of technologies, but we also need 1.5°C lifestyles. Status quo and consumption patterns and growth will not take us to the Paris range. This is about equity, but it’s also about lifestyle change and behavioural change.

7) Insight seven is about economic policy measures. We have so much scientific evidence today that carbon pricing can accelerate the scale of transition. Sixty-one countries in the world have adopted a price on carbon. This is, however, it’s only covering 22% of global emissions are covered by carbon price, and, so far, the carbon price is not efficient because it’s set at a too low level. But the European Union is the first example in the world of a region where the carbon pricing system is starting to work, because it’s starting to come up to scientific parity in the level of pricing at over 60 Euros per tonne of carbon dioxide.

8) Nature-based solutions are absolutely fundamental to have a chance of delivering the Paris Agreement; the challenge, though, is to have robust, resilient nature-based solutions and not to fool ourselves in investing in offsetting mechanisms that have already been factored into the climate models that give us a carbon budget. So, you know, the only reason why we have a remaining carbon budget that allows us to reduce emissions, according to what I mentioned earlier of a net zero world economy by 2050, is that we assume that nature will continue to be a net carbon sink. So we need nature-based solutions, but we cannot use them to slow down the pace of emission reductions from fossil fuel emissions.

9) The ocean is the resilient thermostat of the planet, biologically and physically; we have so much science today showing the threats to the ocean, and we’ll come back to that in the discussion here, but this is something that will be also a determinant factor, and investing in 30% targets for marine protected areas we believe is one measure to reduce these threats.

10) And, finally, number 10 is on the connections between climate impacts and costing that we need to correct the market economic failure in factoring in the true cost of climate damage, and that the number one entry point there is really about health; that we have today over seven million people per year prematurely losing their lives because of air pollutants, which is one of the factors that we need to now fully factor into the costing of our risky journey on climate change.

The transcript above was made with the help of Sonix, which did most of the donkey work for a tiny fee (I did have to spend some time tidying it up). Note that I do not have the copyright owner’s permission to publish this transcript here. I’ve investigated the copyright rules regarding transcriptions (more about that here), and one thing I’ve learned is that it’s no defence to make a disclaimer like “these aren’t my words, no copyright infringement intended.” However, I offer the transcription here as a service to society (especially the deaf community). I do hope the copyright owner won’t object. And I hope that you find this video as interesting as I did.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in Climate, Communication, Core thought, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, People, Strategy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Ten new insights in climate science (Johan Rockström at #COP26)

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you Colin.
    I knew all this, but then my words don’t carry the legitimacy his does.
    As the pilot of the plummeting plane announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please lean fully forward and put your head as far down as possible, then kiss your anus goodbye.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • peNdantry says:

      Excuse me, I have to run forward and wrest the controls from the pilot…

      … oh, bugger, I don’t know how to fly a plane. If we had time, we should maybe hold an election to pick another (unqualified non-pilot) to take over…


  2. Forestwood says:

    Well summarised! The problems we and our planet face are grave and multi-faceted. I am heartened knowing that there are many who understand the complex and interrelated nature of the earth’s climate and environment and the consequences. Of course, they understand it in much more depth than I do. We must keep spreading the word so that we can impress upon folks the vital importance of doing something concrete and globally focused asap! Thank you for posting this Colin!

    Liked by 1 person

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