The latest installment of the U.N’s fifth Climate Assessment Report explores what we must do in order to lessen the negative impacts of a changing climate.
As our understanding of climate change continues to develop, we hear more and more about a few particularly important numbers: to ensure that average global temperature increase does not exceed 2oC by the year 2100, we mustn’t allow the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to exceed 350 ppm (parts per million). Currently, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is about 400ppm, with an additional 2ppm emitted each year. Accounting for population and economic growth, CO2 concentrations are projected land between 750 and 1,300 ppm by the end of the century. To offset the emissions resulting from this growth, we need to substantially cut emissions by 2050 (by 40-70%), and to completely cease emissions by 2100.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released its third working group summary this weekend in Berlin, Germany, as a part of its fifth Climate Assessment Report. Previous working group summaries have tackled the physical scientific aspects of changing climate systems, as well as impacts, adaptations, and vulnerabilities for people across the globe. The latest installment examines the topic of mitigation: the “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”
There are currently great efforts underway to achieve both goals of greenhouse gas mitigation. Forests are one of our most valuable carbon sinks; trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use energy from the sun to convert the gas into glucose in a process called photosynthesis. Across the planet, reforestation projects aim to preserve the ecosystem services that trees offer.
But covering the globe in trees is not enough to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, especially when economic growth depends on burning the fossil fuels that emit so much of the gas. Between 2000 and 2010, the IPCC reports, the “contribution of economic and population growth to CO2 emissions has outpaced emission reduction from improvements in energy intensity.” The panel cites the increased use of coal as a cheap, abundant energy source in developing nations as the cause of the reversal of the long-standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply.
With ever-increasing demand for modern goods and services in countries where the population is growing at a rapid pace, restricting fossil fuels would cause significant immediate damage to highly vulnerable communities. The only way to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by our energy infrastructure is to update it – to find a viable substitute that can meet the demands of a world literally packed with people without contributing to carbon emissions. The developing world is waiting for wealthy countries to lead the way, starting with the U.S. And as a country that already has the technology available to make this possible, the remaining impediments to clean energy are largely political. The United States needs a new approach to make financing available for the expansion of solar, wind and other clean energy sources.
That’s why Green America is promoting the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. Sponsored by US Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Doris Matsui, the CEVB Act of 2014 would issue United States Treasury bonds that would be available to all Americans for purchase. The funds raised from the sale of the bonds would go directly towards tax credits that clean energy industries, like wind and solar, as well as energy efficiency projects, depend upon. You can do your part to make the long-term investments needed to ensure that we won’t have to burn fossil fuels for much longer. Call your Representative, tell him or her you want to invest in a clean energy future, and urge him or her to co-sponsor the bill today.