How to curb global warming: act now!

By Kelly

In more than one sense, global warming is a hot topic here in Australia. This summer’s record temperatures have necessitated an extension of the temperature scale on weather maps, and exacerbated the occurrence of bushfires which we have seen rage throughout the southeast of the nation. In the mean time the international community appears to commit to further increases in average global temperatures as if the degree of warming over the past century hasn’t taught us a thing. But just say we could get some affirmative collective action, how do we know where to begin? As it happens, the question is not where, but when?

In a recent article in Nature, researchers quantified the influence of various factors on capping global warming to a further 2 °C and the associated cost of climate mitigation. Rogelj et al., looked at the impact of:

“the responsiveness of the physical climate system to cumulative emissions; the deployment of energy- and land-based emission-reduction technologies; the global demand for energy (which includes combined uncertainties about population, income growth and energy efficiency); the global carbon price that the international community is willing to impose; and the timing of substantive action to limit emissions”(Hatfield-Dodds summary).

From 500 model variations the authors conclude that the timing of international action has by far the highest impact on the probability of success. 

What I find most noteworthy is that this impact is highly non-linear. In other words, we just can not just peddle faster to reduce emmissions when we do decide to act. The article highlights that global action on emissions in 2015 equates to 60% probability of success. This drops to 56% if we delay until 2020 and plummets to 34% if we choose to delay collective action until 2025. Bushfire anyone? The authors also contend that an INCREASE in the carbon price is more likely to drive the necessary development of low emissions technology. Blindingly obvious if you ask me, however unfortunately there are still voices that claim a carbon tax is unnecessary. (Which I might add irks me in the same manner as complaints over the price of organic meat. This is the cost of rearing an animal. To purchase really cheap meat often means the animal must suffer enormously as a consequence. Same goes for climate, except that we all suffer).

I believe the authors do a great service by bridging the gap between science and policy. They are able to clarify what is important, and what needs to be addressed with out a need to understand the principles of thermodynamic equilibrium or vector calculus. The approach connects the disciplines, and all the associated uncertainties through the economics, providing a roadmap for decision makers and yet more impetus for rapid emissions reductions.

The summary can be found here and the full article here, but until we make research open access you’ll need a  subscription to Nature to view .

6 responses to “How to curb global warming: act now!

  1. Fingers crossed Obama will be able to do start the USA towards curbing emissions. I think that if he can get the USA to act, then other countries will follow. Traditionally, the USA (and Australia – but we’re getting better now) have been road blocks to global action. Go Obama! You can do it!

    • The USA has already curbed emissions, due to the recession over the last few years the USA has almost hit its most optimistic reductions targets.

      Obama has done it! Wahoo!


  2. Unfortunately, despite our knowledge and knowing that we have to act now, the industry is pushing another 14 huge coal, oil and gas projects that supposedly will add another 20% to the emissions!
    Sadly it includes Australia, with its plan to double coal exports.
    [Point of no return; Greenpeace].

  3. The disturbing thing is that the essence of this report is nothing we haven’t heard before. Here in Australia we heard from Will Steffen with his report to the Australian Governement called “The Critical Decade”, see previous post (
    And yet, we drag our feet, or indeed as Bianca pointed out, step backward. In some ways I am glad of the current heatwave as a demonstration of things to come. How many of our communities must be devastated by bushfire before we, as a nation, make the connection between emissions and temperature? And how many reports must we see that clearly indicate that continuing the warming trend makes NO economic sense either!
    Come on Obama, show us what you’ve got!

    • Yes Obama, show us what you’ve got! I think we should send him a hair shirt to wear at the office, that way every day he’ll be reminded of his responsibility to all the world’s unborn children. C’mon Obama!

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