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Climate Change

The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The idea is that if a frog is put suddenly into a pan of boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in a pan of tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly. This is global warming in a nutshell, we can hardly see the dangers approaching and we are unwilling to act. The frog story is a fable, it is untrue, the frog would jump out at 25°C because of its desire to survive, the question is can we jump out of our pan of water? We are reacting to the threat but we are reacting like a frog with a lobotomy and I fear we will not jump out of the pan in time.

frog in a pan of water

Ten years ago on confusedaboutenergy.co.uk we predicted that regardless of new renewable energy sources we would be consuming more fossil fuels rather than less, we are actually consuming 13% more fossil fuels, this pushed up the CO2 levels and increased the temperature. The next ten years will be the same, there will be more renewable energy sources but there will be greater energy demand with the ever increasing population. The data tells us this will happen and since it is unlikely that the world will listen to the data we will continue on this path, the world will not and possibly cannot react fast enough.

We should however try. The issue is greenhouse gasses and more specifically CO2 from burning fossil fuels, we need to explore every avenue to reduce emissions and to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to limit global warming. The metrics we use track where we are now, where we are likely to go with no change and we look at what we could do to mitigate the problem, in other words how do we get the frog to jump out of the pan?

The deviation of global temperature is the key measurement standing at +0.9°C, the sharp increase is attributable to the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (Figure 1), which is in turn attributable to the increased emissions of CO2 from human activity, mostly the combustion of fossil fuels but also from industrial process emissions & agriculture. In turn you can attribute the need for all of this to the ever increasing human population and our need for food, heating, cooling and transport, not to mention holidays in the sun.

There are only two main ways to reduce the rate of global warming. Reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere or block some of the Suns radiation.

Blocking the Suns radiation is rather drastic, several methods have been speculated for example adding Sulphate to the upper atmosphere to "dim the lights" in the same way a volcano does, or to give the Earth a set of sunglasses by placing a vast array of mirrors in space between the Earth and the Sun. These thoughts are for another day as they are last resort measures, we are going to analyse reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere and see how realistic this is.

From power generation, industry, transport, buildings etc we are emitting about 36Gt per annum of CO2. Currently about half of this is reabsorbed by the planet the rest accumulates in the atmosphere and increases the concentration of atmospheric CO2.

Our background metrics show that CO2 emissions are increasing by 5.0Gt per decade, encouragingly the last year has only seen and increase of 0.1Gt, this is good news, the increase is slowing, however emissions need to decrease substantially to slow global warming.

We estimate for each 1 Gt of CO2 emissions per annum over 18Gt we increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 0.13ppm, so currently in a single year it will increase by 2.34ppm.

As a minimum to prevent further warming we need to remove approximately 18Gt of CO2 from the atmosphere or prevent their emissions each year, starting today. This is of course impossible. But over the next decade we could choose to chip away at it with a variety of activities.

Here is a mix of methods, long and short term that we can engage in to lower atmospheric CO2 concentration.

  • Focus on removing coal and oil from power generation
  • Greater use of renewable energy in power generation
  • Carbon Capture and Storage from power plants
  • Carbon Capture and Storage from industry
  • Carbon Capture and Storage direct from the atmosphere
  • Move to electric vehicles (they are more efficient so even with fossil generated power they have a lower carbon footprint)
  • Nuclear Power
  • Fusion Energy (still a way off)
  • Planting Trees
  • Other Biological methods (e.g. Algae growth in the oceans, this is controversial)

2030

What will 2030 look like?

To be honest we will probably not perceive that much change between now and 2030. But this is just a taster of what is to come without policy change. Look out for the following:-

  • More precipitation (not easy in the UK it rains a lot already!)
  • More heatwaves and droughts
  • Ever increasing levels of human migration into Europe and North America, as their environment becomes more difficult to prosper in
  • The migration of species, land and ocean.
  • Species extinction with the loss of habitat.
  • Spread of Mosquito related desease as they spread to new habitats.
  • Reduction in winter based human death rates (a positive).
  • the Artic becoming navigable to shipping.
  • Ice loss from glaciers on mountains, the Antarctic and Greenland.
  • Sea level rises, these will be uneven.
  • Increased ocean acidity causing species migration and extinction.

Key Climate Change Metrics Causes, Effects and Actions

Various Global Warning Scenarios
Cause
From 1970
Latest
Change
Projection
136761 TWh
 (2019)
+954 TWh

Annual

+20547 TWh

Decade

2030 143000 TWh to 155000 TWh
2040 149000 TWh to 171000 TWh
135000 TWh is about the same amount of energy that 22 million average onshore wind turbines would generate.
36.4 Gt 
 (2019)
+0.0 Gt

Annual

+5.0 Gt

Decade

2030 37 Gt to 42.5 Gt
2040 36 Gt to 46 Gt
35 Gt is equivalent in weight to about 5950 Great Pyramids!
7.80 billion
 (2020)
+81 million

Annual

+838 million

Decade

2030 8.3 billion to 8.8 billion
2040 8.6 billion to 9.8 billion
We are adding about the equivalent of the population of Germany to the world each year.
9800 TWh
 (2019)
10+Gt CO2
-270 TWh

Annual

+1700 TWh

Decade

2030 9000 TWh to 8000 TWh
2040 11000 TWh to 12000 TWh
Coal is the most used fuel in power generation and produces the most CO2 per kWh produced.
Effect
From 1970
Latest
Change
Projection
414 ppm
 (2020)
+2.5 ppm

Annual

+24 ppm

Decade

2030 430 ppm to 450 ppm
2040 450 ppm to 500 ppm
Reaching 400ppm is seen as key as it marks a point of no return in our lifetimes.
1.02°C
 (2020)
+0.04°C

Annual

+0.3°C

Decade

2030 1.45°C to 1.8°C ppm
2040 1.8°C to 2.5°C
Based on current trends +1.5°C by 2027 and +2.5°C by 2040.
97 mm
 (2020)
 0.7 mm

Annual

+46.5 mm

Decade

2030 120 mm to 145 mm
2040 150 mm to 200 mm
Sea Level change is "lumpy", the mass of the ocean is increasing but the sea level change varies greatly across the oceans.
3.92 million km2
 (2020)
0.3 million km2

Annual

0.95 million km2

Decade

2030 3 million km2
        to 2 million km2
2040 2 million km2
        to 0 million km2
Commercial shipping is now able to navigate the Arctic in the summer.
-1835 Gt
 (2020)
-350 Gt

Annual

-1600 Gt

Decade

2030 -4800 Gt to -6300 Gt
2040 -7000 Gt to -10000 Gt
1 mm of equivalent sea level rise equals about 360 Gt of ice mass.
-4900 Gt
 (2020)
-170 Gt

Annual

-2500 Gt

Decade

2030 -4800 Gt to -6300 Gt
2040 -7000 Gt to -10000 Gt
1 mm of equivalent sea level rise equals about 360 Gt of ice mass.
-0.03 pH
Each Decade
0.03 pH

Decade

A single metric for ocean acidity is very tricky. Not only is the data very patchy but the oceans vary in acidity. All we can look at is the trend.
Action
From 1970
Latest
Change
Projection
2805 TWh
 (2019)
+337 TWh

Annual

+2169 TWh

Decade

2030 6000 TWh to 7500 TWh
2040 9000 TWh to 12000 TWh
1.29 Gt
 (2018)
0.18 Gt

Annual

0.96 Gt

Decade

2030 3.6 Gt to 4.5 Gt
2040 5.4 Gt to 7.2 Gt
Example 50% coal power generation substituted with renewables
 ≅4.6 GtCO2 emissions prevented
Example 50% gas power generation substituted with renewables
 ≅2 GtCO2 emissions prevented
Data here is calculated according to the approximation of 0.0006 Gt of CO2 emissions per TWh is emitted when generating electricity with fossil fuels. So if 1TWh is renewably generated 0.0006 GT emissions are saved.
No Data
No Data
Example 50% coal power generation with CCS
 ≅3.7 GtCO2 emissions prevented
Example 50% gas power generation with CCS
 ≅1.6 GtCO2 emissions prevented
Data here is calculated according to the approximation of 0.0006 Gt of CO2 emissions per TWh is emitted when generating electricity with fossil fuels and that 80% of this can be prevented with CCS.
978 TWh
 (2017)
31 TWh

Annual

543 TWh

Decade

2030 1140 TWh to 1700 TWh
2040 1250 TWh to 2200 TWh
Bio Fuels are classed here under actions however should they be? Does it make sence to utilise agricultural land in a hungry world to produce bio fuel? Does it make sence to cut forests down to grow crops for fuel?
39.99 million km2
 (2015)
0.033 million km2

Annual

0.336 million km2

Decade

2030 39.4 million km2
        to 39.7 million km2
2040 39 million km2
        to 39.5 million km2
There is talk of planting trees to mitigate climate change in order to soak up some of the CO2, however we are cutting forest down faster than planting this metric need to go up not down. 0.033 million km2 is 1½ times the area of Wales every year.
There are other actions, for example, carbon capture and storage direct from the atmosphere, a significant move to electric vehicles (they are more efficient so even with fossil generated power they have a lower carbon footprint), more nuclear power, fusion energy (still a way off), planting trees, not cutting down trees and other biological methods. As we get more data on these we will add them to the mix, as it stands these options are insignificant compared to renewable energy and CCS.
The metrics in this table are divided into causes, effects and actions. The data comes form reputable organisations like NASA and BP and is fully referenced. The data for actions is sparse and hard to get hold of, but these are the things we need to track, so we are working on way to get this information.

Units

Symbol Unit Meaning Detail
M Mega million 106
G Giga billion 109
T Tera trillion 1012
t tonne Unit of Weight This is Metric tonne = 1000kg (we only use the metric system on this site)
TWh TeraWatt hour Unit of Energy 1 TWh = 1000,000,000 kWh
Gt Gigatonne Unit of Weight 1 Gt = 1000,000,000 tonnes
Mt Megatonne Unit of Weight 1 Mt = 1,000,000 tonnes
ppm parts per million Unit of Concentration 1 ppm C02 ≃ 1.94 mg/m3
°C degree Celsius or Centigrade Unit of Temperature (X°C × 9/5) + 32 = Y°F
CO2e Carbon Dioxide greenhouse gas equivalent Defined Here