INSIGHT: Latest climate advice points to tougher CO2 control

27 September 2013 16:26  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

May be no escape from climate change waveLONDON (ICIS)--Tougher regulatory control of greenhouse gas emissions has to be expected as the scientific evidence for human contribution to climate change becomes overwhelming and the potential threats of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere starker.

“The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on Friday.

“CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification,” the latest IPCC report says.

Climate scientists meeting in Stockholm, Sweden this week have been poring over the evidence to prepare the IPCC’s latest climate change report and the first major update by the UN of its climate change advice since 2007.

“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe,” their new assessment attests.

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models,” it says.

The IPCC has based its assessment on 2m gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations and cites more than 9,200 publications. More than three quarters of those publications have been released since the last IPCC assessment in 2007. Also, scientists from an increasing number of nations have contributed to the research.

An early reaction from the EU points towards tougher climate control legislation that will have an impact on producers and consumers of energy, the chemical industry among them.

''The issue is not whether to believe in climate change or not, the EU’s Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on Friday.

“The issue is whether to follow science or not.”

Europe would lead in the battle against climate change, she suggested, with the European Commission presenting 2030 climate and energy targets for the EU before the end of this year.

“The reality is that others are now following suit, Hedegaard said. “Europe will continue to demand more action from all the emitters.”

Limiting climate change may be a goal for some administrations but achieving a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is another matter.

“Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,” the IPCC says. But it warns that even if emissions of CO2 stop, the world is committed to climate change, and the effects will persist for many centuries.

The IPCC is predicting a rise in global surface temperatures of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius and a possible rise in sea levels of more than 95 cm by the end of the century. The temperature rise would be from the 1850 to 1900 average. The sea level rise is projected for the 2081−2100 period relative to 1986–2005.

“It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales as global mean temperatures increase, the IPCC adds.

“It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration. Occasional cold winter extremes will continue to occur.”

Curbing CO2 emissions and mitigating the impact of more extreme climate change will, however, be no easy task.

Carbon capture and storage technology has been offered up as a means of helping some of the highest CO2 emitters meet emissions target but is proving to be extremely costly and difficult to implement. There is only one CCS-equipped power plant under construction in the US, for instance, the Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi. 

Efforts from the US to force down CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants are expected to fail because carbon capture technologies are not up to the job, it was suggested in Insight on 26 September.

A major CCS project in Norway supported by the Norwegian government and by energy group Statoil was abandoned this week.

Attempts to further control CO2 emissions, however, are likely to have an impact on many industrial activities and on consumer costs and preferences. In the simplest terms, restrictions will tighten and costs will rise for both.

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By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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