The Thames Barrier - a flood control structure on the River Thames in London, UK.
Kyoto Protocol: first lap in long race against time
The Kyoto Protocol should be considered just the first lap in a long race to reduce the environmental and economic risks associated with climate change, according to a climate risk analyst with CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship, Dr Roger Jones.
In a keynote address in Sydney today to the Kyoto Policy in Practice conference, Dr Jones says the Kyoto Protocol represents the starting line for a critical assessment of climate change from which the finishing line cannot be seen.
“The good news is that we can make a start on cutting greenhouse emissions now, and the more we cut emissions in the future, the more we will value these first important steps,” he says. “The best way to ensure that costs and benefits balance each other is to ensure that cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are also economical, equitable and environmentally beneficial.”
“The good news is that we can make a start on cutting greenhouse emissions now, and the more we cut emissions in the future, the more we will value these first important steps”
Dr Roger Jones, CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship
Dr Jones says that since the emissions scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were produced in 2000, the world has moved to a new economic growth path, driven by developing countries and commodity providers such as Australia. This increased the risks of climate change and its impacts beyond those assessed by the IPCC in its latest report.
He said, according to research conducted jointly by CSIRO and Victoria University, Melbourne, the major benefits of the Kyoto Protocol will not be the reductions in climate change themselves but the lessons we need to learn in order to mitigate the increasing risks.
The research – to be published in the journal; Global Environmental Change – provides five key conclusions:
CO2 emissions grow by 3.1 per cent per annum over 2004–2030
Atmospheric CO2 concentration levels >900 ppm CO2-e are achieved by 2100.
Even if severe emission cuts are implemented from 2030, warming of 2.2 – 4.7°C could occur by 2100, whereas if the current high emissions path is followed, the most likely range is 3.4 – 7.2°C
Four key vulnerabilities assessed with high risks of adverse impacts for coral reefs, ocean circulation, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and species extinction
The current policy mix cannot adequately manage these risks, which can be reduced but not eliminated by early global action over the period 2010–2015.
“We need better methods for updating climate risks and assessing the benefits of avoided damages by investing in new technology and other measures,” Dr Jones said. “Rapidly emerging climate risks fuelled by faster than projected emissions growth make this task all the more urgent.”
He said critics of the Kyoto Protocol, have suggested that the small cuts achieved would not provide sufficient benefits, but work done by he and the US climate change economist, Professor Gary Yohe – to be published in the Integrated Assessment Journal – indicates that the opposite is true.
“Because these cuts reduce the worst risks from a ‘do-nothing’ case, the returns far outweigh the costs. However, it has been difficult to compare those costs and benefits because they are economic, social and environmental,” Dr Jones said.
“Perhaps the major benefits of the Kyoto Protocol may not be the reductions in climate change themselves but the lessons we need to learn in order to mitigate the rapidly increasing risks.
“In the race to reduce climate risks, the Kyoto Protocol is the first lap. If we want to minimise those risks, we will have to quickly learn how to drive very fast,” he said.
The conference was also shown new ways of looking at the benefits that are derived from investment in greenhouse gas reductions. Work done as part of the CSIRO’s Energy Futures Forum, shows that it is very likely cuts to greenhouse gases by 2050 will pay for themselves by 2100 in pure economic terms.
Dr Jones is presenting his address at 10.50am today at the Sydney Harbour Marriot Hotel.
National Research Flagships
CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities. The nine Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to deliver impact and benefits for Australia.
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