The Clock May Have Run Out On 1.5 Degrees, But There Are Still Things We Can Do

On Sept. 8, the climate clock turned red at Berlin's Mercator Research Institute, signaling that humanity had emitted so much carbon into the atmosphere that it could no longer fend off a 1.5-degree temperature increase without stopping emissions and sucking CO2 back in.
The clock may soon be turned back, it turns out, in light of the special report released three weeks ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report notes that more than a fifth of the world's population lives in regions that have already exceeded 1.5 degrees, but it leaves room for rapid action within the next decade to prevent the rest of the planet from joining them.
"They say that we passed the 1.5 degree budget a month ago," said S. Julio Friedman, a senior research scholar at the Center for Global Clean Energy Policy at Columbia University, speaking of the Mercator Climate Clock. "Not everybody agrees with that. There’s different ways to estimate the carbon budget. The IPCC’s report came out recently. They have a slightly different calculus. But it ain’t pretty. Under all these circumstances we have very limited overhead and we have limited time in which to accomplish it."
The 1.5º C target was included in the Paris Agreement at the insistence of small-island developing nations, who argued that the previously agreed-upon 2-degree target would not spare them from inundation.
But Friedman told scholars gathered last week at Stanford University that even 1.5º isn't pretty:
"A 1.5-degree world will lose 70 to 90 percent of corals, and if we overshoot to a 2-degree world we lose 99 percent of corals."
The Mercator Carbon Clock gives humanity 17 years before it exhausts the 2-degree carbon budget. Friedman doubts humans will act substantively enough in those 17 years, and he expects the overshoot to be even higher:
"We are nowhere close to a 1-degree world. We’re nowhere close to a 1.5-degree world. We’re going to overshoot 2 degrees. If we work like hell we might get 3 degrees, which will be awful.”
Working like hell, to Friedman, means pursuing every kind of carbon-capture technology and carbon-abatement policy available, what Friedman calls "carbon wrangling."
It means developing capture for power plants, like the Petra Nova and NetPower plants in Texas, the sorbit technology developed by Inventys or the Fuel Cell Energy process supported by Exxon-Mobil and Southern Company.
It means pursuing any and every kind of carbon policy: tax credits, feed-in tariffs, trading schemes, grants, financing mechanisms, emissions caps, a carbon tax.
"I don't care which of these you choose, really I don’t," Friedman said at the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy. "The bottom line is that we need to take more shots on goal. We need more."
It means encouraging carbon use in cement, concrete and fuels or converting CO2 into marketable products like nanotubes, carbon black or carbon monoxide. It means direct air capture. It means reusing CO2 for soda pop.
"Is it expensive? Yes. So what? We know we have to do it. Let's put some money in the innovation, let's get some policy going and get markets and products rolling forward from this," Friedman said.
"If we're going to get serious about reducing CO2 in the air and oceans, we've got to use everything we have at our disposal. That includes ecosystem restoration, putting in new forests, bio-char, bio-energy with CCS, weathering of rocks. There's all kinds of things that can pull CO2 out of the air and ocean. Which of these will win? Nobody knows. We just need lots of options. We need to try stuff. We need a big federal R&D agenda to support it."
Watch S. Julio Friedman's lecture at Stanford:

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