Preventing a 2-degree C temperature rise = almost no fossil fuel use

Two new climate studies say that the US must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 90 to 95 percent to prevent the planet from becoming too warm.

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As nations look ahead to the December global climate meet in Copenhagen, many have been considering goals to slow global warming/climate change. Now, their deliberations may take on more of a sense of urgency:

"Less than a quarter of the proven fossil fuel reserves can be burnt and emitted between now and 2050, if global warming is to be limited to 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F.]," says a study published in the journal Nature yesterday, which was conducted by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Also published in Nature was another study by scientists at England's Oxford University. Most of the climate goals currently being considered by various countries include slowing carbon dioxide emissions by a certain amount during the next five or six years and a larger amount by 2050. But that isn't good enough, warns Oxford scientists, who say: "Emitting carbon dioxide slower will not prevent dangerous climate change unless it involves phasing out carbon dioxide emissions altogether. ..."

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"To avoid dangerous climate change, we will have to limit the total amount of carbon we inject into the atmosphere, not just the emission rate in any given year," explains Dr. Myles Allen of the Oxford physics department. "Climate policy needs an exit strategy: as well as reducing carbon emissions now, we need a plan for phasing out net emissions entirely."

What that translates to in real terms is that instead of the 80 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions envisioned by the Obama administration, the US would really need a 90 to 95 percent reduction, according to Bill Hare, study coauthor at the Potsdam Institute.

Is that possible? Stephen Schneider of Stanford University told Andrea Thompson of Fox News' LiveScience that as the effects of warming become evident, he thinks cleaner technologies and a galvanizing to take action will make the difference. "I don't think the world is going to be that stupid for most of the century," he said.

Cutting carbon dioxide emissions that extensively will mean leaving three-quarters of the world's fossil fuels unused. "Only a fast switch away from fossil fuels will give us a reasonable chance to avoid considerable warming," said Dr. Malte Mainshausen of Potsdam.

"World emissions must start dropping by 2015, otherwise cuts will have to be too draconian," he said.

No doubt these studies will give a certain impetus to the Copenhagen talks and the other climate-related gatherings of world leaders that come before the big meeting.

Added later: Here's a link to a PDF that answers 26 questions about the German study.

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