The US Govt says we are rapidly headed for 4deg warmer, and we should do nothing about it

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The IPCC recently released a report on the requirements to contain global warming to 1.5oC. The scientific community has determined this to the threshold below which the impacts are believed to be manageable without major planetary trauma. The report makes the case that the actions required are viable, with a big caveat: large scale, collaborative action is required by all countries. It reports that not one country currently has the necessary program in place. 

The level of disconnect is made clear by a 500 page July 2018 Environmental Assessment Report prepared for the US government. This report was prepared by consultant ICF to define the appropriate US efficiency standards for vehicles made from 2021 to 2025. 

The report recommends that fuel efficiency requirements should not be increased and a planned reduction for 2021 should be cancelled. Which is presumably what the administration was asking for.

The rationale used for the conclusion was that although increased efficiency in US vehicles would significantly and progressively decrease vehicle emissions, that alone will not prevent the global atmospheric CO2 concentration from reaching 800ppm in 2100. It would therefore not prevent the global temperature from rising 4oC.

By accepting this conclusion, the US government is telling us that the planet will be 4oC warmer than preindustrial levels by 2100. It does not describe the consequences of giving up on a lower target.

The mathematics used to justify the predictions assume that no further changes to vehicle emissions would be made after 2025. This presumes that even if progressive reductions were made over the next 5 year cycle, future generations would either stop innovating and/or caring about climate change. 

The decision means that the US government will only require an action if that action by itself over a short time frame will avert long term catastrophe. This is the opposite of the large scale, progressive action the IPCC says is required. It is also contrary to what any of us would expect from a doctor, teacher, engineer or business person asked to confront a serious problem – mobilize all available resources on multiple fronts. 

Isn't it time for this more optimistic, collaborative approach to become the norm in how we tackle climate change?

By Peter Halsall, P.Eng, MASc