The ultimate objective of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
As part of the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations related to this process most major emitters agreed that 2.0 °C above pre-industrial levels was to be avoided in order to meet this objective but there is pressure to drop this to below 1.5 °C at the upcoming Paris conference.
The most recent International Panel on Climate Change report estimates the likely range of temperature increase for the planet by the end of this century is between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius, with a best estimate of 3 degrees.
The recent study by James Hansen and colleagues suggests any carbon path leading to a 2°C is foolhardy and in support of that proposition they provide evidence of sea level rise of between 5 and 9 meters and extreme storms when temperatures increased less than 1 degree 120,000 years ago. This assessment is supported by a 2008 study lead by Joel Smith of Stanford that shows that the weather, environmental and social impacts of 2°C rise are much greater than the earlier science indicated, and that impacts for a 1°C rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2°C rise.
The reason for this was the fact that between 1998 and 2012 temperatures increased on a decadal average of only .04 degrees whereas from 1984 to 1998 that average had been .26 degrees and at the time of the last report’s release there was little consensus as to why the so called “hiatus“ had come about; let alone whether in fact it had. One group argued that temperatures simply weren`t being measured in the locations where the temperature was increasing the fastest, the Arctic and Africa.
The hiatus, which has existed for most of this century, has been seized on by deniers as proof the atmosphere is not as sensitive to carbon concentrations, which continued to rise, as had been thought and it also has given cover to reluctant politicians for not acting as rapidly as many believed they should.
What the hiatus actually is however is an analogy for how the climate problem can best be addressed in full compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
If the decadal average of atmospheric warming could be kept to .04 degrees throughout this century the warming problem would be over.
The most recent NASA study confirms the hiatus was real and that the heat that went missing from the atmosphere was trapped in the waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans to a depth of about 300 meters instead. The Pacific Ocean was the primary repository of this heat as unusually strong trade winds piled up warm water in the west, pinning it against Asia and Australia but those waters became so warm some of the heat leaked into the Indian Ocean.
Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado says, “There’s a good chance the hiatus is over.” Last year was the hottest since records began and with an El Niño now under way the warm surface waters of the Pacific are releasing heat into the atmosphere with the result 2015 is likely to break last year’s record and the global average surface temperature could jump by as much as 0.1 degree this year alone bring global surface temperatures increases to the 1°C limit Hansen and Smith et al. suggest is dangerous.
The west coast of North America has been hard hit by the end of the hiatus because much of the heat that was pinned against Asia and Australia has now sloshed back across the Pacific and up the coast forming what has come to be known as the blob (see theweathernetwork.com image below).
From the Baja Peninsula to the Gulf of Alaska coastal waters have been anywhere between 1 and 4 degrees Celsius warmer than average since the fall of 2013 and this in turn is related to the devastating winter on the East Coast, California’s drought and wild life impacts as the theweathernetwork.com article points out.
The conditions that brought about the hiatus can be bettered with a manmade effort using heat pipe devices that move heat away from somewhere it can do damage to somewhere benign. They do this with phase changes of a working fluid and energy can be produced by inserting a turbine into the vapor stream of such a device. Heat would be moved to an ocean depth of 1000 meters with this process, from where, with an estimated return rate of 4 meters per year, it would take 250 years to return as opposed to the less than two decades the wind driven hiatus kept global warming at bay. At 1000 meters this heat is no longer available to warm the atmosphere, melt ice or drive storms. It is estimate this process can also produce as much energy as we currently derive from fossil fuels, which the G7 members agreed in June should be phased out by the end of this century.
It takes decades however to make such a transition and current efforts to simply reduce carbon emissions with nuclear, wind and solar will do little more than lock in the the decadal average increase of .26 degrees for the rest of this century and the effect of planetary warming for as much as 1000 years.
Replicating the conditions that slowed warming to a 100 year average of only .4 oC can buy us the time necessary to fulfill the climate/energy commitments made both by the UN and the G7 and could even preserve the value of the some of the fossil fuels that are currently held in reserve.
Since we already have warmed by 1 degree, this is the only way we can keep to the 1.5oC warming increase many are now calling for.