Monday, March 9, 2009

Open letter to Dr Pachauri

Climate Congress, Copenhagen, 10-12 March, 2009 

Open letter to Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, IPCC chair

Dear Dr Pachauri,

The Climate Congress presents an important opportunity to present all facets of the current situation, explore the ramifications, and suggest appropriate actions. The aim must be, as far as possible, to address the threat of a disastrous multi-metre rise in sea level and catastrophic multi-degree rise in temperature – whenever they might occur.

We would like to suggest a rather simple division of the problem/solution domain:

Part A: Emissions reduction

About: Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Target: Achieve near-zero carbon economies throughout the world by end century.

Difficulties: International agreement, life-style changes, high cost.

Rationale: Long-term sustainability.

Part B : Carbon stock management

About: Removing CO2 from the atmosphere by various means.

Target: Reduce levels below 350 ppm over next three decades.

Difficulties: May involve change in agricultural practice, worldwide. Side-effects may be difficult to anticipate.

Rationale: Reduce CO2 climate forcing below its current level, halt ocean acidification and protect carbon sinks.

Part C : Heat transfer and radiation management

About: Mainly about albedo engineering and solar radiation management.

Priority target: Cool the Arctic sufficient to halt retreat of Arctic sea ice within three years.

Difficulties: Seen as tampering with the environment, and therefore intrinsically dangerous; but cost is low and side-effects should be manageable.

Rationale: Reduce risk of massive methane discharge and stabilise the Greenland ice sheet.

International focus has been almost entirely on Part A until recently, when it has been realised that: 
(1) it is proving extremely difficult to achieve reductions; 
(2) the current trend is towards IPCC’s worst case scenario; 
(3) lifetime of CO2 had been under-estimated – even if anthropogenic greenhouse gases could be stopped overnight, the existing gas levels will live on in the atmosphere for centuries, causing the global temperature to continue to rise many degrees; 
(4) global warming of more than 2 degrees could be disastrous; 
(5) tipping points could be reached much sooner than expected. It is generally recognised that the underlying primary cause of global warming is the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere. If emissions reduction can’t reduce it quickly enough, then we have to resort to some form of geoengineering – or more specifically carbon stock management – see Part B. 

Furthermore, ocean acidification is becoming dangerous, and this can only be tackled by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. So, within a decade or two, carbon stock management could become essential, and we should be doing large-scale experimentation now. 

But the actions of Part A and Part B cannot prevent tipping points driven by positive feedback on temperature. Emissions reduction and carbon stock management cannot produce a cooling effect – certainly not on the time-scales we are talking about. We have to resort to other kinds of geoengineering, hence Part C. 

As regards tipping points, our perception of the situation has changed fundamentally since the dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice in September 2007. The IPCC had chosen to ignore potential tipping points, as being too difficult to model or lacking reliable data. 

But now some experts are talking about possible summer disappearance of sea ice within a decade [1], and this possibility is even mentioned in the introduction to Session 1 of the Congress [2]: “Sea ice is changing and the sea ice in the northern polar ocean has retreated in the last few years and might totally disintegrate during the next decade.” Sea ice disappearance will accelerate Arctic warming which could trigger the release of vast amounts of methane from permafrost (leading to many degrees of global warming) and/or destabilise the Greenland ice sheet (leading to many metres of sea level rise). 

There now appears no other possibility to save the Arctic sea ice than to cool the Arctic region, by reflecting more sunlight back into space. There are two prime candidates for this: stratospheric sulphate aerosols and marine cloud brightening [3]. The former involves the injection of a H2S or SO2 high in the stratosphere, where it reacts to form microscopic droplets of sulphuric acid which scatter sunlight efficiently. This mimics the effect of a volcano like Pinatubo, which cooled the planet for two years from its sulphur emissions into the stratosphere. The latter – the brightening of marine clouds – involves producing a very fine spray of sea water from ships which sail underneath low-lying cumulus clouds, such that some of the spray wafts upwards, brightening the clouds and reflecting light back into space. 

Modeling suggests that each of these cooling technologies should be effective, affordable, fast acting, easily reversible and reasonably safe. If we can save the Arctic sea ice, then we may be able to avoid other tipping points such as the methane release from permafrost. Such action buys time while we reduce CO2 levels and avoid other catastrophes such as from ocean acidification. On the other hand, if we do not act with the necessary urgency, we may soon find ourselves beyond the point of no return: doomed both to many metres of sea level rise and to spiraling temperatures, way above 6 degrees this century – temperatures for which the very survival of our civilization would be in question. 

- John Nissen Email: for correspondence 
- Stephen Salter Professor of Engineering, University of Edinburgh John Latham 
- Oliver Wingenter Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Change, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology 
- Peter Read Hon. Research Fellow, Massey University Centre for Energy Research 
- Andrew Lockley, London UK Former director of Friends of the Earth ENWI 
- John Gorman MA (Cantab), London, UK 
- Sam Carana, contributor to


[1] Climate Safety report, which can be downloaded from:

[2] Climate Congress, Session 1, in: 


Nainoa Mariner said...

While many international leaders debate or work toward emission reduction strategies and carbon capture and storage the real problem is not tomorrows CO2 but yesterdays CO2. Nor is the problem the role CO2 has in Global Warming.

We must turn our attention to the 1000+ gigatonne carbon bomb, two centuries of accumulating CO2, still mostly in the air as it takes centuries for airborne CO2 to equilibrate with the rest of the planet. Reports call the alarm of ocean acidification, adding acid flames to the raging fires of fossil CO2.

What’s missing is mention of the best, only, means to fight ocean acidification and CO2 in the air. Just 500 gigatonnes of yesterdays CO2 has reached the oceans where Revelle’s Rule tells us 80% of CO2 ends up. The first carbon bomb will be exploding in the ocean for more than a century even if we stop the emission of new CO2 today. No amount alternative energies, recycling, bicycling, or "clean coal" will tend to the first carbon bomb. Sure lets reduce the size of the second bomb but first things first.

Here's how to Fix CO2

ONLY ocean replenishment and restoration can enlist, as allies, the most powerful force of nature - the ocean plants, the bloomin’ plankton. But high and rising CO2 in the air is not only responsible for ocean acidification worse it has fed green plants on land making them greener, bushier, and living longer making them "good ground cover." Ground cover improvements have reduced the amount of dust blowing in the winds by 1/3 in just a few decades. For the oceans dust in the wind brings vital mineral micro-nutrients, that terrestrial Yin (dust) is just as important as rain, the Yang, blowing from sea to land nurturing plant life. Since earth and ocean satellites went aloft 30 years ago we've measured decimation of ocean plants, 10% are gone from the Southern Ocean, 17% from the N. Atlantic, 26% from the N. Pacific, and 50% from the tropical seas. Just yesterday, a few decades past, ocean pastures grew more verdant consuming 4-5 billion tonnes more CO2 each year than today.

Today, as stewards of our blue planet, we must replenish ocean micro-nutrients to restore the verdant ocean pastures. If we bring the ocean plankton blooms back to levels seen only 30 years ago those plants will annually convert billions of tonnes of CO2 into ocean life instead of acid ocean death. Those verdant restored ocean pastures will deliver 7 times the CO2 reductions called for by the Kyoto Protocol.

To begin, and we must without delay, the work requires only tens of millions of dollars, to succeed in a matter of a decade requires only a few billion dollars. In the bargain the restored oceans will feed everything from tiny krill to the great whales and everything and everybody in between - fish, seabirds, penguins, seals and us.

Replenish and restore the oceans without delay.

Erich J. Knight said...

It's a real shame that biochar is grouped with "Geo-Engineering". Even as it is, it gets fourth or worse billing behind infra-structurally impossible schemes. I would much rather see it framed as it is in this PNAS report (by a Nobel lariat) which should cause the Royal Society to rethink their report that criticized Biochar systems sequestration potential;
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Reducing abrupt climate change risk using
the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory
actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions

Biochar is more reverse-Geo-Engineering. This is why Dr. W.Ruddiman's work at UVA,boldly showing that Combustion & Ag technology engineering need mitigation,IMHO with biochar and land-management the perfect logical choice.

Hopefully as more in-depth scrutiny and elucidation of biochar systems, relative to the other climate manipulations advanced, will bear out this truth that we just plan to but the carbon back where most of it came from.
Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

Another significant aspect of bichar and aerosols are the low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease. and village level systems with the Congo Basin Forest
Fund (CBFF). The Biochar Fund recently won $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the root ball size of the Biochar corn )

Building Soil Carbon is the bond that unities all political persuasions,

Soil Carbon Sequestration Standards Committee. Hosted by Monsanto, this group of diverse interests has been hammering out issues of definition, validation and protocol. These past months, this group have been pressing soil sequestration's roll for climate legislation to congress.

Along these lines internationally, the work of the IBI fostering the application by 20 countries for UN recognition of soil carbon as a sink with biochar as a clean development mechanism will open the door for programs across the globe.