Cross-posted from E&E News
Annie Snider, E&E reporter
International climate negotiations may be hinged on an unrealistic goal, a U.S. intelligence official who provides analyses to President Obama and top U.S. climate negotiators said yesterday.
At an off-the-record briefing at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Washington, D.C., offices, the official said his estimates indicate that reducing global emissions to achieve a limit of 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — the metric at which U.N. negotiations are currently aimed — would be a monumental challenge given the current scarcity and unreliability of renewable energy sources.
Instead, he said, a target of 550 or 650 ppm is beginning to be considered as a better near-term goal.
The Copenhagen Climate Accord signed in 2009 recognized a 2-degree-Celsius temperature rise, which is generally correlated with an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 450 ppm, as the scientifically safe limit for temperature increase. However, some prominent scientists dispute that number, saying 350 ppm should be the limit. Last year’s concentrations sat at a hair under 390 ppm.
Drawing largely on public information, including calculations from the International Energy Agency, the intelligence analysis presented yesterday indicated that renewable energy is unlikely to make up more than a quarter of all energy consumed in the United States by 2030. It also referenced the IEA’s estimate that it would cost $11 trillion to achieve a limit of 450 ppm by 2030.
Intelligence officials who participated in the briefing emphasized that their role is not to advise policymakers, but to equip them with their best estimates of what will happen under different scenarios. They say they act as an important filter, removing incorrect or biased information.
Legislative aides and policy advocates who attended said the presentation contained no new information and questioned some of the officials’ methods. Some of the estimates didn’t include land management as a way of reducing emissions — a sector that scientists say accounts for about 20 percent of global emissions — and the scenarios shared did not account for the possibility of abrupt climate change. The officials also say they have not calculated how much it would cost if the world doesn’t act on climate change.
“I’m worried that policymakers are going to look at that and say, ‘It’s not going to work, no way, why even bother?’” said Christine Parthemore, who directs the Natural Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
In addition to the energy analysis presented at the briefing, intelligence officials said they are also looking at how climate change will affect strategic U.S. interests.
Officials said they are thinking about which parts of the world might see the most destabilizing effects from climate change and whether climate-induced migration might have positive effects in some parts of the world.