News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change; understanding 350

Climate Change; understanding 350

350 ppm is an atmospheric CO2 target supported by an increasing number of experts

In its 2007 report the IPCC indicated a target of 450 ppm would be equivalent to a temperature rise of 2-3 degrees centigrade which would be dangerous to exceed This has become an unofficial goal for the Copenhagen negotiations.

Since we already have an atmospheric concentration of approximately 380 ppm 350 would seem to be an impossible task

The 350 target is gaining credence because of the recognition that a 0.74C rise in a hundred years has lead to much more extensive physical and biological change than was predicted by the 2007 models. Further, there is increased concern about tipping points. The changes in polar ice and other effects have lead Jim Hansen from NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to carry out further modelling which suggests that the temperature rise is twice as fast for a given CO2 rise. He indicates that 350 is the bottom line. You can read the scientific arguments at

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has adopted 350 parts per million CO2 target and now British economist Nicholas Stern has recommended the 350 ppm target as “a very sensible long-term target.” —saying this would be “a very sensible long-term target.”

    “It is most important to stop the increase of flows of emissions short term and then start the decline of flows of annual emissions and get them down to levels which will move concentrations of CO2 back down towards 350 ppm,”

David Suzuki and Al Gore have also endorsed 350

 Hansen’s approach is to say “This is a problem that demands strong leadership. The only special interest that should be calling the tune is the public’s special interest. We should move rapidly to terminate coal use except where all emissions are captured”. Hansen was referring to the US but these words can be applied to all countries

He concludes
“Civil resistance is not easy, but if governments continue to abdicate their responsibility to citizens, in favour of special interests, it seems essential. Strength comes from realization of rightness of course, and should be increased, not diminished, by temporary setbacks.”

Hansen was arrested in June for picketing a coal project. He was among 29 protesters arrested as they intentionally crossed onto the property of Massey Energy, the biggest company conducting mountaintop mining in West Virginia.

The problem
At present national targets are insufficient to stay within 450 ppm target – the total greenhouse gas emission reductions currently proposed by industrialized countries fall short of the pathway to reaching a 2 degree target as referred to by the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol negotiating group. By 2020, total emissions of industrialized countries would decline by between only 5% and 17%, relative to 1990. The aggregate proposal falls short of the 25-40% range referred to by negotiating Parties in 2007.

The fundamental problem is that governments are wedded to economic growth for the running of their economies and therefore for their political survival. The current obsession with the growth of the world’s economy is testament to this. Statements are being made that we must “delink” the carbon economy from growth. This is a form of denial, for a range of global environmental changes made the growth economy untenable even before climate change added impetus to the decline. The International Energy Agency said global output of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels, would fall by about 2.6 percent this year due to the economic recession. Such a reduction has not been seen for 40 years. It is not difficult to do a few sums and recognise that emissions cannot be controlled without economic and financial reform and without population control. At this moment with business as usual, 350 is on another planet

The good news, is that economic heresy is afoot in the brains of some of the most eminent economists. Nicholas Stern of the 2006 Stern review on the economic costs of climate change has recently said “At some point we would have to think about whether we want future growth. We don’t have to do that now.” The priority, he told the Guardian, was to break the link between carbon emissions and economic output.  Economists are sometimes slow learners!

Finally we should remember the words of Roger Short that we have a pill that would arrest climate change at little financial cost but we do not promote it where it is needed. See Reducing future carbon emissions by investing in family planning, from the London School of Economics. This might take the pressure off the need to reduce economic growth quickly.

David Shearman
The views expressed are not necessarily those of DEA