Just after the kick-off meeting two years ago, we committed to a third-year goal of producing a comprehensive assessment of proposed solutions to the carbon and climate problem, as well as our own recommendations. Our idea at the time was to produce an integrated assessment of the size and significance of the problem, the various ways of reducing net emissions, economic costs, risks to human and environmental health, and policy options.
A number of recent developments strengthen our commitment to this effort. US policy on the greenhouse problem has been clarified in the last few months. We have expended considerable effort in understanding these developments, including participation in one of the important meetings (i.e. the Workshop on the U.S. Climate Change Science Plan in Washington in the first week of December, 2002) and private discussions with two of the policy makers close to the Administration: John Marburger (President’s Science Advisor) and James Mahoney (NOAA). Although everyone talks about the need for an integrated understanding of possible solutions, no single group that is small enough to make a coherent effort is actually working to produce one.
Moreover, the large grant to Stanford has changed the landscape in which CMI works. The Stanford grant is being presented as focusing exclusively on the development of technology and associated economic issues . No integration across science, technology, economics, and policy is intended.
Also, the October 2002 International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies, in Kyoto, provided us with a new snapshot of research on mitigation. Although our program covers all the bases (we delivered more papers than any other group: nine of approximately 200), we are concerned that CMI’s impact could ultimately be diluted by its breadth, unless we make an explicit, ongoing, and tangible commitment to integration.
We find it amazing that, with all the focus on the carbon problem and recent interest in technological solutions, almost no one seems to have even an elementary understanding of all of the essential areas needed to evaluate a solution. Basic scientist s understand atmospheric CO2, but are typically unaware of the maximum rates at which new technologies have been adopted in the past. People in oil and gas companies understand the injection of CO2 into geologic reservoirs, but typically cannot predict if a stabilization plan would help or hurt their business. (For example, would the demand for sequestration services more than compensate for the reduced demand for oil and gas?) Energy economists involved in climate modeling understand the price of oil, but typically do not know that published scenarios for stabilization probably underestimate necessary reductions in emissions, because they assume the wrong cause for the current terrestrial CO2 sink. Progress is greatly hindered by the lack of a core group of business leaders, scientists, economists, engineers, and policy makers who can envision credible solutions with a compelling level of detail.
After two years of work, we believe that we could now assemble and publish an accessible summary of the critical science, technology, economics, and policy that CMI members collectively understand. We propose to write a series of papers focused on stabilization of atmospheric CO2 that review and extend past work. The papers will concentrate on the next 50 years , but will also look to the end of the century. Although each paper will stand alone in its respective field, the collection will be designed from the outset to fit together into a comprehensive and mutually supporting package. When these are complete (we would like to say within one year but it will probably take two), it will probably also be worthwhile to write an account the length of a short novel for a more general audience. The idea is to provide something that will allow the non-specialist to understand how stabilization would work, including costs, business opportunities, policy options, benefits, and risks.
We emphasize that this integrative effort will complement our existing program of fundamental research in carbon science, technology, economics, and policy, and will not diminish CMI’s disciplinary focus. We believe that much of the needed work can be accomplished by coordinating the writing that our disciplinary groups will be doing anyway.
Four papers would form the core of the integrative effort:
- The science paper will calculate a new set of stabilization emissions that include all of the latest scientific findings. The largest source of uncertainty about stabilization emissions is the fate of the current terrestrial sink. If it is caused by CO2 fertilization, as IPCC models continue to assume, then it will increase in the future, but if it is caused by land use, then it will decrease. Our analysis will provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date constraints on the future behavior of the terrestrial sink.
- The technology paper will develop an agenda for an area of research at an overlap of science and technology, “solution science,” which addresses the feasibility, risks, and costs of proposed technological “solutions” that mitigate climate change at significant scale. The paper will focus on the next 50 years. It will be organized around a table showing the various mitigation options: several types of geologic sequestration, ocean injection, ocean fertilization, enhanced terrestri al sinks, direct CO2 capture from the air, nuclear, wind, direct solar, biomass fuels, increased end-use efficiency, changes in patterns of use. For each option, the paper will describe the effort necessary to displace 1 Gt(C)/yr of carbon in fossil fuel emissions (and how the effort scales to 2 and 3 Gt(C)/yr), and it will explore the associated co-benefits and risks to human and environmental health.
- The economics paper will compute the cost of stabilization at each of several levels, and an optimal path to stabilization, given the information in the science paper and the technology paper. It will focus on the relatively well constrained problem in which energy and emissions schedules are assumed, and will calculate the best way to achieve them. It will use a suite of integrated assessment models and will examine alternative economic instruments for achieving the emissions schedules. It will also analyze costs and benefits for various sectors, including the oil and gas industry, the coal industry, OECD countries, China, and other regions.
- The policy paper will assess the advantages and disadvantages of alternative policies and kinds of institutions required to achieve the emissions reductions discussed in the economics paper. It will focus on decision-making under uncertainty. The climate problem is unusual because of the long time scales involved. Damages take decades or centuries to develop. Although we sometimes narrow the uncertainty about particular aspects of the problem within a decade, we constantly discover new dimensions of the problem to worry about, and so the total uncertainty remains the same or grows. We thus suspect that the total level of uncertainty will not decrease substantially over the next couple of decades, and so we are going to have to act (or not) in spite of the uncertainty.
The book-length collection of papers will fill a conspicuous gap in the literature and will allow the academic specialist, the congressional staff person, and the engineering undergraduate to come to grips with solutions to the carbon problem. The production of an abridged version would serve the same function for a general audience. The effort of producing the papers would clearly benefit the CMI. It would force tighter integration of our research that should lead to additional synergy.