The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report on the issue in September, along with a “Summary for Policymakers.”
Contrary to the impressions that many people have gained from the media over the past few months, these two reports are far from the last word on the climate change issue. They are merely updates on the status of underlying science. Reports on the predicted impacts of climate change and on mitigation measures are due to be published in spring next year, with a synthesis of all the 2013/2014 reports in fall 2014.
The IPCC is an ongoing operation, which publishes update reports every five years or so.
Depending on which newspaper or TV channel you believe, the recent IPCC reports either predict Armageddon, or they show that the IPCC has it all wrong, and that global warming has stopped. In reality, it is much more complicated than that, and includes some opportunities and challenges for the pulp and paper industry.
I just read the 36 page Summary for Policymakers. It says, essentially, that the authors are pretty much agreed that human activity (about 60% burning fossil fuels and 30% changing land-use) are causing global warming and a rise in sea level. The summary report summarizes the 2,216 page report on the scientific basis for climate change investigations which was issued on 30th September 2013. I have looked through this monster document, but have not attempted to read it completely.
The IPCC predicted a global temperature rise of between 0.45 and 1.2 degrees from 1950 till 2012, whereas the actual rise was 0.6 degrees. Thus warming has been less than expected, but has not stopped. To put these seemingly small values into perspective, notice that the annual average temperature in Montreal is 9 degrees below that for Atlanta. Those who have spent time in or near these cities know that this 9 degree difference represents a dramatic difference in climate.
The IPCC reports are well written and well thought out, despite some anomalies such as a footer on every page stating “Do not cite, quote or distribute.” Rather silly on a document posted by its authors on the Internet for all to see…
The IPCC claims to select authors for all kinds of countries, and economic levels. There are 71 authors listed for the current report, of which 18 are from the US, two each from Canada and China. Only two authors are from what I would call “semi developed” countries, and none from that half of the world that is very low on the development and socioeconomic scale. Thus any bias in the report would seem likely to be toward the interests of the developed world, and the US is well represented on the committee.
I have long felt that global warming is happening, despite the huge increase in Arctic ice this summer and the recent record snowstorm in South Dakota, but I have questioned whether the warming is caused by human activity. I guess I am convinced that it is now. On the other hand, I question whether we should be directing major resources toward controlling the warming, because it is all based on predictions by the weather forecasters, who have no better track record than those predicting the stock market. There are greater problems facing us in the world that governments should be working on.
There seems little hope for rational action by governments to solve the climate change problem, even if any practical action is actually feasible. Even the summary report is far too complex for most politicians to read, far less to understand. Even if the report is understood, the inability of Congress to avoid a government shutdown over a disagreement on how to deliver an immediately important service like health care suggests that it will be incapable of addressing a longer term and more complex issue like climate change. There are plenty other examples of governments around the world being incapable of logical action.
We (really our children and their descendants) will probably have to adapt to a warmer climate with higher sea levels, etc.
We can expect various government programs to combat global warming (or “climate change,” which is the current buzzword), all of which will be driven by special interest groups. Most will be irrational, where the money poured in will be unrelated to the real potential benefits. One example of many stupidities to date is the government of Ontario using taxpayers’ money to pay Samsung 10 times the market rates for solar power. Any politician subsidizing solar power in Ontario with taxpayers’ money should have asked how it could make sense there when Arizona is not adopting solar power on a big scale.
As producers of green power from black liquor and hog fuel, the pulp industry has a lot to offer to those desirous of reducing fossil fuel consumption, whether the reasons are rational or not. When bonuses like the infamous Black Liquor Tax Credit for US mills roll along, I can only support the industry for taking advantage of them, since they represent the will of the government, and this industry is also hit by costs for other irrational programs to support climate change mitigation.
On a more rational level, we can expect to be able to gain marketing credibility by publicizing the green nature of energy produced by the industry. Various grants, etc. will also be available.
As mentioned in this column a couple of months ago, there is a growing market for using wood as a fuel, which opens opportunities for changing logging practices to bring in waste wood and sell it.
Companies can also influence local and regional programs to encourage use of wood for fuel. The demand for wood as fuel will tend to drive wood costs up, so there is good reason to direct resources toward persuading the managers of wood-burning subsidy programs to focus on waste wood instead of burning all kinds of wood.
Improving mill energy efficiency to reduce or eliminate fossil fuel use will allow further green marketing, but only to extent that it is economically feasible. When we compare North American mill energy consumption with that of the new South American mills, it is clear that energy conservation has not reached the end of the road yet.