In their new report on the business impacts of climate change, Ford Motor Company boldly but dishonestly claims that
“...many scientists, businesses and governmental agencies have concluded that stabilizing the atmospheric CO2 concentration at around 550 parts per million (ppm) (compared with the current 380 ppm and the pre-industrial level of approximately 270 ppm), may help forestall or substantially delay the most disruptive aspects of global climate change.”
As with so many such statements, it’s use of the weasel words “many” and “may” means that it is impossible to falsify. And, frankly, it is tautologically true that stabilization at any level will “forestall or substantially delay the most disruptive aspects.” But that’s only because, no matter how bad it is at 550 ppm, it will only get worse if concentrations get higher. The crucial point is that the likely consequences of 550 ppm stabilization are plenty disruptive enough, and potentially catastrophic.
An honest statement would read more like this:
"Scientists agree that stabilization at 550 ppm CO2, especially considering the likelihood of positive forcing from other GHGs, has a less than 50% chance of keeping global temperature increase less than 3ºC, with a certainty of substantial harms and a signficant risk of climate catastrophes like the melting of the Greenland or West Antartic Ice sheets, or the release of carbon stores in soils and permafrost that may produce substantial positive feedbacks. Furthermore, such a stabilization level has on the order of a 10% possibility of leading to an increase of 5ºC or more, a level almost certain to lead to catastrophic impacts.”
The Ford report makes no mention of any temperature target, even though its staff and consultants (about which more in a moment) must know that, for example, the European Union endorsed a target of not allowing more than a 2ºC increase in global mean temperature (above the pre-industrial level, not the present level of an 0.7ºC increase). Without any mention of temperature, or of the impacts that they count as “the most disruptive,” there is again no way internal to their report to judge their statement about a stabilization target.
One of Ford’s consultants on this report and on its climate-related work more generally is the Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS is a member of CAN (the Climate Action Network), which has endorsed the 2ºC threshold. I am a UCS member, and I have great respect for UCS’s climate advocates. However, everyone at UCS should know that the statement in the Ford report is, frankly, false; yet they signed off on the report.
I understand this as a matter of political “realism.” However, those of us who are not consulting for Ford should be blunt: 550 ppm CO2 is not an acceptable stabilization target. If you take the 2ºC target seriously, and believe (as I do) that one should seek to avoid it with high probability, a more reasonable target is not 450 ppm, CO2, or even 400 ppm CO2, but 400 ppm CO2-equivalent, counting all other greenhouse gases. (Contact me if you want to see the argument.)
The rest of the Ford report is not especially heartening either, but I will leave a further review for another time.
I am also working on a response to the various postings on carbon trading that I hope to finish tomorrow.