The Next Stage in Climate Change, Obstacles to Energy Transition and Long-Term Prognosis
Ray Leonard: President Anglo Eurasia LLC
Due in part to the confluence of the solar maximum and strong El Niño, the average global temperature in 2H 2023-2024 exceeded by at least 1.5-degrees Celsius the average global temperature in 1900, giving a preview of a projected “normal year” at the end of this decade. In the longer term, average global temperatures will continue to rise, increasing by at least 2 degrees C by 2050 above 1900 level due to conditions that are already in place and are very unlikely to be altered by energy transition efforts.
The world at +2 degrees C will have a significantly altered climate: the Arctic (+4), the Amazon (+3.4) and Mediterranean (+3.3) regions will experience the greatest temperature increase. While global precipitation will be on average 3% higher, the polar regions, North Africa and South Asia will be more than 10% wetter, while the southwest USA, Central America, the Amazon, the Mediterranean and southern Africa will suffer unrelenting drought. After 2040, the Arctic will be largely ice-free in late summer. Cascading impacts and compound events, many of which we have already begun to experience, such as wildfires, extreme climate events and marine heatwaves, will increase in frequency.
Under current world policies, by 2100, average global temperatures are likely to reach 2.7-3.0 degrees Celsius above the 1900 level. This will result in a significant possibility of climatic tipping points occurring later in this century. Two possible such events are (1) the overturning of the Atlantic Meridien (“Gulf Stream”), which will have the effect of greatly reducing temperatures in the northern hemisphere, particularly northern Europe, as well as altering the global ocean circulation system; and (2) breaking off of a significant Antarctic glacier, resulting in an increase in sea level rise up to 40 mm/year, with a resulting 2-meter rise in global sea levels, as compared to 1900 levels, by 2100.
A rise above 2 degrees is inevitable as certain factors have moved away from our control: increase in solar radiation in the next 3-4 cycles, arctic amplification, melting permafrost, methane rise due to climate induced natural factors, temperature rise as we reduce aerosol emissions, and effects of climate change reducing low carbon hydro and wind power growth. Factors that are under human control that could potentially reduce the temperature rise include better allocation of resources, reduction in geopolitical conflicts that impact energy transition efforts, efforts by China and other developing nations to reduce emissions by burning less coal, and reducing the emissions increase from rising living standards in developing nations. Historical records indicate a 40-year period from discovery to full commercial adaptation of the technologies that have resulted in the current decline of CO2 emissions in the developing world. Technologies that have been developed that can accelerate the energy transition (modular nuclear reactors, carbon capture and sequestration, hydrogen, direct air CO2 capture and nuclear fusion) will need to be supported in a way that can shorten the full implementation period if they are to have an effect in reducing the temperature rise to a significant level below 3 degrees by 2100.
Ray Leonard is President of Anglo Eurasia LLC, a consulting company providing services on energy and climate to governments and private industry. He held executive positions with Amoco, YUKOS, Kuwait Energy, MOL and was Chief Executive Officer of Hyperdynamics, a NYSE-listed independent oil company exploring for oil and gas in West Africa. He has been active in publishing and presenting on world oil and gas reserves, climate change and the energy transition for many years at forums such as Council on Foreign Relations, International Energy Agency, the 26th World Gas Conference and the World Economic Forum at Davos.