National Academy of Sciences Panel: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Have to Drop to Zero

By Ali Meyer | November 4, 2014 | 7:20pm EST

A coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

( – Panelists at a National Academy of Sciences event on the health risks to humans posed by climate change called Tuesday for an end to all greenhouse gas emissions.

“[E]missions have to go to zero,” said Anthony Janetos, professor of Earth and Environment at Boston University, told the event in Washington D.C., which brought together climate change modelers, public health experts, and environmental health researchers.

The workshop’s agenda stated that human health and wellbeing are at risk as a result of the effects of climate change, including heatwaves, other extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification.

“Moreover, these risks occur against a backdrop of changing socioeconomic conditions, medical technology, population demographics, health status, environmental conditions, and other factors important for determining health effects.”

According to an NAS study, “most scientists agree that the warming in recent decades has been caused primarily by human activities that have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, have increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, industrial processes, and transportation. Carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in at least 650,000 years and continue to rise.”

Panelists claimed that in order to stabilize atmospheric conditions, greenhouse gas emissions would have to drop to zero.

“I think there is a systematic underestimation of how big a problem this really is,” said Janetos. “It’s not like it’s news to the research community that if you are trying to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases that emissions have to go to zero.”

“There is a lot of discussion that 2100 is just so far away,” said panelist Kristie Ebi, professor in the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington. “But anyone who is young enough to have young children – and some of the people on the panel are young enough to have young children; anybody who is old enough to have grandchildren – life expectancy in most of the developing world is around 85 – those children will be alive in 2100. It is not that far away.”

“We need to help move understanding that the temporal scale is short,” said Ebi.  “Those of us who have been working in this field a long time are facing impacts we thought would not occur in our lifetimes, or if they did it wouldn’t be until much later in our lifetimes.”

“And we’re already seeing impacts that were originally projected in 2050,” she added. “And children and grandchildren born now are going to be seeing the consequences of the actions that are taken.”

World Bank senior economist Stephane Hallegatte echoed concerns about the long-term impact of global warming.

“One of the questions I have is, if you are thinking about mitigation and the target in terms of climate change we have, maybe everything depends on what happens in 2100 and beyond,” he said.

“If you want to keep the temperature at a certain level, it means that over the long term you need to achieve zero CO2 emission,” said Hallegatte.  “And this would then drive everything else in terms of policies. If you agree that the end goal is zero emission of CO2.”

See also:

UN Climate Panel: Phase Out Fossil Fuels ‘Almost Entirely’ by 2100 (Nov. 2, 2014)

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