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November 2014 Issue

IPCC Findings, Potential Solutions
Anthony Lewis

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the scientific documentation for its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), produced by Working Groups I, II and III. This has been approved by member governments, and the final synthesis report was approved for release at the 40th session of the IPCC at the end of October 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The findings of AR5 (https://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/) will have significant impact on the world’s oceans on a number of fronts. These findings include sea level rise, which has been observed with high confidence. Predictions are that the global mean increase will be around 0.24 meters by 2065, with a mean sea surface temperature rise of 1.2 degrees over the same period. The range of mean sea level rise by the end of the century is predicted between 0.4 and 0.6 meters for all scenarios.

Also among the report’s findings is a high confidence that the pH level of the oceans has decreased by 0.1 since the industrial revolution as a result of the absorption of carbon dioxide into the oceans. This means more acidic ocean conditions.

Furthermore, higher global temperatures that come with climate change will affect the formation and intensity of storms in the oceans.

In all of these cases, there is high confidence that the changes observed are directly related to the anthropogenic increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Working Group III outlined the outcomes in relation to the mitigation of the specific effects. The main finding was that reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is necessary and can primarily be achieved by decarbonizing the world’s energy supply. Other options, such as geoengineering solutions, like ocean fertilization, were of high risk, and the outcomes were uncertain. Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, delivered an address to the UN Climate Summit in September wherein he indicated that action was required urgently, and he identified the increased uptake of renewable energy as a viable solution.

In relation to the increased uptake of renewable energy and the decarbonization of the energy supply, there is a large untapped energy source available in the oceans, as outlined in the recent IPCC report SRREN. The development of marine renewable resources is at an early stage, but these renewable energies will be expected to contribute significant amounts of energy globally by 2050.

It is clear that governments are becoming aware of the need to act, and a number of responses related to the publication of AR5 can be identified that will contribute to mitigation of climate change. For instance, in Europe, Commissioners Maria Damanaki (Maritime Affairs) and Günther Oettinger (Energy) presented a new action plan to drive forward development of the nascent renewable ocean energy sector in Europe. The oceans have been identified by Europe as having high potential to support economic recovery, and the “Blue Growth” strategy has ocean energy as one of its pillars. The European Commission has set up the Ocean Energy Forum to implement this strategy. The forum has three working groups that will identify the priority actions for the future and develop a clear road map for the industrialization of this “blue energy” sector.

A further measure of direct relevance in Europe is the NER300 program. This program offers significant revenue support for emerging renewable energy technologies and carbon capture. Ocean energy was a recipient in the recent funding announcement with two wave energy projects: WESTWAVE in Ireland and SWELL in Portugal, together with an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) project in La Reunion.

Wind energy will also make a large contribution to decarbonization. As the sites for wind farm development on land are used up, more will be located offshore. Europe already leads the world with 7.3 gigawatts of installed capacity offshore, and the development of new floating technology systems will enable deployment areas to be increased worldwide. Two floating offshore wind projects were included in the NER300 announcement.

The other impact within the oceans resulting from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is ocean acidification. It was estimated that 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions end up in the oceans, and the oceans are estimated to have become 30 percent more acidic. The result of this acidification will be the destruction of coral reefs and reduction in shellfish abundance in the oceans.

In the United States, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the “Our Oceans” summit in Washington, D.C., in June. He identified three priority areas of threat to the oceans: overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification. The direct impact of this acidification on shell fisheries, especially in Alaska, was estimated to be high, with consequent economic impacts for the U.S. The outcome from that summit was the launch by U.S. President Barack Obama of the “Our Ocean Action Plan.” This highlights the need to push for agreement via the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on targets for the reduction of carbon emissions, as well as creating a worldwide monitoring network for acidification.

The overall conclusion from AR5 is that the increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will have significant impact on the world’s oceans.

The oceans will, however, have a major part to play in supplying the solution via development of the vast marine renewable energy sources available to contribute to the decarbonization of the world’s energy supply, which could mitigate climate change.

Professor Anthony Lewis is the emeritus Beaufort Professor of the University College Cork, where he was also the first professor of energy engineering. His expertise is in ocean energy development, maritime civil engineering and field measurements in the marine environment. He is the co-principal investigator on the €25 million, SFI-funded MaREI (Marine Renewable Energy Ireland) research center project.


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