This article has been corrected.
The Kyoto protocol comes of age. Finally. How much will it - and its hypothetical future extensions - cost? Let's talk about the catastrophic scenario in which people won't abandon this weird international treaty and they will really try to stabilize the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
Reuters published estimates that it would cost 18 quadrillions (18 times 10 to the 15th power):
If you don't know what a quadrillion (U.S.) means, it is roughly speaking an infinite number, and you may object to such an unrealistic result and label the news from Reuters as a kind of typo. What about the estimates from the real people behind the Kyoto protocol?
These bureaucrats and scientific bureaucrats are organized in the IPCC - the same institution that has claimed, for several years, that the temperature record in the last 1000 years looks like a hockey stick, without checking the statistics behind these claims. So what does the IPCC say about the costs of stabilizing the CO2 concentrations? Let me start with some elementary data.
The pre-industrial concentrations were about 280 ppm (parts per million, counted as volume) - the usual peak for recent interglacials. Incidentally, during the ice ages the concentration fluctuated around 180 ppm. Let's try to return further to the past.
When mammals were created 100 million years ago, the temperatures were 10 degrees C higher and the CO2 concentrations were about 3,000 ppm, eight times as high as today. The humans appeared during the "previous global warming" three million years ago in the middle Pliocene - it had to be a horrible time if monsters like humans were born; the concentrations were 380 ppm just like today and the temperatures were 2-3 degrees C higher.
Once again, the current concentration is 380 ppm and it rises by a few ppm every year. Some people want to claim that 400 ppm is already too high. We can't count the costs of stabilizing the concentrations below 400 ppm because the theory is not renormalizable. ;-)
OK, so the first realistic number that the IPCC considers is to stabilize the CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm. See the graph
- IPCC: costs (graph)
which is found as 7.3 on the page
Thanks to a reader of my blog who pointed out this page. What does this particular graph say? In order to stabilize the concentration below 450 ppm, one needs to pay 400-1800 trillions of 1990 U.S. dollars by 2100, according to different models. What would such a number mean?
Note that the 1990 U.S. dollar is more than the present one. This number amounts to more than 10 trillion USD per year. That's roughly the size of the U.S. economy (GDP), 20 percent of the world's economy.
The United States are reasonable enough not to participate in the main Kyoto activities (although there are similar programs at the level of the states), so let's talk about the real signatories. The cost of "Kyoto 450" as described in the graph would be equivalent to nuking the whole territory of Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, and several other countries every year so that it's guaranteed that life can't continue until 2100. (You could first evacuate the people from these countries.) Note that if you only nuke the European countries in this list, the costs will be lower than "Kyoto 450". I am not proposing it, just listing the fact that according to the graph, there would be alternatives to Kyoto that would have a similar effect.
However, as a leading climate expert W.S. from Harvard who read my blog has pointed out, these IPCC numbers on the graph are bogus. The IPCC later published an "important correction"
Incidentally, now I guess that the report from Reuters that talks about 18 quadrillions is derived from the same graphs (note that the number starts with 18 again), and the author (Aliston Doyle) has made yet another numerical error in his counting of orders of magnitude. Note that once these discussions try to become quantitative and factual, no one has an idea what the reasonable numbers should be and two orders of magnitude don't really matter. People still call it "science"...