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Michael MacCracken Proposes Aggressive and Equitable Framework for Reciprocal North-South Action to Phase Out Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2100

With developed and developing nations seemingly at loggerheads over transitioning from a path of increasing CO2 emissions and accelerating climate change to a path of decreasing emissions and climate protection, Climate Institute chief scientist Dr. Michael MacCracken has suggested a path forward that, while requiring all nations to act aggressively, recognizes important issues of equity and fairness. Speaking June 25 before an audience of over 800 in Portland, Oregon at the annual meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA), Dr. MacCracken reviewed the underlying science of climate change, described the need for strong early action, and offered a nuanced strategy for equitably parceling out responsibilities for emissions cutbacks. If implemented, this strategy would be likely to ensure the Earth avoids the level of warming that the European Union has recognized as very likely to exceed climatic tipping points that would cause “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Dr. MacCracken’s summary paper, Prospects for Future Climate Change and the Reasons for Early Action, which focuses on the proposed emissions control strategy, was published in the June 2008 issue of em: The Magazine for Environmental Professionals (PDF).  A lengthier paper, reviewing the science of climate change based on his four decades of studying and researching the issue of climate change, is published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association (PDF). This second article offers an easily understandable summary of the science and impacts of climate change, indicating both what is well understood and what is troubling the scientists—especially those aspects that might indicate that, as has been the case in the past, the scientific community is underestimating the seriousness of the issue. In addition to reviewing the scientific evidence of accelerating rates of climate change and sea level rise and the implications for humanity and other life on Earth, Dr. MacCracken argues that avoiding the most catastrophic potential aspects of climate change will require reducing emissions sharply by 2050 and to near zero by 2100.

To accomplish this difficult challenge, he proposes a reciprocal arrangement under which "(1) developed nations move rapidly to demonstrate that a modern society can function without reliance on technologies that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases to the atmosphere; and (2) … developing nations act in the near-term to sharply limit their non-CO2 emissions while minimizing growth in CO2 emissions, and then in the long-term join with the developed nations to reduce all emissions as cost effective technologies are developed.” Under this approach developing nations at the outset would focus on low hanging fruit--emissions reductions with significant ability to limit radiative forcing and that are achievable at low relative cost. These include greatly reducing emissions of methane, air pollutants that contribute to tropospheric ozone, and black soot, which blackens glaciers, in turn causing greater absorption of solar radiation and melting of glaciers that are crucial to the water supply of a large portion of humanity. Initially, the primary efforts to limit CO2 emissions in developing nations would focus on ending deforestation and on implementing energy efficiency measures--e.g. reducing power consumption for lighting, reducing conversion loss and transmission loss, and encouraging energy recycling including combined heat and power.

Dr. MacCracken also prepared Supplementary Material (279 KB) for his AWMA Paper covering three topic areas:

A. Early Identification of the Effect of Carbon Dioxide on Climate
B. The History and Structure of Climate Change Assessments
C. An Overview of Approaches to Geoengineering as a Potential Hedging Strategy

Further resources by Dr. Michael MacCracken and Frances Moore:

An update of Prospects for Future Climate Change and the Reasons for Early Action: Michael MacCracken and Frances Moore Propose 'Lifetime Leveraging - An approach to reconciling the responsibilities of the developed and developing nations for reducing their emissions'

An analysis of this proposal with respect to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility: Mitigation of Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases as the Foundation for a Fair and Effective Climate Compromise between China and the West


mikemaccrackenDr. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs of the Climate Institute since 2002, has played a crucial role in the development of both scientific and public understanding of implications of climate change. Before joining the Climate Institute, he served as executive director of the National Assessment Coordination Office, which facilitated preparation of the US National Assessment of Climate Change published in 2000.  He also played an important role in both the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment published in 2004 (Synthesis Report) and the Special Experts Group report prepared in 2007 under the auspices of Sigma Xi and the UN Foundation for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and titled: Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable. From 2003 to 2007 Dr. MacCracken served as President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences. In addition, Dr. MacCracken’s Affidavit on behalf of the plaintiffs was cited by Justice Stevens in the Majority Opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA. Honoring the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Climate Institute, Dr. MacCracken organized the September 19, 2006 scientific symposium at the Washington Summit on Climate Stabilization and was the lead editor of the resulting book, Sudden and Disruptive Climate Change: Exploring the Real Risks and How We Can Avoid Them.


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