With more than 40,000 people killed in Syria’s devastating war, and about three million people driven from their homes, Western and Arab leaders are grappling with one question: How and when does all this end? The answer, say some, might lie not in the horrific bloodshed but in a simpler factor: money. Economists say President Bashar Assad’s regime has effectively gone broke, and is running out of ways to raise revenues and keep most of its soldiers properly fed and paid. “The economy is the basis of everything,” says Samir Seifan, a prominent Syrian economist who fled last year. He spoke by phone from Dubai. “Without services, boots, money, you cannot do anything. If the government cannot finance the army, they [soldiers] will simply go away.”
That tipping point, in which the government faces all-out financial collapse, seems to be drawing near—between three to six months from now, according to the calculations of Seifan and others who have examined Syria’s finances. Already, Assad has abandoned about 40% of the country’s territory to rebel forces, withdrawing his troops from the ground while his jets continue aerial bombing, apparently because the army is too thinly stretched to defend both rural areas and the government-held pockets of Damascus and Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo. And while Assad appears still to have considerable resources in Damascus, the economic indicators suggest his country is in free-fall, and that he has little way to generate fresh cash—at least not without appeals to allies.
For years, most of us have envisioned climate change as a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution. But as the years pass—and with the calendar soon to flip over to 2013—without any substantial attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, this impression needs to change in a hurry.
According to a new paper published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, there’s a startlingly small number we need to keep in mind when dealing with climate change: 8. That’s as in 8 more years until 2020, a crucial deadline for reducing global carbon emissions if we intend to limit warming to 2°C, according to a team of researchers from a trio of research institutions—the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and ETH Zurich in Switzerland, along with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado—who authored the paper.
They came to the finding by looking at a range of different scenarios for emissions levels in 2020 and projecting outward how much warming each one would cause for the planet as a whole by the year 2100. They found that in order to have a good chance at holding long-term warming to an average of 2°C worldwide—a figure often cited as the maximum we can tolerate without catastrophic impacts—annual emissions of carbon dioxide (or equivalent greenhouse gas) in 2020 can be no higher than 41 to 47 gigatons worldwide.
That’s a problem when you consider the fact that we’re currently emitting 50 gigatons annually; if present trends continue, that number will rise to 55 gigatons by 2020. In other words, unless we want catastrophic levels of warming, we need to do something, quickly
More fucked up than previously reckoned:
THE world is on the cusp of a “tipping point” into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.
“The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales,” says the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost. “Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started.”
While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic’s stores are measured in tens of billions.
Human-induced emissions now appear to have warmed the Arctic enough to unlock this vast carbon bank, with stark implications for international efforts to hold global warming to a safe level. Ancient forests locked under ice tens of thousands of years ago are beginning to melt and rot, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.
The rate of melt was “deeply concerning”, said Andy Pitman, the director of Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, an adviser to the Climate Commission, and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports.
“It had been assumed that on the timescale of the 21st century, that the effects of methane release would be relatively small compared to other effects – that’s why it has been largely left out of the climate models,” Professor Pitman said.
“I think it’s fair to say that until recently climate scientists underrated the rate at which permafrost melt could release methane. I think we’ve been shown to be over-conservative. It’s happening faster than we had thought … This is not good news.”
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