Climate News and Views
News from 2009 and before:
Leading scientists warn of surging climate change effects on eve of Copenhagen climate talks.
A group of respected international climate scientists, including those who lead previous studies reported on this website, have issued an update on climate science as of the end of November 2009. The report paints a dire picture of increased greenhouse emissions, heightened effects around the world, and the threat that the world could reach a point of disastrous change if there is no immediate action to limit greenhouse gases.
The major observations include:
Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40% higher than those in 1990. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding the amount of greenhouse gases which the scientists predict will cause severe and long-term harm to large parts of the earth and its people.
Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-based warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of .34 degrees F (0.19ºC ) per decade. Even over the past ten years the trend continues to be one of warming.
Natural, short- term fluctuations are occurring as usual but there have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend.
Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990. Summertime melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of estimates based on past climate.
Current sea-level rise underestimates: Satellites show global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years) that is 80% above past predictions. This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in water flowing into the ocean from melting of glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets By 2100, global sea-level increase may well exceed 1 meter.
Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (such as continental ice sheets. Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues as it is now throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds ("tipping points") increase strongly with ongoing climate change.
The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be slowed to avoid these limits, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a "decarbonized" global society – with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – need to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to 80-95 percent below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.
The report, "The Copenhagen Diagnosis," was written by Drs. Stephen Schneider, Georg Kaser, Michael Mann, Eric Rignot, Corinne LeQuere, Conrad Steffen -- contributors to World View of Global Warming and Earth Under Fire -- and 20 others. For more information and the entire report, please go here.
The limits and thresholds the scientists speak of is based on a level of 450 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, which they say could result in an additional 2 degrees F global temperature increase. There is already 387 ppm of CO2 in the air, and even during the current recession the concentration of the gas has been rising by nearly 2 ppm per year. However, a growing number of scientists are declaring now that the tolerable level of warming and change really is much lower than 450 ppm, and that in fact we already exceed the point of danger. These scientists advocate stopping and reversing the atmospheric concentration back to 350 ppm. This number has become the focus of an international citizens' movement to influence policy and legislation on climate change.
President Obama reverses years of avoidance by the United States, and will promise a limit on greenhouse gases at the international climate talks in Copenhagen
President Barack Obama will address the United Nations international climate change negotiations on 9 December, the first time a sitting president has appeared at this or similar meetings since President George H.W. Bush attended the Rio Conference in 1992. At that meeting, President Bush I signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which set into motion talks by the world's nations resulting in the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gases. At this year's meeting, the nations will try to agree on much steeper reductions in greeenhouse gases in the face of mounting dangerous climate change.
According to reports, President Obama will state a US goal "in the range of" 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. This is consistent with a bill passed by the House of Representatives last summer. However the U. S. Senate has just begun to address a climate and energy law, and there is huge opposition from rural, manufacturing and coal states. Rancorous debate, possibly weakening amendments and other delays are expected before the Senate actually passes a law. Then the House and Senate will have to agree to final wording and greenhouse reduction levels. The final law may not be passed until well into 2010. Many scientists and climate activists say that the changes proposed in Congress are not strong or fast enough to head off severe climate changes.
With much of the world waiting for the U.S. --- and China --- to state hard goals and fully engage in the international climate talks, the White House apparently hopes that Obama's appearance and statement of a goal will encourage a successful Copenhagen outcome.
Global climate change impacts in the United States are spelled out with renewed authority in a federal government report.
The report's key information has been well reported here and in Earth Under Fire and other books, but bears repeating in its straightforward language and up-to-date numbers.
Human activities have led to large increases in heat-trapping gases over the past century. The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to this human-induced increase. Global average temperature and sea level have increased, and precipitation patterns have changed.
Human "fingerprints" also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture, plant and animal health and location, and Arctic sea ice.
Temperatures could rise by 2-3 degrees F or more than 11 degrees will depend on how we manage our energy use and emissions. Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases will delay the appearance of climate change impacts and lessen their magnitude.
Unless the rate of emissions is substantially reduced, impacts are expected to become increasingly severe for more people and places.
For more from this report, please go to the Temperate Zone page.
Obama's Climate Team Moves to Regulate Greenhouse Gases as Research Shows Global Warming Continues at High Rates
President Barack Obama's new Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson has moved to put CO2 and other greenhouse gases under regulation by the Clean Air Act. In one of the most anticipated early actions by the new Administration, the EPA issued a proposed finding on April 17 that these gases endanger human health and well-being. When made final, this will clear the way for regulation of vehicle exhaust, which is the source of about 30 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions.
This is one of the most visible of the climate actions springing from members of the President's new Cabinet, which includes leading scientists and informed diplomats. As they took their posts, working scientists announced in two international meetings that many factors in rapid global warming were getting worse or running at rates which only a few years ago were thought to be extreme.
Besides Jackson, who an was an experienced state environment leader before taking over at EPA, Obama appointed former EPA head Carol Browner to a new post of White House climate and energy chief; Nobel Prize winner Stephen Chu as Secretary of Energy; Harvard professor John Holdren, who has been outspoken on the dangers of climate disruption, as Presidential science advisor; and acclaimed ocean scientist Jane Lubchenco as head of NOAA.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replaced George Bush's footdragging international climate negotiators with a team lead by Todd Stern. One of his first actions was to announce to international climate talks in Bonn that "the science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction-or inadequate actions-are unacceptable." The Bonn talks are preliminary to crucial UN Climate Convention meetings in Copenhagen in December, at which nations have promised to agree to sharp limits on greenhouse gases, replacing the Kyoto Protocol. Many national issues and roadblocks remain, however, prime of which is the world recession which dominates other international meetings.
The EPA finding, although initially focused directly on vehicle emissions, will lead under the Clean Air Act to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, source of nearly half of American CO2. Congress is also proposing control of emissions using a cap and trade process familiar to many from previous Clean Air Act procedures to limit sulphur pollution from coal burning plants. A comprehensive climate and energy bill, drafted by Rep. Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, will be debated in the House this spring. Reactions to the proposed legislation are being posted by many business and environmental groups and will surely intensify as the bill is amended and moves toward a vote later this year.
The urgency of climate action is even greater now because some recent observations are at or beyond the highest projections of previous reports. Scientific studies updating the IPCC assessment of 2007 show that more CO2 is being put into the air than ever before. Rates of change of global mean temperature, sea level rise, ice sheet changes in Greenland and the edges of Antarctica, and ocean chemical changes are running at the highest projections of the 2007 IPCC. In February 2009 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Chris Field of the Carnegie Institute also reported that some major ways that the earth naturally absorbs CO2 were less efficient now, leaving more of the gas in the air. I heard him say that because of all this, we are "on a trajectory of climate... that has not been explored."
Not every indication of climate is changing this rapidly, but most scientists now predict a 5 degree F or more temperature increase and at least three feet of sea level rise before 2100 if things continue in this way. The changes documented in these website pages and my book occurred during a time of just over one degree of warming.
Every citizen of the world needs to be aware of rapid climate change:
1. Understand the problem, its causes and threats.
2. Let your leaders know the facts and that you expect them to act.
3. Do something today to reduce greenhouse gas output -- please Take Action
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