Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are responsible for global warming, the long-term worldwide average warming experienced since the industrial revolution. GHGs arise from human use of fossil fuels for energy. Major emitters of GHGs include both industrialized countries and, in recent decades, developing countries as well. Higher global temperatures cause the extremes of hot and cold, and wet and dry, weather of recent years. This blog examines global warming and its effects.
See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.
This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.
Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".
Summary.A conference entitled “Global Climate Policy
without the United States: Thinking the Unthinkable”, was held at YaleUniversityLawSchoolNovember 9-10, 2012.After an opening talk detailing the worsening state of global warming
already under way, several speakers dealt with frameworks and strategies that
could bypass the stalemated international deliberations on global warming.These include transnational actions involving
fewer nations, and cooperation among nations, nongovernmental organizations and
private corporations.Additionally two
talks addressed geoengineering, and the need to act cautiously if at all in
Since the pace of
greenhouse gas emissions is increasing, and the resulting warming of the planet
grows accordingly, stratagems such as discussed in this conference should be
pursued with all deliberate speed.Avoiding
the worsening effects of global warming may well rely on transnational and
extra-governmental strategies such as these in pursuing mitigation and
adaptation, unless and until a binding international agreement enters into
Introduction.International negotiations toward an
agreement on mitigating and adapting to global warming have been going on for
many years under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) without apparent progress.Among the impediments has been the reluctance of the two major emitters
of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the U. S. and China, to accommodate the viewpoint of the other side.When the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated under
the UNFCCC in 1997, all developing countries including China were excluded from coverage.When the Protocol was presented to the U. S.
Senate for ratification, the Senate decisively rejected it.Among other reasons the debate cited the
exclusion of developing countries while constraining the U. S. under its terms.It was argued this would put the U. S. at a competitive disadvantage in
international trade.In the interim the
U. S. Congress has repeatedly failed to pass domestic global warming
legislation.As a result, the U. S. currently has no legislated national policy
governing mitigation of and adaptation to the worsening effects of increased
average global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions.
A conference on
this topic, entitled “Global Climate Policy without the United States: Thinking the Unthinkable”, was held at YaleUniversityLawSchoolNovember 9-10, 2012.This post summarizes selected presentations to this conference
immediately below (indented).Then, in
the Analysis section following the summary, the talks are considered against
the perspective of the failure so far to reach a global agreement.
Action on Global Warming is Needed.
Robert Watson, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from
1997 to 2002, opened the conference with a dire characterization of the present
concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other atmospheric
components that affect heat retention have already had effects across the globe
on precipitation patterns, a rise in sea levels, and melting of the polar ice
strongest change in global average temperature has occurred in the last 50
years, and is due to human activity.Projections of further increases in surface temperature by 2100,
depending on the details of the modeling employed, range from 1.5-7ºC
(2.7-12.6ºF).Warming is not uniform
across the globe; it is stronger in polar latitudes than in the tropics, and
affects land surfaces more than the oceans.Dry areas are projected to become drier and wet areas to become wetter.
present rate of rise of sea level is greater than the IPCC predicted in its
report of 2001, due to thermal expansion of water, and to the increasing runoff
from glacial melting.
serious effects on humanity include loss of biological diversity, ocean
acidification with attendant killing of coral reefs (which nurture much of the
marine food chain that humans depend on), a decrease in agricultural productivity,
and an increase in infectious disease rates.
IPCC adopted the standard that world climate negotiations should strive to
constrain the overall increase in global average temperature to 2ºC (3.6ºF) in
order to keep warming from causing excessive damage to human life.Sir Robert pointed out that because of projected
GHG emissions and their attendant temperature increases, this constraint will
be breached.The annual meetings under
the UNFCCC, most recently in Copenhagen, Cancun
and Durban, have made scant progress toward reaching
agreement on emissions abatement.
Robert concluded by listing the mitigation strategies that need to be pursued:
development of carbon capture and storage technology (if successful, this would
allow continued use of fossil fuels), development of biofuels (this will
alleviate the dependence on fossil fuels), setting a price on carbon to deter
use, and altering our behavior patterns to avoid use of fossil fuels.He was hesitant about any role for
geoengineering (see below) because there was not enough known about its
capabilities and risks.
and Public-Private Cooperation in Global Climate Initiatives
Howse, Professor of International Law at New YorkUniversity, spoke on transnational actions that can be
taken in the absence of a binding international climate agreement.In place of a broad mitigation agreement
nations can dispense cross-border emissions allowances imposing cross-border
taxes.An example is that, under the
European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, any airplane landing in an EU
country has to purchase allowances covering the fuel used in the flight.
(Coincidentally, the New York Times reported
on November 15, 2012 that this requirement is being postponed for one year in view
of strong opposition from non-European countries.)Prof. Howse cited a court case from the
period before the WTO affirming such taxes, since the harms are inflicted on a
global commons, and are not restricted to the offending country.
Farber, Professor of Law at University of California, Berkeley, pointed out that rather than “without the U. S.” in the title of the conference, it could
be “without Congress”.He noted that
administratively the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency is regulating
emissions under the Clean Air Act, having effects at the international level.He also noted the regional compacts in California and the northeastern states’ Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative.Within the U. S., such compacts face the problem of carbon
leakage by purchases of energy from, or goods made with energy provided in,
other states.The U. S. Constitution
prohibits taxation across state boundaries.Ultimately there is no substitute for a legislated federal emissions
framework and for a formal agreement on international emissions abatement.
Stewart, Professor of Law at New YorkUniversity, recognized that to date formal,
international negotiations have failed to produce an agreement on global
warming.He cited the reluctance of China, and the levels and timing of commitments
sought to be made as contributing causes.
suggests that instead of “mega” negotiations, which emphasize the dominance of
nation-states, bottom-up efforts be made, developing trans-national climate regimes
involving a smaller number of actors.Ways of proceeding might include 1) private agreements among companies,
non-governmental organizations and governments, working on goals such as
industrial development and carbon capture and storage; 2) linkage and leverage
agreements that could proceed even without the U. S. and China; and 3) building
blocks that start with a small number of actors focusing on limited goals such
as marine transport, or the European Union’s mitigation program.Prof. Stewart believes such alternatives
could pave the way toward developing trust among nations and lead toward an
international treaty that is the ultimate objective.
Gerrard, a Professor at ColumbiaLawSchool, offered perspectives on the previous three
talks; these echoed as well many of Robert Watson’s thoughts.First, the goal of limiting warming to a 2ºC
limit is unattainable.Second, emissions
from China alone currently and in coming decades, will
be largely responsible for the increase in atmospheric GHG levels.Furthermore fossil fuel use is likely to
increase radically as other developing countries, and currently impoverished
countries, undergo economic growth; this projection includes the expected
increase in the world’s population over coming decades.Third, in the U. S., there is minimal prospect politically for
abating GHG emissions because Congress has rejected putting a price on
carbon.According to Prof. Gerrard, 46%
of Americans are anti-science, which hinders spreading an appreciation of the
science underlying global warming.He notes
that global warming is clearly occurring already.For these reasons he advocates promoting adaptation
to warming far more intensively than has occurred to date.He compares this with the costs incurred by
society by inaction.
Abbott, Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State
University, gave a talk that was similar in theme to that of Prof. Stewart,
above.Prof. Abbott recognizes the
failure of the international framework to make progress on an agreement to
combat global warming.He noted that Canada withdrew from the Kyoto
Protocol, and that Japan and other nations have
opposed extending it beyond 2012.Instead, he proposes bypassing states, promoting actions by governmental
and nongovernmental actors within states.These groups would establish transnational advocacy activities.Prof. Abbott models these by a pyramid, as
Abbott populated this pyramid with about 70 examples of organizations arrayed
according to their characteristics; each could establish bilateral or
multilateral associations with others.He envisions that these activities would involve entrepreneurs and
officials that catalyze and support unconventional advances, building
transnational liaisons that combat global warming.
speakers addressed the controversial topic of geoengineering: Edward Parson,
Professor at UCLA School of Law, and Jane Long, Associate Director at Large,
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.The
terms “geoengineering” or “climate engineering” encompass several technologies.These talks focused in particular on
injecting white aerosols into the stratosphere that would remain airborne for
several years and act to reflect sunlight back into space.Prof. Parsons noted that aerosol-based
geoengineering is fast, cheap and imperfect.Rocket-based injection of aerosols is easily accomplished, and would
probably cost a few billion dollars a year.Yet it is imperfect because its effects are uncharacterized.Geoengineering raises several concerns
related to the global reach of the technology.First, if successful it could create the moral hazard of relieving the
incentive among humanity to mitigate GHG emissions.Second, in spite of its universal effect
around the globe, it could be accomplished unilaterally by a state acting
alone, thereby affecting other states without their consent.Currently no aspect of international law
covers such activities.Because
mitigation and geoengineering act in complementary fashions, Prof. Parsons
suggests proceeding simultaneously on mitigation activities coupled with
research on geoengineering.
Long likewise believes that geoengineering cannot be a substitute for
mitigation activities.She described
policy activities within the U. S.She
recommends setting up “protogovernance” to deal with geoengineering policy,
which should be a new advisory commission established within the federal
government.It should be in the
President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, since no other agency is
appropriate.Currently there is no
policy guiding research on geoengineering, since most work originates as investigator-initiated
projects.Additionally, there are
private groups considering the deployment of geoengineering, such as a pilot
project in the Eastern Pacific.Some of
these are offered as having only regional rather than global effects.
annual conferences, including those in Copenhagen (2009), Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011), have striven unsuccessfully to
supplant the Kyoto Protocol on its expiration at the end of 2012.These involve the 193 member states of the
United Nations.The Cancun Agreementestablished binding objectives and
subgroups to advance aspects of mitigation and adaptation.At the Durban conference it became clear that agreement
on a global warming treaty would be seriously delayed.The delay represents a serious setback
to limiting atmospheric GHG levels, and clearly is one factor underlying the
observation by speakers at the Yale conference that the goal of constraining
global average temperature rise to 2ºC cannot be achieved.
The extent of increase
of the global average temperature is determined by the total accumulated
level of GHGs, not by the annual rate of emissions.Since the principal GHG, carbon dioxide,
persists in the atmosphere for at least 100 years (and probably much longer),
each year humanity emits more GHGs into the air raises the total accumulated
level of GHGs, thereby raising the global average temperature higher and
higher.The only way to stabilize the
global average temperature is to reduce the annual emission rate to near zero,
or to sequester GHG emissions underground.These considerations lead to the conclusion that the delay enshrined in
the Durban Platform will produce irreversibly higher global average
temperatures than would have been obtained had an international agreement been
successfully negotiated earlier.
Since the U. S. and China, the two highest emitters of GHGs, approach
these negotiations with seemingly irreconcilable differences, both of them may
be considered to be responsible for the historical failure to reach
agreement.The theme of the Yale
conference was to examine paths that can be taken that skirt the necessity of
involving the U. S. government.In view of the strategies evinced in the conference, the title might also
have included the phrase “[without] China” as well.
The speakers at
“Global Climate Policy without the United States: Thinking the Unthinkable” offered a
variety of ways for actors other than sovereign nations to undertake
initiatives that advance the objective of constraining global temperature
rise.Some of these involve regional
transnational regulatory regimes.Others, such as those within the U. S., involve states or provinces which are
smaller entities typically not having authority to act internationally.Still others envision development of extra-governmental
consortiums among nations or states/provinces, non-governmental organizations
and private corporations to advance global warming initiatives.Only in considering geoengineering did
speakers rein in their proposals because of the many risks involved.
emphasized the dire need to stabilize global average temperature at as low a
level as possible in order to minimize the harms to human society already happening.These harms are destined to become worse
absent meaningful action.Many
innovative stratagems, involving state actors, nongovernmental organizations
and private enterprise, offer the prospect of making meaningful progress even
without the participation of the two largest emitting nations, China and the U. S.Speakers at the conference encouraged these efforts, including both mitigation
and adaptation, in order to help humanity meet the global climate crisis.