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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".

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Secretary Kerry’s Global Warming Initiative

Summary.  U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited China and Indonesia in
February 2014 to promote international support for combating global warming.  He is making this issue a major theme of his tenure in office.  In
China he discussed upcoming negotiations on a new worldwide climate treaty with his hosts.  In Indonesia he spoke on the critical nature of the problem of worsening global warming, and on the importance of reaching international accord to limit further emissions.  He is personally committed to making global warming be a central theme in U. S. diplomatic efforts.

Recent U. N.-sponsored meetings to negotiate a treaty to replace the expired Kyoto Protocol have stalled on the issue (among others) that is the same as the  one that arose originally when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated: a split between already industrialized countries and developing countries based on the contention by the latter group that mature countries have had a century of fossil fuel use, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions, to power their industrialization.  They feel they too should be allowed unfettered opportunity to do the same.  But in the time since Kyoto, developing countries have expanded so rapidly that emissions from this group are now a major contributor to continued global warming.

A new treaty should treat all nations equally, since global warming is indeed a single, worldwide crisis, not a differentiated one.  All nations should unite behind Secretary Kerry’s efforts, and those of others, to reach agreement on substantive and substantial approaches to constrain the buildup of greenhouse gases and limit further warming of the planet.

Introduction: The Kyoto Protocol.  In 1997 the members of the United Nations agreed to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to reduce emission rates of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  KP excused developing countries from its constraints; only the already industrialized nations were to be bound by its terms.  For this and other reasons the U. S. Senate rejected KP.  The treaty came into force in 2005 and expired in 2012.  Since then members of the U. N. have been unable to agree on a new treaty to take effect on expiration of KP.  The effort currently under way is to agree to a new treaty by 2015 and have it take effect by 2020.

U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making the achievement of an international agreement, as well as other multilateral understandings, to limit further global warming a major policy goal of his tenure.  He hopes to lead the world effort to conclude the new treaty to replace the expired KP reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and to expand its terms and coverage.  Carbon dioxide (CO2), a principal GHG, is emitted when we burn fossil fuels for energy.

Mr. Kerry has made mitigation of global warming a primary effort of the State Department.  In the U. S., President Obama’s executive actions to reduce emission rates have enhanced the credibility of the U. S. among the international community as it negotiates the new agreement.

In Secretary Kerry’s speech in Indonesia on Feb. 16, 2014 he pointed out that both President Obama and he consider global warming to be an “urgent” challenge that the world needs to address.  Indonesia’s emissions of GHGs from burning fossil fuels are rising dramatically, as is true for practically all developing countries.  Annual emission rates from China, India, South Korea, Indonesia and Mexico all have similar increases over the last 22 years (see Analysis below); China is now by far the country with the highest annual emissions rate of all countries and regions .  Indonesia ranks third in the world in overall emission rate behind China and the U. S.  An additional contributor to Indonesia’s emissions rate is deforestation by burning to clear land for agricultural use.  In contrast, industrialized countries have relatively level annual emission rates with time. 

Secretary Kerry summarized the conclusion of 97% of climate scientists around the globe that this problem is arising because of manmade increases in atmospheric GHG levels.  These act to trap heat in the earth system, leading to extremes of heat and drought, heavy precipitation and flooding, and rising sea levels, all of which wreak havoc on affected human societies and economic activities.

The Secretary intends to continue stressing the dangers of global warming and the economic opportunities in addressing it.  He emphasized that around the world political and financial institutions “need to stop providing incentives for the use of energy sources like coal and oil. Instead, we have to make the most of the innovative energy technology that entrepreneurs are developing all over the world.”  He pointed out that the time remaining for action is dwindling. 

He stated the “United States is prepared to take the lead in bringing other nations to the table. And this is something that President Obama is deeply committed to. And as Secretary of State, I am personally committed to [having global warming be central] in all of our diplomatic efforts.”

Secretary Kerry’s Visit in China.  Prior to visiting Indonesia Secretary Kerry conferred on global warming with counterparts in China on Feb. 15, 2014.  The meeting with Chinese officials resulted in pledges to promote a successful conclusion to the international climate negotiation of 2015.

China is setting up market based (i. e., cap-and-trade) mechanisms in several regions to reduce GHG emission rates, in contrast to the U. S. which has never enacted such policy at the national level.  The recent worsening of urban air pollution in many Chinese cities has also led authorities to begin programs to reduce emissions, especially particulates and smog precursors arising from cars and coal-fired electricity plants; such efforts also lower GHG emissions.  China initiated a US$250 billion program that includes a ban on cars that contribute excessively to pollution and reduces the use of coal in power generation.

Mr. Kerry was instrumental in putting together a bilateral initiative with China to help that nation reduce its emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.  These compounds are used in refrigeration and are released by leakage and when refrigeration units are retired from service.  They are extremely potent GHGs, possessing up to 12,000 times the heat trapping power,  molecule by molecule, as CO2.  They are entirely manmade, so they were not present in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution. 


Updating the Kyoto Protocol.  It is highly significant that Secretary Kerry and President Obama are actively pursuing policies that address worsening global warming.  The annual U. N. meetings in recent years, convened to develop a global framework to follow the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, have failed to reach agreement (although certain building blocks have been agreed to).  Much of the continued difficulty remains the same as the differences that led to exclusion of developing countries from being bound by KP.  These nations felt that, in contrast to their third world status, the industrialized countries of the developed world had already attained an advanced standard of living as a result of having used fossil fuel-derived energy for a century.  The developing nations have felt that they should be able to follow the same path for their economic growth, including use of fossil fuels.  Objection to this reasoning was one of the factors cited when the U. S. Senate denied ratification of KP.

Rapid Growth of Emissions from Developing Countries.  It is easily seen why developing countries wanted to remain unfettered by KP in the late 1990’s; their goals of increasing development and economic expansion have come to fruition in dramatic fashion since then.  In “Trends in Global CO2 Emissions– 2013 Report” issued by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission information appears for A) per capita CO2 emission rate per year in tonnes (metric ton; about 1.1 English ton) tracked from 1990 to 2012; B) change in per person emission rate over the 22 year interval, %; C) absolute change in emission rate over the same time period , %; and D) % change in population over the same time period.  Selected results are tabulated below:

Nation/ Region
A) Per capita CO2 emission rate per year
B) Change in per person emission rate, %
C) Absolute change in emission rate, %
D) Change in population, %
Examples of developing countries, not governed by KP
 increased from 2.1 to 7.1
 increased from 0.8 to 1.6
Examples of industrialized countries, negotiated to be covered under KP
U. S.
decreased from (19.6-20.6) to 16.4
European Union
decreased from 9.1 to 7.4

This selection shows how dramatically emissions in developing countries have risen from 1990 to 2012 in both per person use [ A) ] and overall emissions [ C) ]; most of this originated from burning coal.  In contrast, over the same period for industrialized countries both per person and overall emissions fell modestly from already very high levels.  Also, the data show that in 1990 the per capita rates of CO2 emissions per year for the industrialized countries were 5-10 times higher than the rates for developing countries.  But by 2012 the rates for the developing countries were rapidly closing that difference.  For example, the per capita rates for the European Union and China in 2012 were almost the same.  This selection shows the strong growth in CO2 emissions from the largest developing countries.  Absolute CO2 emissions by China became the highest of any country 4-5 years ago.

Global warming is indeed just that – warming of the climate assessed by averaging temperature measurements over the entire globe over long time periods (years to decades).  Historically the increase in the worldwide average temperature follows the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other GHGs such as methane (natural gas), and the refrigerants mentioned above.  Projections of future global temperature increase likewise track scenarios for future emissions of GHGs. 

CO2, a principal GHG, remains in the atmosphere for centuries or longer, once emitted.  There is no technology currently known that removes CO2 from air, so humanity is cementing into place the worldwide warming climate we now experience.  We cannot go back to an earlier, lower global average temperature or more benign climate.  The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued September 2013, in its Summary for Policymakers , additionally shows other indicators of warming, including continued sea level rise, increase in overall heat contained in the world’s oceans, and loss of land-based snow and ice cover.  Increased occurrence of damaging extreme weather events, consistent with behavior expected from global warming, include more, and more violent, storms with more precipitation, flooding, higher temperatures and heat waves, droughts, forest wildfires, and stronger ocean storm surges.

Secretary Kerry’s efforts to implement international and multilateral climate agreements deserve full support.  The urgency of reaching meaningful, significant reductions in further emissions of GHGs as soon as possible is clear.  The ultimate goal has to be approaching near zero rates of annual worldwide emissions, in order to stabilize the atmospheric GHG level, and the concomitant rise in global temperature, to as small a further increase as possible above their present levels.

This will require industrialized countries (whose emission rates are already falling, albeit from high starting values) to continue on their paths of lowering emissions toward zero.  It will further require developing countries to accept the present climatic status of the world rather than to dwell on past history; in other words developing countries need to install renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuel-powered sources as they expand their energy economies.  Both groups of nations will need to band together to help the most vulnerable nations adapt to continued global warming and to help them develop renewable energy sources for their development.

American diplomacy, led by Secretary Kerry and President Obama, conducted energetically and with conviction, should contribute meaningfully to achieving a substantive worldwide agreement that supplants KP. It would start our world on a path to reduced GHG emissions and the smallest future increase in warming attainable.
© 2014 Henry Auer

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