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".
Thursday, October 2, 2014
U.N. Climate Summit Underscores Perennial Differences on Climate Change
Nations convened a Climate Summit
on September 23, 2014 as a springboard for action on addressing global warming.About 120 national leaders attended, as well
as leaders in business, government and action groups.Notable by their absence were the leaders
from China and India, two of the nations among developing
countries with the highest annual rates of emission of greenhouse gases
(primarily carbon dioxide (CO2)) and/or the highest rates of growth in
those emissions from year to year.
toward a new international climate treaty to stabilize the world’s average temperature are about to
begin under the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Convention).Work on the treaty will proceed for next 14
months, with the goal of reaching agreement by December 2015.The new treaty is considered a follow-on
compact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto), negotiated in 1997.
Kyoto adopted the same wording as appears in the Convention,
namely that nations of the world address climate change “on the basis of equity
and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and
respective capabilities”.This phrasing
reflects the concerns that “the developed countr[ies] should take the lead in
combating climate change” and that the “specific needs and special
circumstances of developing countr[ies]…should be given full consideration”.
As a result, the
final Kyoto treaty applied only to developed (i.e., already industrialized)
countries such as the U. S., those of Western Europe, Japan and Australia.Under Kyoto, each of these countries was to reduce its
emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) by specified
amounts (typically a few percent) by 2012 from the levels of 1990. It attracted
enough signatories to become enforceable by 2005, and it expired in 2012.
Clinton supported Kyoto, the U. S. rejected it so that it was not bound by its
terms.Arguments against approval
included the distinction in the treaty between developed and developing
countries mentioned above, which, it was argued, would put the U. S. at a disadvantage in international
Energy and GHG Emissions
depends critically on use of energy.In 1997,
the year that Kyoto was signed, energy use in China and India, while growing, were still very low, much
lower than that of the U. S., as seen in the graphic below.
Annual rates of
energy usage for China, the U. S. and India.Actual use from 1990 to 2010; projected usage thereafter.1 quadrillion = 1 million billion; Btu,
British thermal units.
But use of energy
by both these countries expanded rapidly, and China’s became higher than that of the U. S. by about 2009.
As China has drastically expanded its energy
consumption, its annual rate of CO2 emissions has similarly grown
dramatically, as seen in the graphic below.
Annual rates of CO2
emission attributed to the burning of fossil fuels from 1980-2011, for China, India and the U. S.The numbers on the left of each panel show
the lowest and highest values on the vertical axis, enlarged for
legibility.Note that the vertical axes
are not comparable across the panels.
Numerical data for
these countries’ growth in energy use and CO2 emissions are given in
the Details section at the end of this post. As the graphics above show, China and India, which are good examples of many developing
countries, have expanded economic activity and CO2 emissions
many-fold over these decades, while the U. S., typical of most industrialized countries,
has remained essentially constant, due at least in part to actions taken under Kyoto or aligned with it.This shows how “differentiated
responsibilities and respective capabilities” stated in the Convention have
developed over this time: developing countries have been at liberty to undergo
unbridled expansion, while developed countries have emphasized measures to
The speeches at
the U. N. Climate Summit
reflect the ambiguity of the Convention statement discussed above. Examples drawn from the U.
(a developed country), China (a developing country), Mali and the MaldiveIslands (impoverished or less developed countries)
are summarized here and expanded in the Details section.They show the differing circumstances and
needs among the groups.
The U.S. President urged
all nations to work toward a meaningful climate treaty to preserve present
conditions for our children and future generations.He pointed to the major policies the U. S. is undertaking to achieve significant
reductions in GHG emissions and promote adaptation.China, on the other hand, emphasized its
efforts to increase efficiency of energy production and use (while omitting
mention of actual emission amounts), increasing renewable energy sources and
setting a goal of capping emissions.
Mali (speaking partly for others in Africa as well) and the Maldives identified themselves as suffering the
consequences of global warming due to actions of others whom they cannot
control.They demanded early, meaningful
measures for assistance in adaptation to the effects of global warming, and
emphasized the importance of policies promoting mitigation of further warming.
Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Capabilities
This post has
emphasized the differences separating developing and developed countries concerning
global warming.Developing countries tend
to stress equity in insisting that they be given the same opportunity to
develop, using fossil fuels for energy, that industrialized countries have
benefited from for more than a century.At the same time they point to the responsibility of those developed
countries now to limit their emissions because of their advanced economic
status.These attitudes stress hindsight
or past history.
countries, on the other hand, presumably consider equity as supporting a policy
that, since developing countries are now the ones expanding the world’s burden
of atmospheric GHGs, they should bear the “differentiated responsibility” of
constraining their emissions.This means
not only slowing the growth in annual emission rates, but actually reducing annual
emission amounts.Developed countries
are already doing this, as seen in the European Union and the U. S.These policies reflect foresight with a vital
concern for the future environment of our planet.They accept the present status of emissions among
the world’s nations, and strive to reduce them regardless of past history.
Equity should also
entail taking into consideration the plight of the world’s most disadvantaged
countries by supporting their mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Glen Peters, one of
the authors of this year’s Global Carbon Budget report, has stated“Since China is responsible for almost 30
percent of current global emissions and emissions continue robust growth, to
have any realistic chance of keeping below [a limit of] two degrees [C increase
over pre-industrial levels] requires strong action by China.”
India rejects the notion of constraining its growth and reducing its
emission rate, according to Prakash Javadekar, its environment minister.India’s first responsibility, he stated, is to
reduce poverty and expand the country’s economy, rather than reduce GHG
emissions.In his view, a principal
culprit of emissions is the U. S.
In the opinion
of many climate scientists, little time remains to embark on meaningful
mitigation of GHG emissions.Stocker
has characterized the tradeoff of delaying mitigation vs. the intensity of
mitigation policies required.The FifthAssessment Report
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forcefully favors substantive
mitigation efforts.Developing countries
are projected to continue emitting GHGs at ever-increasing annual rates, as
shown in the first graphic above.
coworkers (Nature Geoscience, vol. 7, October 2014, pp. 709-715; published
online: 21 September 2014; DOI:10.1038/NGEO2248) find that the world has already exhausted 2/3 of its
“carbon budget” that would keep it below the warming threshold of 2ºC
(3.6ºF).Given that the world’s annual
emission rate is increasing year by year, they believe not more than 30 years
remain before the full budget will be exhausted.They conclude that “Breaking current emission
trends in the short term is key to retaining credible
climate targets within a rapidly diminishing emission quota.”
The world has no
alternative but to negotiate a significant and effective new climate treaty.Nations
must bring themselves to abandon the hindsight view of the Convention’s
principles.They have to accept the
present status and the dire projections of future environmental damage.They must adopt the prospective view.For example, investments in the energy
economy should be directed toward renewable energy and energy efficiency, not
toward new fossil fuel infrastructure.Our
future, and that of our children and further progeny, requires no less.
Energy and GHG Emissions
China’s energy use from 1997 (i.e., more than
half way across the horizontal axis in the first graphic above) to 2011 had an
average growth rate of 8.2%/yr, and its CO2 emissionsfor the same
period grew by an averaged rate of 7.6%/yr (but note the sharp change in rates
starting about 2001; second graphic).India’s energy use increased by about 4.9%/yr and
its CO2 emissions grew by an averaged rate of 5.1%/yr.In the same period the use of energy
in the U.
remained essentially unchanged, and its CO2 emission rate fell by an
average 0.1%/yr.The behavior of other industrialized
countries is similar.
illustrate how the original ambiguity of “common but differentiated
responsibilities and respective capabilities” stated in the Convention has
played out in the intervening years.Most developed countries have taken concrete steps to lower the actual
rate of emission of GHGs after Kyoto.On
the other hand, a country such as China has increased efficiency of use of energyby a few percent per year.Even so, China’s overall demand for energy has grown at
much faster rates.As a result its net
emissions balance still leaves the country with increased rates of GHG
emissions in absolute terms, i.e., in terms of actual amount of GHG released
into the atmosphere.The energy usage
projected by EIA to 2040 (first graphic) reflects this, both for China and for India.
The speeches at
the U. N. Climate Summit
U. S. President
Barack Obamaaddressed the Summit
, observing “no nation is immune” from impacts of climate change and citing America’s recent hot temperatures, ocean flooding,
high incidence of forest wildfires, droughts and heavy rainfall.He continued “the climate is changing faster
than our efforts to address it….Our citizens keep marching….We have to work
together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too
late….We cannot condemn our children, and their children, to a future that is
beyond their capacity to repair.”The
President referenced his Climate Action Plan
that includes many initiatives to address global warming in the U. S. He also
stated he met with the Chinese envoy to the Summit (see the following paragraph) restating his
belief “that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a
special responsibility to lead.That’s
what big nations have to do.”Recognizing that the world’s nations approach climate negotiations from
vastly differing vantage points, the President stated an agreement “must be
ambitious –- because that’s what…this challenge demands.It must be inclusive –- because every country
must play its part.And, yes, it must be
flexible –- because different nations have different circumstances.”
Envoy of China’s President
Xi Jinping, Zhang Gaoli, summarized (in English translation) China’s efforts in improving its energy
efficiency, including removing older, more inefficient facilities from use and
expanding production of renewable energy.China projects even greater improvements in
efficiency and intends to cap total energy consumption and “vigorously develop
non-fossil fuels”.Tellingly, he
referred to the importance of the principle in the Convention, “common but
differentiated responsibilities, equity and respective capabilities”, in the
proceedings leading to the 2015 climate treaty.He emphasized the role of trust in going forward, saying “in particular,
developed countries need to intensify emission reduction and fulfill commitment
…of 100 billion US dollars and technology transfer to developing countries by
Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga of Mali (in remarks translated from French) called attention to
the drought that affects sub-Saharan Africa.He cited this region as “the most vulnerable
in the world” tothe effects of climate
change, since by the end of this century Africa “could lose between 25 and 40%
of its natural habitat and sea level rise could destroy close to 30% of its
coastal infrastructure.”Yet Africa, he noted, emits the least amount of
GHGs.Accordingly, Mali supports the Convention’s principle of
“common but differentiated responsibilities” in the framework of a new climate
agreement.Mali needs to deploy more than US$1 billion
between 2015 and 2019, in five initiatives: reforestation, climate-resilient
agriculture, a national agricultural management effort, preservation of water
resources, and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives (a low-lying island nation south of India), made an impassioned plea for the upcoming climate treaty negotiations:
“The effects of climate change have no boundaries.It does not differentiate [among
countries].The assumption that some
countries are safe from climate change…is a dangerous myth.”The Maldives, she stated, has already undertaken
measures to reduce its emissions and adapt to climate change.But it emits “just 0.00003 percent” of global
GHGs while facing an existential threat [from inundation] because of worsening
global emissions.She asks “Is it not
ironic that…the Maldives…are made helpless bystanders, while others
who ignore the threat…decide our fate?”In response to the climate marchers in New York on September 21, 2014, asking for action on the climate, Ms.
Maumoon stated “It is clearly time for action”.