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".
The U.N. is
convening a conference in Paris in December 2015 whose objective is to
finalize a new treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol which expired in 2012, the draft
treaty under consideration would apply equally to all nations and would achieve
reductions in emissions by stated policy objectives developed domestically by
each nation.This new framework is
intended to overcome fundamental points of contention among nations that arose
from the Kyoto Protocol.
At the time of
writing 161 out of the 193 nations participating in the Paris conference have submitted their emission
reduction commitments.Examples from the
U.S., China and India are presented and contrasted here.A recent survey of public opinion from 40
countries indicates wide support for an agreement to reduce global emissions of
greenhouse gases.It is hoped that the
conference will succeed in agreeing to a final treaty, and that it will be
ratified by the U.N.’s member nations.
Yes, we do
care about global warming!2015 up through September is the warmest period
in the recorded data starting in 1880, as reflected by the worldwide average temperature.The long-term drought in California differs from earlier ones in that it has
been made worse by higher temperatures, in addition to other factors that have
reduced rain and snow.Many extreme
weather events around the world during 2014 have been statistically linked to global warming
according to a detailed analysis in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological
Society, although in other cases “failure to find a human fingerprint could be
due to insufficient data or poor models”, not to an actual finding that such
events are not linked to warming.Rising
sea levels from melting ice on Greenlandand Antarctica cause continuing coastal flooding
around the world.This trend is
projected to get worse in the next few centuries because, averaged over a year,
more ice melts than is restored by snowfall.
These examples are
significant because they show the worsened conditions of human life and
wellbeing around the world.Extreme
events create unscheduled needs for major new infrastructure spending, a burden
that ultimately winds up being shared by the taxpaying public.
average temperature is directly related to the total of the accumulated
greenhouse gases (GHGs),
especially carbon dioxide (CO2), in the atmosphere.Humans add CO2 to the atmosphere
by burning fossil fuels; most of that CO2 then remains in the
atmosphere for centuries, relentlessly building up the accumulated amount.There are no natural processes that remove
the added CO2 on the (geologically) short time scales needed, i.e.,
on the time scale over which we are adding it.Because the CO2 does not go away, nothing we do now can take
us back to lower CO2 levels prevalent, say, 50 or 100 years ago, and
their lower average temperatures.For
this reason we need to decarbonize the world’s energy economy as soon as we can
so that we keep the temperature increase as small as we can.
The Kyoto Protocol.In 1997 the members of
the United Nations agreed to the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto) to reduce emission rates of greenhouse
gases (GHGs). From the beginning of
U.N.-sponsored negotiations on climate change the differing circumstances of
developed countries and developing countries have provided a fundamental source
of contention between these groups (see the Details section at the end of this
post). Kyoto excused developing countries from its constraints;
only the already industrialized nations were to be bound by its terms.Those countries were to reduce their
emissions of GHGs by predetermined, but relatively small, amounts, by 2012.Because developing countries were exempted, and
for other reasons, (see Details) the U. S. Senate in 1997 voted 95-0 not to
consider Kyoto, so the U.
has not been bound by its obligations.At
the time the rates of GHG emissions from developing countries were far below those
for industrialized countries, but were projected to exceed them in the coming
years in view of intensive industrialization policies of the developing
Kyoto came into force in 2005, binding those
countries that ratified it, and expired in 2012.Kyoto was not a successful framework for
curtailing worldwide GHG emissions, even though a major party to it, the
nations of the European Union, made credible progress in that direction.As 2012 approached, Canada formally withdrew from Kyoto.Negotiations
to extend Kyoto in an agreement to include all U. N.
members failed in 2009 and made scant progress in subsequent annual meetings
through 2012.Japan and Russia indicated they would not agree to an
extension of Kyoto.
Progress after 2012.In the past few years scientists and
officials have come to realize that greenhouse warming of the planet is
proceeding unabated, and that many harmful consequences foreseen in earlier scientific
reports are actually coming to pass.These include intense heat waves, droughts made worse by the higher
temperatures, dramatic forest wildfires, storms with intense precipitation and
flooding, and rising sea levels.At the
meetings negotiators appreciated more clearly that these effects are
significant.Also, principals recognized
the failings of Kyoto, especially that it was unproductive to
divide the world’s nations into two groups, and to impose target emission
limits from above on a nation-by-nation basis.
The U. N.
conference in Paris, December 2015.The
effort currently under way is to agree to a new treaty during the worldwide U.
N. conference meeting in Paris in December 2015, and have it take effect by 2020.A framework of voluntary national pledges by
industrialized countries, without obligation, was put forth during the annual
conference in Cancun in 2010,
while these countries were to provide financial and technological assistance to
By the following
year in Durban all nations agreed to limit emissions.This pledge would bring major emitters from
the developing world such as China and India, on the one hand, and the U. S., not bound by Kyoto, on the other, under the same legal
framework for reducing emissions, thereby limiting the accumulation of GHGs.This feature is a crucial concession from
both sides of the emissions argument.
By 2015, the notion
of having a binding treaty agreed to by all participants in the conference
still remains in place.Instead of
having emission limits incorporated into the treaty, however, the draft treaty now suggests that every nation,
whether developed or developing, submit voluntary pledges, termed “intended
nationally determined contributions”, for reductions in emission rates in
advance of the convening of the Paris conference.
Nationally Determined Contributions.As of November 12, 2015 161 nations, of a total of 193 U.N. member states, have submitted their contribution statements.Here we summarize those for
three major sources of GHG emissions.The
U.S. is a major contributor to the emissions
from industrialized countries.It is
pledging to reduce its GHG emission rate by 26-28% below the level of 2005 by
2025.China, a developing country, is currently the
nation with the highest GHG emissions in the world; it will be responsible for
a major portion of historical and projected emissions up to 2035. It pledges that its annual emission rate will
continue increasing until about 2030, then begin falling. India, also a developing country, has been
increasing its fossil fuel-driven energy production at similar (high) annual
rates of growth as China, although its absolute numerical production
is much lower.The pledges by China and India are not stated in quantified numerical
amounts, but rather in terms of reaching an unspecified maximum annual rate of
emission by 2030, and reducing the annual rate thereafter.(Please see Details below for further
discussion of these three cases.)
Kyoto established an unworkable two-tiered
division among nations of the U. N., applying nation-by-nation numerical goals
for reducing GHG emissions only to the set of industrialized nations.As a result, the U. S., the nation with the highest annual
emission rates at the time, did not ratify the protocol (see Details) and so
was not bound by its terms.
Over the next 15
years the U. N. nations sought unsuccessfully to agree on a treaty to take
effect as Kyoto’s term drew to a close.These negotiations were pursued along the
same lines as Kyoto, codifying emission rate reductions and
trying to resolve the divisions between industrialized and developing
countries.Over this period warming
continued mostly unrestrained as emission rates increased.Climate scientists repeatedly issued reports
warning of the harmful consequences of worldwide inaction during this period.
conference in Paris in early December 2015 will consider a
radically different draft treaty.First,
all U.N. member nations are to be constrained by its terms, eliminating the
division of nations into two groups.And
second, rather than imposing numerical emission rate reductions within the
framework of the treaty, each nation is to submit its own domestically-generated
emission reduction goals to the U.N. (see examples in Details).Clearly mechanisms for measuring, reporting and
validating each nation’s emission rates have to be included in the treaty.The draft further suggests that nations
submit additional, more robust reductions of emission rates in future
years.Other aspects of the draft deal
with finance, and land use change and reforestation.
problems may still persist for decarbonizing the energy economy, however.The International Energy Agency’s World
warns that plans currently being discussed for limiting emission rates may be too slow.Another report discloses that China’s accounting of historical use of coal may
have underestimated the actual amount by 17%.Yet another account discusses
the difficulties that India will face as it seeks to reduce emission
rates while still accommodating the needs of its growing population, expected
to reach 1.5 billion by 2030.
Public opinion in
39 of 40 countries surveyed (except Pakistan) agrees that global GHG emissions need to be
reduced, according to a poll by the PewResearchCenter.About 70% of polled people in the U.S. and China supported this view.Polls such as this should provide strong support
for negotiators to approve a final treaty this year.
draft treaty that will be considered at the Paris conference has the potential of resolving
the difficulties identified in the U.S. at the time Kyoto was under consideration.All nations are to be bound by its terms in
equitable fashion.And commitments for
reduced GHG emission rates will be generated within each nation and deposited
with the U.N. for reporting and verification.These terms should significantly allay the scientific, political and
economic concerns that were voiced in the U.S. Congress when Kyoto was under consideration (see Details).We fervently hope that the Paris conference will succeed in agreeing to a
final treaty, which will then be considered for adoption by each U.N. member
nation.In particular, the U.S. Senate
should be able to consider such a treaty in a favorable light.
of view between developed and developing countries in Kyoto.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, consider equity as supporting a policy that developing
countries should constrain their emissions since they are now the ones most
responsible for expanding the world’s burden of atmospheric GHGs.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 emphasize
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.
U. S. Congressional Remarks on Kyoto.The
following paragraphs provide quotes from the Congressional Record of comments
in both the House of Representatives and the Senate regarding Kyoto.They
refer to the Sense of the Senate, Senate Resolution (S. R.) 98, offered by
Senators Byrd and Hagel, objecting to Kyoto.It
was approved by a vote of 95-0 late in 1997.
Senator Byrd, January 29, 1998:
“Now…I am not a scientist…I just sense that something is going on out
there….[S]cientific evidence suggests [that]…should global warming occur, by
the time we have absolute confirmation…it might well be too late to take
preventative action.…I believe that it might be prudent to undertake cost-effective
measures to deal with the risk of climate change as a form of global insurance
satisfy the two [Byrd-Hagel] goals that were agreed upon: ‘the United States
should not be a signatory to any protocol…which would—(A) mandate new
commitments to limit or reduce[GHG]
emissions for [developed countries] unless the protocol…also mandates new
…commitments…for Developing countr[ies], or (B) would result in serious harm to
the economy of the [U.S.]….Kyoto…did not meet either of these two Senate
response from the developing world is to argue that the industrialized nations
should make all of the reductions, because of the developed world’s
historically high levels of [GHG] emissions.…
argument is…unsound….China…will become the largest emitter of CO2…during the
first half of the next century, surpassing the [U.S.]”(In fact this happened already by about 2009.)
Hamilton, February 3, 1998:Mr. Hamilton was an expert on foreign affairs.He quoted from his newsletter: “Developing countries argue that they are
not the chief source of emissions, and they cannot reduce fossil fuel use
without harming economic growth.The…contribution of developing countries [to GHGs] is expected to rise
over the next decade.
“U.S. business and
labor groups strongly oppose allowing developing countries to reduce emissions
[more slowly] than industrial countries.This discrepancy…will encourage companies to move operations to
developing countries with lower energy prices—and take thousands of jobs with
“The pressing question is how much should we
sacrifice now to buy insurance against unknown future threats….
“[G]radual steps now to reduce reliance on fossil
fuels could prevent disruptive climate change later—change that could severely
damage the economies of the world.If we
do not get this right, our grandchildren will not—and should not—forgive us.”
Representative Peterson, March 12, 1998:
“Here are some risks not mentioned by [Kyoto] treaty supporters: the risk that
energy suppression mandates will devastate employment in major U. S.
industries; that rising [energy] prices will depress the living standards of
American families; [and] that new tax and regulatory policies will…risk the
surrendering of more U. S. sovereignty to the U.N.”
Representative Danner, March 18, 1998:“I express my opposition to…Kyoto…. Economists predict that [it] will have a
devastating and disproportionate effect on…the [U. S.]Further, these…reductions [apply] only to
developed nations and do not apply to developing nations such as India and China, two of the worst violators [of GHG]
Senator Hagel, April 20, 1998:S. R.
98 “directed the President not to sign any treaty that placed legally binding
obligations on the [U. S.] to limit or reduce [GHG] emissions unless—unless—the
… agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit [GHG]
emissions for Developing Countr[ies]…Meaning simply that if this was a global
problem, it required a global solution….
… economic studies predicted serious … harm, [including] job losses in the
range of over 2 million, large increases in energy costs,…a drop in economic
growth rates of more than 1 percent…and major American industries being driven
out of business….”
Nationally Determined Contributions.
The intended contributions of the U.S., China and India, submitted to the U.N. in preparation for
the Paris conference, are summarized here.
U. S.The U. S. is committing to reduce its emissions from
the level of 2005 by 26-28% by 2025, with best efforts made to achieve 28%
reduction.President Obama has already put in
place several policies that will contribute to meeting this goal.This program places the U. S. on a longer-term path to achieve an
economy-wide reduction in GHG emissions of 80% by 2050.
China has been increasing its use of coal and
other fossil fuels dramatically since Kyoto was negotiated, emphasizing its
justification to industrialize rapidly.Its emission rates continue growing because it is adding new fossil
fuel-driven electric generating plants to power its expanding economy.Its reconsidered goals were outlined in the
summit meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Obama in 2014.Its goal,
confirmed for the U. N.’s Paris conference, is that the annual rate of GHG
emissions will reach a maximum by 2030 and possibly sooner, and then decline.China’s commitment to slow the growth of its
emissions was not specified in numerical terms.As part of this initiative China expects to use fossil fuel-derived energy
more efficiently, to increase the share of energy derived from renewable
sources to 20% by 2030, and to expand its forested lands.It is to be emphasized that China’s numerical rate of emissions will not
begin declining until about 2030.
India has been rapidly expanding its energy
production from fossil fuels, especially coal.As recently as 2014, Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister of environment, forests and
climate change, rejected constraining its growth and reducing its emission rate.India’s first responsibility, he stated, is to
reduce poverty and expand the country’s economy, rather than reduce GHG
emissions.In this regard India’s justification resembles the earlier Chinese
a change from this policy, India’s commitment for the Paris conference intends to increase its energy
efficiency by 33 to 35% from its 2005 level by 2030.This program includes a goal of expanding
non-fossil fuel-derived energy (currently at a very low level) by 40% by 2030,
relying on foreign assistance.In
addition it will add new forest lands to help remove CO2 from the
air.It is noteworthy that India, like China, does not state a numerical amount of
actual reduction in its rate of emissions, only a slowdown in the rate of
increase of its emissions.