Adding fuel to the fire

Media coverage of the international climate change negotiations is picking up speed as U.N. SG Ban Ki-moon’s September 23 Climate Summit draws near.  Today my local paper, the Valley News (warmly referred to as the Valley Snooze locally), implicitly covered the Summit in two ways.  A headline in the lower half of the front page shouts Report:  Big Surge in Carbon Gases and a letter to the editor on the Forum page is entitled Creating a Climate of Hope.

WMO logoThe front page story focuses on data from the most recent issue of the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin from the WMO (World Meteorological Organization, co-founder along with UNEP, the U.N. Environmental Programme, of the IPCC or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  This data comes from observations from WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) network of 125 monitoring stations worldwide.  Fresh off the press today, the Bulletin highlights that:

  • between 1990 and 2013, radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – increased 34%because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.
  • concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2013 was 142% of the pre-industrial era (1750), and of methane and nitrous oxide, 253% and 121% respectively.
  • CO2 levels increased more between 2012 and 2013 than during any other year since 1984. Preliminary data indicates that this was possibly related to reduced CO2 uptake by the earth’s biosphere in addition to the steadily increasing CO2 emissions. (Oceans absorb about a quarter of total emissions and another quarter is taken up by the biosphere, thereby reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.)

In other words, not only are we continuing to increase our CO2 emissions, but those already sent into the atmosphere in years passed have clogged the earth’s – meaning the ocean’s  and plants’ – capacity to store it in a way that doesn’t drive up the atmosphere’s temperature.

mussleAnd not only does it look like the ocean is maxing out its absorption capacity, but in getting to this point, the uptake process is resulting in sea level rise and ocean acidification.  The Bulletin reports that the current rate of ocean acidification appears unprecedented in the last 300 million years.  (Read this Daily Climate story on how ocean acidification affects mussels, their ecosystems, and the commerical fishing industry built around both.)

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud states in today’s press release that “We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.  The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years. We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board.  We are running out of time.”

Mr Jarraud ends with “Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”


A negotiating “huddle” at COP19’s closing plenary.

Which leads to the Forum letter encouraging people to join the People’s Climate March scheduled to take place just before the UN Climate Summit.  While the laws of physics are not negotiable, international treaties on climate change are.

The Summit is intended to put world leaders, who will gather in New York for the annual General Assembly meeting, on the spot:  to shine a light on what countries are and are not doing under their existing obligations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, as well as in the negotiation of new ones.  (For more on the summit, read this interview with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is now serving as one of Ban Ki-moon’s three special envoys on climate change [along with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former president of Ghana John Kufuor]).  Given the shift to bottom-up, nationally determined mitigation and adaptation commitments in the ADP negotiations, March organizers like want U.S. officials (and those of other countries) to see physically the political support for agreeing to further emissions limits.