The Turkana tribe of northern Kenya in East Africa are buffeted by constant drought and food insecurity, which recent research says may be worsening due to climate change. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
As officials meet at the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa, the world continues to heat up. The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced that they expect 2011 to be the warmest La Niña year since record keeping began in 1850. The opposite of El Nino, a La Niña event causes general cooling in global temperatures.
“Despite La Niña, it was a very, very warm year to the point that it is the warmest decade on record,” explained WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud during a press briefing in Geneva.
Even with the cooling impact of La Niña, this year is on track to becoming the 10th warmest yet. In fact, the 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 15 years with the 2000s being the warmest decade to date.
“Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities,” Jarraud said.
The effects of this heat are being felt far-and-wide. This year saw the Arctic’s sea ice hit its lowest volume on record and have its second lowest extent. Ice shelves in Canada have halved in the last six years. Meanwhile, with wider recognition of the impacts of climate change on severe weather, this year was also notable for an unusually large amount of extreme weather events. For example, 2011 saw drought and famine in East Africa, killing over tens-of-thousands of people; massive floods in Asia and the Americas with a record-breaking deluge in Thailand, dubbed its worst natural disaster in history; a wide-variety of extreme weather events in the US, including an extended drought and heatwave in Texas; as well as a below-average year for tropical cyclones.
Meanwhile, the UN has reported that concentration of greenhouse gases have hit a new high in the atmosphere, and emissions levels for last year beat worse-case-scenarios.
“[Greenhouse gas emissions] are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a rise of 2 to 2.4-degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures which scientists believe could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans,” Jarraud warns.
Despite this, many observers expect little progress at the Climate Summit in South Africa, where one of the main issues is what to do with the Kyoto Treaty—the only legally binding treat focusing on emissions reductions—when it expires next year. Some industrial nations, such as the US, are pushing to hold off any new treaty taking effect until 2020. Yet, scientists warn that emissions must peak this decade and decline rapidly if nations are to meet their previous pledges of holding down warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Despite widespread pessimism that Durban will accomplish what is needed to stem catastrophic climate change, South African president, Jacob Zuma, said on the first day: “Nothing is impossible in Durban over the next two weeks.”
(11/29/2011) In opening the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa yesterday, Jacob Zuma, president of the host country said that delegates must remember what is at stake.
(11/28/2011) Pope Benedict XVI called for a “responsible” deal at the Vatican today just ahead of the two week Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa.
(11/28/2011) The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2010, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which found that warming from greenhouse gases rose 29 percent from 1990 to 2010. The announcement was made just a few days prior to officials meet at the 17th Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa, where expectations are low for a strong, binding agreement with a number of wealthy nations stating they expect no new agreement to take affect until 2020.
(11/24/2011) Recent arctic sea ice loss is ‘unprecedented’ over the past 1,450 years, concludes a reconstruction of ice records published in the journal Nature.
(11/13/2011) Not known for alarmism and sometimes criticized for being too optimistic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that without bold action in the next five years the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively ‘safe’ by many scientists and officials.
(11/10/2011) In what can only be described as a major victory for green activists, the Obama Administration has announced it will delay a decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline for 12-18 months. Notably, putting the decision off until after the last election. The delay comes less than a week after about 12,000 people encircled the White House in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which they argue threatens one of the most important water supplies in America’s heartland and will worsen climate change.
(11/06/2011) Global greenhouse gas emissions last year exceeded worst-case scenario predictions from just four years before, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). A rise of 6 percent (564 million additional tons) over 2009 levels was largely driven by three nations: the US, India, and China. Emissions from burning coal jumped 8 percent overall. The new data, supported by a similar report from International Energy Agency (IEA), make it even more difficult for nations to make good on a previous pledge to hold back the world from warming over 2 degrees Celsius.
(11/02/2011) Unprecedented flooding in Thailand, torrential rains pummeling El Salvador, long-term and beyond-extreme drought in Texas, killer snowstorm in the eastern US—and that’s just the last month or so. Extreme weather worldwide appears to be both increasing in frequency and intensity, and a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) connects the dots between wilder weather patterns and global climate change.
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It’s not the baby’s or the parent’s fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth’s seventh billionth person will be born today. That’s seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.
(10/28/2011) Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney reversed his position on the underlying drivers of recent climate climate change, stating “we don’t know what’s causing climate change,” reports ThinkProgress.org.
(10/26/2011) Last year’s Russian heatwave and drought resulted in vast wildfires and a morality rate that was 56,000 people higher than the same period in 2009. Now, researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that finds the heatwave would very likely have never happened if not for climate change. The study flies in the face of previous research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded the heatwave was simply due to natural variation and not a warming world.
(10/24/2011) If governments are to keep the pledge they made in Copenhagen to limit global warming within the ‘safe range’ of two degrees Celsius, they are running out of time, according to two sobering papers from Nature. One of the studies finds that if the world is to have a 66 percent chance of staying below a rise of two degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak in less than a decade and fall quickly thereafter. The other study predicts that pats of Europe, Asia, North Africa and Canada could see a rise beyond two degrees Celsius within just twenty years.