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| Last Updated:01/12/2020

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Emission impossible: Weather's turning on climate change

On May 10 the planet marked a milestone of sorts. Scientists recorded that for every million molecules of air, 400 were of carbon dioxide - the key gas that accumulates over decades in the air and leads to global warming. The figure sent alarm bells ringing. A large section of scientists has long predicted that if the accumulated CO ² rose above 350 parts per million (about 200 years ago the concentration was 280ppm) it'd trigger catastrophic, perhaps irreversible changes. When the 400ppm mark was reached, global media went into a spin. Scientists and civil society called for swift action to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Meantime, another debate rages. For the past decade, even as CO ² concentration and GHG emissions rose dramatically, earth's surface temperatures seem to be stabilizing. Although GHG emissions were rising, global temperatures weren't going up as many predictive models showed.


Real surface temperatures between 2000 and 2010 stayed at the lowest end of the range that scientific models predicted. That meant global temperatures weren't responding to the rise in emissions at the high level as was predicted. This suggested that the climate change juggernaut wasn't hurtling towards humanity at the speed predicted earlier.


Climate deniers went to town flaunting the new data that the globe wasn't warming at the predicted rate. The messages ranged from 'Apocalypse postponed to Apocalypse: a mirage'. Then came May 10, the 400ppm limit was breached. Climate activists demanded leaders act fast to cut emissions. Somewhere, both the deniers and the activists got it wrong.


Not scientific facts, but the fact that the world's leadership engaged in negotiations to draw a global regime by 2015 (starts 2020) is climateinsensitive. Negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change never hinged on what science told nations, nor did leaders react as urgently as science urged them to. Had that been so, the 2009 Copenhagen meeting on the back of a calamitous IPCC report would've got the US to agree to urgent emission cuts. It would've forced EU to do more and forced China, Brazil, India and South Africa to greater responsibility.

Developed countries waffled, chose to wait till current annual GHG emissions of emerging economies rise and hasten a decision that'll make concerns of equity and justice fade away. Predictably, developing nations peaked or are nearpeaking emission levels.


Some rich nations have stitched a coalition of the willing, riding the necessity of least-developed countries that thrive through off-shore economies, but are ready to dispense with concerns about justice to quickly cut emissions. That could ensure that if a global agreement in 2015 forces a strong emission-cut regime, the burden-sharing needn't be proportionate to nations' responsibilities. Emerging science may be uncertain of how nature responds to increasing emissions, but there's little doubt temperatures have risen over the last century. Developed nations have stayed from acting climate responsible, building instead resilience to the challenge of economic competitiveness.






Source:The Times of India, 5 June 2013