Demonstrators have been out in force at the COP 22 climate conference to urge the world leaders in Marrakesh to pull their fingers out and do something meaningful. But hanging over everything like a cloud is the doubt about America’s commitment once Donald Trump sits in the White House.
Trump’s election win has sent a shiver through the environmental movement, and the 2015 Paris agreement, so hard-won, looks in mortal danger.
In his campaign Trump promised to get America’s coalminers digging again, and increase fossil fuel production. So what if that sends CO2 levels through the roof?
Because for him, global warming is just a big con, a Chinese trick to raise costs in America and cripple its economy.
China, currently the world’s biggest polluter, sees American disengagement as the chance for it to spearhead the fight against climate change.
“China will take the lead, especially actively participating in all kinds of activities in drastic climate change. And also I think that China will totally, totally deal with climate change seriously,” says the Director of the Chinese National Centre for Climate Change Strategy
and International Cooperation, Liu Qiang.
China’s reduction in coal use is mainly responsible for the stabilisation in global CO2 levels for the third successive year, from 2014. This good news, announced in Marrakesh, is encouraging.
However scientists warn that this does not mean the worst is over. Peak emissions are likely yet to come, and the global warming process continues. Like a supertanker, it is hard to stop.
“On instruments of record so far and if you look at the first nine months of this year, we are fairly high up again and we are breaking all the records. And it’s likely that we are going to reach this year 1.2 degrees warming level. We are going in the wrong direction if you think of the 1.5 degrees warming level which was agreed last year in Paris,” says the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas.
NASA data shows that atmospheric CO2 levels went above 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history, (Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record)*, in 2013. In 1950 the then-historic level of 300 ppm was breached.
This has led scientists to conclude that current climate change is a scientific reality and that the Earth is about to enter a new geological era, the Anthropocene, when the climate is shaped and modified by human action and not the forces of nature.
The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.
Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.
The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.
Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. They also show that in the past, large changes in climate have happened very quickly, geologically-speaking: in tens of years, not in millions or even thousands