Changing Planet

Global Temperature Rises in 2012, Climate Conditions Questioned

Just days after the announcement that last year was the warmest in history for the continental United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found global temperatures are rising too.

In their separate annual analyses of surface temperatures, NASA and NOAA ranked 2012 among the 10 warmest years on record globally (NOAA showed 2012 as the 10th warmest while NASA found it to be the ninth warmest). With the exception of 1998, the nine hottest years have occurred since 2000—with 2005 and 2010 coming in the hottest. Both agencies reported temperatures across Earth rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit.

While each successive year may not be warmer than the year prior, with the current course of greenhouse gas increases, NASA scientists expect each decade to be hotter than the next. “One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” said NASA GISS Climatologist Gavin Schmidt. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, according to NASA, were 285 parts per million in 1880; now they are more than 390 parts per million.

Studies out this week in two scholarly journals look more closely at the effects of warming. One, in the journal Nature Climate Change, reports the world may be able to avoid 20 to 65 percent of the adverse effects of climate change by the end of this century. The other finds soot just may be the second-largest contributor to climate change, and that certain emissions cuts could produce cooling effects. “Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer, as there are tandem health and climate benefits,” said University of Leeds co-author Piers Forster. “If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions, we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming, or a couple of decades of respite.” A scientist in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography tells Nature the study does not answer questions about the overall effect of aerosol emissions on climate.

Last week, a federal study also laid much of the blame for record U.S. temperatures on greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity.

Renewable Energy on the Map

While representatives from France and the United Nations discussed the importance of renewable energy at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, delegates remained unsure whether the U.N. 2030 target of 30 percent renewables is achievable. “The shift towards low-carbon energy has started,” said Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “But it is not happening at the scale or speed required.” Fossil fuels still account for about 80 percent of the global energy mix.

As Ontario phased out coal and the first portion of an offshore wind power line in the northeastern U.S. moved ahead, one organization launched an open-access global atlas aimed at helping countries assess their renewable-energy-generating potential to better meet the target. The map only offers solar and wind data sets currently, but other renewable information will be added in the future.

Sandy Relief Package Passes House

Weeks following Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a roughly $50 billion package designed to provide backing for long-term structural repairs as well as emergency relief for victims in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. It comes on top of a nearly $10 billion package to replenish flood insurance programs authorized earlier this month. The damage is extensive, with areas such as New York requesting nearly $42 billion from the federal government.

The Senate is expected to consider the aid next week.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.
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