Changing Planet

Report: Current Efforts to Slow Global Warming Not Sufficient

Days before world leaders meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference, a new report warns that the opportunity to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels is diminishing. The “Emissions Gap Report 2013,” compiled yearly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), looks at how each nation is meeting its pledge to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. The latest findings suggest that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to reach 59 gigatons. Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, emissions would be 8-12 gigatons too high (roughly the equivalent of 80 percent of emissions coming from the world’s power plants right now). A 44-gigaton level, agreed at the 2010 U.N. Climate Conference in Cancun, is needed in 2020 to attain the 2-degree goal.

“As the report highlights, delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Director Achim Steiner. “This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.”

The 2020 target could still be achieved, Steiner said, through stronger pledges that scale up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy. Agricultural practices that could reduce emissions, such as expansion of no-till farming and improved water management, are also explored.

The World Meteorological Organisation released its annual report, a day after the UNEP study, showing that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide all broke records in 2012. The volume of carbon dioxide grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade, reaching 41 percent above pre-industrial levels.

“This year is worse than last year, 2011,” said Michael Jarraud, WMO secretary general. “2011 was worse than 2010. Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average.”

Obama Establishes Climate Change Adaptation Task Force

The UNEP report’s release follows issuance of an executive order by President Barack Obama aimed at making it simpler for state and local governments to respond to weather disasters as well as at directing federal agencies to revise programs and policies that might serve as a barrier to climate adaptation.

The order establishes the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which brings together localstate and tribal officials to advise the federal government on how to respond to climate impacts. The task force will recommend how structures built with federal money can be made more resilient to the effects of climate change.

“The impacts of climate change—including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise—are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation,” the president said in the Executive Order. “Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency operations, services, and programs.”

The order also establishes a second group—the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience—that will be co-chaired by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. It replaces the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force created in 2009. The group will consider the recommendations of the state, local and tribal leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Those recommendations will be related to modernizing federal programs to support climate-resilient investments and to planning for climate-change related risks.

Scientists Work to Deconstruct Climate Issues

As scientists study samples from an Antarctic ice sheet believed to date back 1.5 million years for clues on how Earth’s climate has changed, a senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official indicated the Obama administration is looking for ways to use its existing authority to tackle a powerful greenhouse gas: methane.

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sarah Dunham with the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs testified that the White House-led Interagency Task Force on Climate Change is searching for ways to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas through “incentive-based programs and existing authorities.” The leakage of the gas, some scientists at the hearing said, was inaccurately estimated by the agency in 2011.

One international team of engineers and scientists proposes a fleet of “methane-sniffing drones” that would be connected to sensors in smart phones as one way to help ensure drillers pay a state-imposed fee for any future leaked or flared gas. And at Duke, researchers are using a car equipped with special sensors to detect methane leaks and their concentrations from aging pipelines beneath cities, thereby providing a better estimate of how much this infrastructure is contributing to climate change.

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.
  • vonborks

    Ever increasing use of fossil fuels to produce heat and electricity to manufacture millions and millions of solar panels is a contributing factor in rising CO2 levels:

  • Jan Freed

    Vonborks: We need more solar panels.

    The energy needed to produce them is offset in only18 months of operation. Then for the next 24-39 years the panels produce energy without producing C02.

    If we want to look for “hidden impacts” look at coal. The Harvard School of Medicine (Epstein, lead author) lists over 70 negative impacts, costing taxpayers $300-$500 billion per year, primarily health related. That is a “hidden tax” that actually doubles the cost of coal energy. So, it is not cheap OR healthy.

  • Jan Freed

    All the pundits saying we cannot afford to move to low carbon energy systems should read this. The current costs of AGW are staggeringly higher than an all out transition to solar/wind.

    And the AGW costs will increase year by year, decade by decade. Crafty rhetoric will not pay those costs – due to increased drought, storms, forest fires, diseases…the list goes on.

  • Roger Bird

    LENR is on it’s way, and all of the hysterians will have to find something else to worry about.

  • Witness

    No matter what anyone does to stop global warming, it will fail. There are over a BILLION Indians, and a BILLION Chinese that all want to live a luxurious lifestyle just like the sanctimonious Europeans and Americans.

    India and China will not cripple themselves economically just to spare a few million lives (even their own people), so why should we cripple ourselves economically when it will make no difference?

    You want to end global warming? Have the UN stop giving out vaccinations and food and start giving out birth control pills and condoms. There was no global warming when there was only 1.5 billions people and at that time every person on earth burned fossil fuels.

  • DSL

    Good, vonborks. Better that than millions of dashboard religious effigies, Thor-the-movie toys, and, well, just about anything that produces five minutes of interest and ends up in a landfill. And what happens when we wait until fossil energy is well beyond peak? Do we start making solar panels then, at 10x the manufacturing and distribution cost? Or do we chuck everything and go completely nuclear?

  • Todd Topolski

    How could efforts work? First is the fact that it could in fact be natural. The planet has been significantly warmer and with more CO2 than any so called prediction of today, so that would mean any effort to slow it would fail. However, since I know the warmists cant accept any other theory except the one they produce, lets assume for a moment it could be caused or affected by humans. Then we get to the cause, CO2, one of the the core molecules that makes our entire biosphere run. The warmists completely disparage any other possibility except this, which is very unlikely to even be a cause especially by itself. For example, the mere presence of 7 billion heat producing human bodies and the billions of vehicles, hot water heaters, stoves, cook fires, heat producing automobile engines, the heat produced from coal plants, heat from making just about everything we use and eat, all of that heat also being produces exponentially since the beginning of the industrial revolution could be more of a factor or even the cause of global warming. All of that heat has to go somewhere. The point being the warmists have created a strawman they want to believe in, then they create so called computer models designed to always show the result they want, Humans cause global warming by over producing CO2. The actual evidence is sketchy at best and what does exist, along with earth’s 4 billion year history all point to CO2 not being a factor at all. So if CO2 is not the cause, then efforts to mitigate global warming using CO2, will also fail. Which is why there has not been much progress.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media