It is becoming apparent that 2015 may be a critical year for the issue of climate change, in more ways than one. The obvious way, of course, is through the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop21) opening in Paris in six months, where the world community will try to agree a legally binding deal to limit the carbon emissions causing the atmosphere to warm (and for which the Global Apollo Programme to lower the cost of low-carbon energy, which we report on today, might play a vital role).
The Paris conference may be the final chance the world gets to keep rising temperatures below the agreed danger threshold of 2C above the pre-industrial level. The last attempt to cut such a deal, at Copenhagen in 2009, collapsed amid fierce argument about who should do what, between the developed countries, led by the Americans, and the developing nations, led by the Chinese.
This time around, some of the auguries are better, not least because last November the Americans and the Chinese announced their own bilateral climate accord, each agreeing to cut their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to a greater degree than at any point before and to work together to reach agreement. This is vital because these are the two biggest carbon emitters, between them accounting for 45 per cent of the global total (China with 29 per cent, and the US with 16 per cent).
If there is a major obstacle remaining, it is the third-biggest emitter, India, currently with 8 per cent of the total, and rising. For India stresses that its prime national objective is economic development to pull its 1.25 billion people out of poverty, and, at the moment, that will be powered by burning cheap coal. Whether or not India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will agree to have his country’s vital development constrained by a legally binding emissions treaty remains to be seen; it looks very doubtful.
However, there is something that may comprehensively alter the mood music of Cop21, and give 2015 another significance for climate change altogether: this may be the year when the pause in the rapid progress of rising temperatures, which began after 1998, may be over.
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
In pictures: Changing climate around the world
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland
Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to 1,000 square kilometers in the past decade. It shrinks mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water
A boat navigates among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Boats are a crucial mode of transportation in the country that has few roads. As cities like Miami, New York and other vulnerable spots around the world strategize about how to respond to climate change, many Greenlanders simply do what theyve always done: adapt. 'Were used to change, said Greenlander Pilu Neilsen. 'We learn to adapt to whatever comes. If all the glaciers melt, well just get more land
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen after being inaugurated in Longyearbyen, Norway. The 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters opened deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
A technician preparing to drain a vast underground lake at the Tete Rousse glacier on the Mont Blanc Alpine mountain, to avert a potentially disatrous flood. Some 65,000 cubic metres (2.3 million cubic feet) of water have gathered in a cavity, dangerously raising the pressure beneath the mountain, a favourite spot for holiday makers in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains
Cracked mud is picture at sunrise in the dried shores of Lake Gruyere affected by continuous drought near the western Switzerland village of Avry-devant-Pont. A leading climate scientist warned that Europe should take action over increasing drought and floods, stressing that some climate change trends were clear despite variations in predictions
Cattle graze on grassland that remains dry and brown at the height of the rainy season in south of Bakersfield, California. Its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and dating back as far as 500 years, according to some scientists who study tree rings
An aerial view shows tents of flood-displaced people surrounded by water in southern Sehwan town. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres met with people displaced by last year's devastating floods. Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in 2010 and affected some 20 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land
An aerial view of flooding in North Wagga Wagga. Climate change is amplifying risks from drought, floods, storm and rising seas, threatening all countries but small island states, poor nations and arid regions in particular, UN experts warned
Damages caused by a landslide on the Pan-American highway near La Moramulca, 55 Km south of Tegucigalpa. International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change
A resident sprays water on a peatland fire in Pekanbaru district in Riau province on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters because of rampant deforestation. US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it 'the world's largest weapon of mass destruction'
An excavator clearing a peatland forest area for a palm oil plantations in Trumon subdistrict, Aceh province, on Indonesia's Sumatra island. As Southeast Asia's largest economy grows rapidly, swathes of biodiverse forests across the archipelago of 17,000 islands have been cleared to make way for paper and palm oil plantations, as well as for mining and agriculture. The destruction has ravaged biodiversity, placing animals such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers in danger of extinction, while also leading to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide
Stagnant rain water with tannery waste make the Hazaribagh area in Old Dhaka as well as Buriganga River the most polluted. Each year during the seven-month long dry season between October and April the Buriganga River becomes totally stagnant with its upstream region drying up and becoming polluted from toxic waste from city industries
Waste water from Dhaka city drained to the River Buriganga contributes to its pollutions. On the World Water Day observed in 2007 under the theme Coping with Water Scarcity, under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, DrikNEWS explores some of the images of the river. UN-Water has identified coping with water scarcity as part of the strategic issues and priorities requiring joint UN action. The theme highlights the significance of cooperation and importance of an integrated approach to water resource management of water at international, national and local levels
Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. China's Environment Ministry said it will send inspection teams to provinces and cities most seriously affected by smog to ensure rules on fighting air pollution are being enforced
The fact that the soaring world temperatures of the 1980s and 1990s began to flatline has puzzled climate scientists (and given comfort to climate sceptics). Computer models predicted that the mercury would steadily go up as carbon poured into the sky, and pour it has – 40 billion tons a year, now; and two months ago the level of atmospheric CO2 crossed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time (when scientists began to measure it in 1958 it was 315ppm). It is likely that its effect is being buffered in some way, perhaps with increased atmospheric heat being absorbed by the deep oceans.
But climate scientists’ view has always been that the obvious rise in global air temperatures will, sooner or later, resume; and there are signs that this is happening now. What might seem like such a sign is India’s current heatwave, one of the worst in its history, which, with temperatures approaching 50C, has claimed nearly 2,000 lives in 10 days; but this may be part of natural climate variability, and may end with the monsoon. We are on surer ground with the temperature figures. It appears that 2015 may be the hottest year in history recorded for the world, by some margin.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “The first four months of 2015 was the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 0.80C (1.44F) above the 20th-century average, surpassing the previous record of 2010 by 0.07C (0.13F).” Several countries have already experienced national record temperatures, and on 14 March Antarctica experienced its warmest recorded day, at 17.4C (63.3F).
Dr Johnson famously said that “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. If 2015 is the year in which climate change resumes its dramatic upward march, it may concentrate a lot of minds in Paris, come December.Reuse content