Global warming isn't slowing, report says

The first decade of this century is very likely the warmest one in modern record, a global meteorological agency says.

COPENHAGEN--Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization made public Tuesday.

The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record, dating back 150 years, according to a provisional summary of climate conditions near the end of 2009, the organization said.

The period from 2000 through 2009 has been "warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s and so on," said Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency, speaking at a news conference at the climate talks in Copenhagen.

The international assessment largely meshes with interim analysis by the National Climatic Data Center and NASA in the United States, both of which independently estimate global and regional temperature and other weather trends.

Jarraud also said that 2009, with some uncertainty because several weeks remain, appears to be the fifth warmest year on record.

Addressing questions raised about the reliability of climate data after the unauthorized release of e-mail messages and files from a British climate research unit that provides data to the global weather group, he said there was no evidence that the various independent estimates showing a warming world were in doubt.

The press conference early Tuesday came after the European Commission reacted to a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pave the way for federal limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, saying it should give further impetus to negotiations underway here aimed at crafting a new global agreement to curb greenhouse gases.

The so-called endangerment finding by the EPA was "an important signal by the Obama administration that they are serious about tackling climate change and are demonstrating leadership," a spokesman from the European Commission said. The finding "gives new momentum following their announcement of cuts," he said.

Political leaders in Copenhagen welcomed the ruling, but they were quick to press the Obama administration to do more now to sweeten its offer.

Andreas Carlgren, the environment minister of Sweden, the country that currently holds the rotating presidency of the E.U., said in an e-mail message on Tuesday morning that the ruling "shows that the United States can do more than they have put on the table."

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish politician who was elected on Monday as president of the conference, said in an e-mail message on Tuesday morning that the ruling in the United States "is a helpful step, as it could provide a larger degree of flexibility in the negotiations." So far President Barack Obama has signaled a cut in emissions by about 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. The White House also has indicated that the United States would contribute to a fund to tackle climate change.

The gathering of more than 190 nations in Copenhagen opened on Monday with appeals for urgent action from the United Nations and from officials of countries endangered by warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and other damage such as melting glaciers.

Activists on hand
As the climate meeting got under way on Tuesday morning, inside the vast blocks that make up the conference center, environmental groups already were chanting in favor of preservation of forests and handing out symbolic cardboard cutouts labeled as carbon dioxide in the central area.

Copenhagen

Representatives from governments said there would be further ceremonial events before the hard negotiating begins, later on Tuesday.

A major reason that hopes have risen in recent weeks is the expectation that President Obama--who plans to attend closing days of the conference next week--will formally commit the United States to making cuts in greenhouse gases. The United States declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a previous agreement on curbing greenhouse gases, because of strong opposition in the Senate and from the Bush administration.

The refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol has left a lingering mistrust of the United States in other parts of the world. The finding by the EPA is expected to allow President Obama to tell delegates in Copenhagen that the United States is moving aggressively to address the problem even while Congress remains stalled on broader legislation to curb global warming legislation.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that in light of the ruling, "the president's appearance in Copenhagen will carry even more weight, because it shows that America is taking this issue very seriously and is moving forward."

Over the next two weeks, the nations gathered in Copenhagen will try to reach what has so far been elusive common ground on the issue of climate change.

Delegates will try to hammer out some of the most vexing details attending the pursuit of a global climate deal. These include broad cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from big polluters like the United States and China, and a commitment from wealthy nations to deliver what could ultimately be hundreds of billions of dollars in financing to poor countries, which argue that they are ill equipped to deal with a problem they did little to create.

Several countries announced new emissions goals in the days leading up to the meeting here, including China, Brazil, the United States and more recently India and South Africa. But many conference participants have noted that these commitments remain far too low to keep rising temperatures in check over coming decades.

The pledges so far are "not going to get us as far we need to go, to really stay within the two-degree limit," Koko Warner, an observer with the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany, said Monday. He was referring to scientists' recommendations that temperature increases be capped at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

"We don't want to admit it, because the consequences are so bad," she said.

Still, speakers at the conference's opening plenary session--which began with a video appeal from children across the world to save them from what looked like an apocalyptic future of deserts and rising seas--were clearly aiming to spur negotiators forward.

String of commitments
After several hundred delegates and observers settled inside the main conference hall of the Bella Center to music from a trumpeter, a harpist and the Danish Girls Choir, Hedegaard, the Danish minister presiding over the conference, noted the recent string of emissions commitments by various countries.

"Every positive announcement will improve our chances of staying below the two degrees Celsius target," she said. "But as we all know only too well, we are not there yet."

"This goes for financing as well," Hedegaard said, noting that arriving at a consensus on that issue "may be an even bigger challenge" than emissions cuts.

Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke before delegates of the urgent need for action. And, alluding to a recent controversy over e-mail messages between scientists hacked from a university computer server, he had pointed remarks for those who "find it difficult to accept" climate change science.

Climate change skeptics have argued that the e-mail shows that the evidence for global warming is less unequivocal than scientists assert.

But Pachauri ticked off a list of trends that robustly reflect the warming of the global climate. "Internal consistency from multiple lines of evidence strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including the individuals singled out in these e-mail messages," he said.

Both inside and outside the plenary session, the mood among negotiators and other participants was one of cautious optimism. Alden Meyer, who directs climate policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was encouraged that the meeting appeared to have nudged previously reluctant nations to begin offering up emissions cuts.

"It has focused attention and gotten all the major players to put their initial offers on the table," Meyer said. "I think that's good news."

Still, negotiators who have spent the last year working out the technical details of a potential treaty are now coming up hard against political pressures at much higher levels that will ultimately shape any agreement.

Threat of politics as usual
The challenge, Meyer said, will be getting parties to "rise above the politics as usual" that threatens to bog down the process.

Jonathan Pershing, the State Department's special climate envoy, who represented the United States at the opening plenary, said he saw strong signs that the conference would prove critical in getting traction on curbing emissions and helping poor countries that are urgently threatened by climate change--particularly given the decision by more than 100 leaders, including President Obama, to attend.

He said he saw no indication that efforts could be blunted by Saudi Arabia and other countries that have cited the e-mail flap in challenging climate findings.

At a subsequent news conference, however, Pershing faced questions from European reporters about the adequacy of Obama's plan for emissions cuts, which is roughly parallel to what is laid out in legislation in the House and Senate.

Pershing said the American proposal--which calls for a reduction in emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, 42 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050--was in keeping with cuts that scientists say would avert the worst dangers, but only if all countries, including emerging economies, did their part.

"It's a vision that moves the United States down the curve of greenhouse gas emissions at a level that no other country has even begun to seriously contemplate," Pershing said. While the United States produces one-fifth of worldwide greenhouse emissions, he noted, four-fifths are coming from elsewhere.

"Unless the world can combine its efforts, we won't solve the problem," he said.

'Alternate' treaties
Outside the Bella Center, calls were growing for conference participants to overcome their differences and deliver results in coming days.

An open letter from a coalition of groups, including Friends of the Earth, the Third World Network and others, accused Danish leaders of "undemocratic practices" and of "convening small and exclusive groups of countries before the Copenhagen meeting."

The assertion is a reference to rumors that "alternate" treaties are being readied by some big players, including conference organizers, should efforts to resolve differences on the current text prove fruitless.

Meanwhile, 56 newspapers around the world published the same editorial calling for "decisive action" in Copenhagen.

"In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage," read the editorial, which was widely distributed in a campaign led by Britain's Guardian newspaper. "Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted."

Continued inaction will ravage the planet and wreak havoc on economies and livelihoods, the editorial's authors warned.

"The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it," the editorial said. "We implore them to make the right choice."

Tom Zeller Jr. contributed reporting from Copenhagen, and John M. Broder contributed from in Washington.

Entire contents, Copyright © 2009 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF