Ups and downs: climate change in January 2010

This post was contributed by Piper Corp, ESA Science Policy Analyst, and Katie Kline

A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks when it comes to climate change: 2009 was tied for the second warmest year on record, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and China joined several other rapidly industrializing nations in agreeing to submit plans to cut emissions by the end of the month. Here is an overview of recent climate change issues:

2009 listed among second warmest years in recorded history
According to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
research, the average global temperature in 2009 was only a fraction of a degree cooler than in 2005, the warmest year on record; it joined five other years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007—as second warmest.

Map showing increase in 2000-2009 average temperature compared to 1951-1980. Image Credit: NASA/GISS

Data were gathered from more than 1,000 weather stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface temperature and measurements from Antarctic research stations. A NASA video describes the analysis and implications of the data, and the possible causes of the temperature hike.

And according to GISS and analyses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last decade was the warmest on record—average global temperatures have risen about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade over the last thirty years.

James Hansen, GISS director, says in the NASA article:

There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point. There’s substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated.

Murkowski introduces resolution to prevent EPA action
To keep EPA from moving forward with plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a “disapproval” resolution, which would retroactively veto the agency’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.

Murkowski’s resolution has little chance of succeeding—even if it makes it through Congress (Murkowski decided to use a disapproval resolution because it requires 51 Senate votes rather than 60, as an amendment would require), President Obama would still have the option of vetoing it.

Senate Climate Bill
Chances of a climate law in 2010 are slim. With unemployment at 10 percent, a still-weak economy and midterm elections on the way, the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress will likely focus almost entirely on creating jobs.

Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will proceed with a combined climate and energy bill in the spring. Reid is currently waiting for Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to draft a bipartisan climate bill with enough Republican-friendly energy provisions (expanded nuclear power and offshore drilling, for example) to push it over the 60-vote threshold.

Beyond the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham effort, lawmakers have several other legislative options for curbing emissions, including the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act, sponsored by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, and Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican.

No matter which approach the Senate takes, the 2010 election presents a major obstacle, since many Democratic senators will face tough races for reelection back home, making them more likely to shy away from controversial votes. In addition, the Democratic Party is reeling after two blows at the end of last week: The Supreme Court’s rejection of corporate campaign spending limits and Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts special election to replace the late Democratic senator, Ted Kennedy.

More on some of the above stories can be found in the latest ESA Policy News Update.

China plans to cut emissions and to keep an ‘open mind’ about climate change
Brazil, South Africa, India, and China met this month in New Delhi to discuss their role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. In keeping with a deadline set in the Copenhagen accord, the quickly developing nations—collectively referred to as “BASIC” in climate talks—plan to submit a
framework for emission reductions to the United Nations by the end of January.

Emissions from a factory in Qinghai province, China

Of particular interest was China, whose stance on climate change has shifted markedly in recent years. Once resistant to capping emissions, the world’s largest emitter made clear its commitment to mitigation efforts at the BASIC talks. Xie Zhenhua, China’s senior negotiator on climate change, said that climate warming was a “solid fact” and vowed continued engagement in international efforts. A BBC News article provides more detail.

Prior to the Copenhagen summit, China had pledged to reduce its carbon intensity (emissions per unit of economic growth) to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade.  This would require China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent each year, assuming an annual economic growth rate of 8-9 percent.

ESA releases position statement on ecosystem management in a changing climate
The Ecological Society of America released a
position statement yesterday outlining the role of ecosystems in mitigating and adapting to climate change. As ESA’s president Mary Powers said in the press release:

Decision-makers cannot overlook the critical services ecosystems provide. If we are going to reduce the possibility of irreversible damage to the environment under climate change, we need to take swift but measured action to protect and manage our ecosystems.

Photo Credit (factory in China): / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0