Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Climate Change Year in Review 2014

The year 2014 will go down as one of the most important years in climate science, not so much because action was taken (though some was), but because it set the stage for definitive action in 2015. Some of these preliminary steps have been discussed on The Dake Page over the course of this past year; others will be delved into deeper as 2015 comes upon us.

One of the most critical events of 2014 actually occurred in the fall of 2013. The IPCC published the first volume of its Fifth Assessment Report (aka, AR5) - The Physical Science Basis. For those who missed it, the IPCC coordinates the thousands of scientists who volunteer their time over a period of about seven years to review and summarize the tens of thousands of new published scientific studies addressing various aspects of climate change. This year the conclusion from all that analysis is that:

"warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and "human influence has been the dominant cause of the warming."

The Physical Science Basis, of course, is only the first volume of the AR5. The remaining technical volumes: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and Mitigation of Climate Change were released in the spring of 2014. The Synthesis Report, which summarizes the main points of each of the technical points for policymakers, was released in October 2014.

But the IPCC wasn't the only organization to issue climate reports. In May 2014 the U.S. Climate Assessment report was released. Mandated by Congress in 1990, this is the third update to the report, which is the result of four years of work by more than 300 experts and a 60-member advisory committee. The first of twelve key findings:
Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.
The US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society have done their part to educate the public on man-made climate change. In February 2014 they jointly released Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, which documents the science behind man-made climate change, and does so in a manner that is more accessible to the lay public.

All of this is occurring in a year that in itself seems to want to document a warming planet - 2014 is on track to become the warmest year ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization (and every other climate research scientific organization). 

While some engage in denial of man-made climate change as a political tool, the world's scientists and most of the rest of the public and policymakers understand that action is necessary. In November 2014, American President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly announced an agreement in which both countries commit to reducing future carbon emissions. This agreement is historic and critically important to our global future as China and the US are the two biggest contributors to man-made climate change. Rumors of an impending deal with India, the third biggest emitter, are also in the air.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Lima, Peru
in December 2014. They emerged from the meeting with an agreement by all nations of the world to work towards reducing carbon emissions. This agreement is non-binding, but it sets the stage for next December's Conference of the Parties in Paris, where countries will strive to achieve binding agreements.

Much more happened in 2014 as well, and with El Nino conditions finally emerging after a long absence, 2014's "hottest year" record may well be broken by an even hotter 2015. Only time will tell for sure, but one thing is certain:

Man-made climate change is fact, it is here now, and it impacts every state in our country.

While 2014 was a year of undeniable awareness, 2015 will need to be a year of action.