Some 4000 delegates from 188 countries have been convened since December 1 in
The delegates and environmental activists had hoped that the COP9 would be the occasion for announcing that the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC had at long last come into force. The Kyoto Protocol has already been ratified by 100 or so countries but is not yet internationally binding. That's because it must be ratified by a set of industrialized countries whose collective emissions add up to 55 percent of their total emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
President George W. Bush pulled the
What happens if the Kyoto Protocol fails to come into force? Why then the UNFCCC simply launches another round of negotiations in 2005 searching for a way to control future temperature increases. UN processes and bureaucracies never die.
Numerous Ritual Warnings
runup to the COP9 meeting has of course seen the publication of
numerous ritual warnings that the global warming is worse than expected
and that something must be done about it now. For example, the German
Advisory Council on Global Change issued a report that warned that
likely increases in global temperatures due to manmade causes over the
next century would be "intolerable." Science, as part of a series on global environmental issues, published a review article this week in which a couple of
the Kyoto Protocol, rich industrialized nations are supposed to reduce
their emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below their 1990
levels by 2012. It is now estimated that the emissions from
industrialized countries will be 17 percent higher than they were in
1990. Furthermore, even if the industrialized countries could meet
But is the world about to burn up because humanity is heedlessly burning fossil fuels that pour heat trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Third Assessment Report (TAR) in 2001 that suggested that average global temperatures could increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees centigrade (2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. Of course, the higher catastrophic increase was the one featured in headlines and cited by activists.
What's really going on? Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, chiefly carbon dioxide, has increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) to about 370 ppm today. It is generally agreed that that doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would by itself increase average temperatures by only about 1 degree centigrade. The higher temperatures cited by global warming proponents arise from climate computer models that suggest that higher CO2 levels will lead to slightly warmer temperatures which will then increase the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is by far the chief greenhouse gas, so more water vapor would mean higher temperatures. It is this positive feedback loop that leads some computer models to predict dramatically higher temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels.
Send in the Clouds
as climatologists like Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Richard
Lindzen point out, there are negative feedback loops in the atmosphere
that tend to lower average temperatures. For example, Lindzen believes
that he has identified what he calls an "infrared iris" over the
Clouds are a big problem for the climate computer models relied upon by those who worry about damaging increases in global average temperatures. The models are just terrible at handling clouds. This is unfortunate because clouds could make all the difference. One of the surprising aspects of the Science article is that although the researchers claim that they have "no doubt" that humanity activities are increasing global temperatures, they admit that scientists "have yet to determine the temperature impacts of increased cloud cover." Given the crucial importance of clouds to the regulation of climate, it's hard to see how they could have "no doubt" about future global warming will cause significant harm.
Look Back to the Future
the climate computer models, are there other ways to peer into Earth's
climate future? Yes -- by extrapolating what we know has occurred in
the past to the future. Just consider the trends implied by three
temperature records: the satellite temperature records by
According the somewhat spotty surface temperature record, average temperatures are increasing by about 0.17 degrees centigrade per decade. The Wentz satellite data suggests an increase of 0.15 degrees per decade and Christy's data find temperatures increasing at about 0.074 degrees centigrade per decade. Christy insists that his data have been independently confirmed by comparison with highly accurate weather balloon data. What he has done is compare his satellite measurements with measurements made by weather balloons at the same time and place. Christy finds that his satellite measurements and the balloon measurements match very closely.
Extrapolating the surface temperatures yields an increase of 1.7 degrees centigrade by 2100. Wentz' trend would result in a 1.5 degree centigrade increase and Christy's would be 0.74 degrees -- all at the bottom of the range of increases identified by the IPCC. "We might see a degree of warming over the next century. None of those temperature increases is going to cause much of a catastrophe," says Christy. Even the alarmist report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change concluded that the world can tolerate a rise of up to 2 degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels.
So perhaps the delegates in
Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine's science correspondent, is the editor of Global Warming and Other Eco Myths (Prima Publishing) and Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet (McGraw-Hill).