Inside Story

Can we stop global warming?

As the UN presents more evidence that our climate is changing, we ask what it will take to reverse this harmful trend.

Last updated: 08 Nov 2013 10:31
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There is more ominous news on the climate change front, as the United Nations says the amount of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere hit an all-time high last year.

Continuing a phenomenon that has been blamed for melting glaciers, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the evidence is all around us. And now there is even more proof that our climate is changing.

This is bad news. We are loading up the atmosphere with heat trapping pollution .... The good news is that the opportunity to head off the worst effects of climate change is still before us, and we are actually making some remarkable progress on several fronts.

Daniel Lashof, from the Natural Resources Defense Council

The UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the volume of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade. It also warned that radi-ative forcing - or the warming effect on our climate - increased by 32 percent between 1990 and last year.

Scientists now say the trend is making it harder to keep global warming to within two degrees Celsius, a target set at a Copenhagen summit in 2009.

Michel Jarraud, the head of the WMO, explained why we should be concerned: "The news are not good news. The news are: if you look at the major greenhouse gases, in particular CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, for all these major greenhouse gases, the concentrations are reaching once again record levels."

The WMO said the heat trapping gases emitted from human activity, which cause major problems and are the focus of its report, in fact "upset the natural balance of the atmosphere".

The main culprits among these heat trapping gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide is often found in fertiliser used in everyday farming, and methane mostly comes from cows. But it was carbon dioxide that accounted for 80 percent of the warming - mainly from the burning of fossil fuels.

Changes in land use - particularly deforestation - also result in the emission of carbon dioxide.

Most scientists agree that increased emission of greenhouse gases cause climate change. And some scientists say the international response to climate change has been poor. Despite mounting evidence of its catastrophic effects, world leaders seem unable to deal with the crisis.

One reason for that is the politicisation of climate science itself, with some groups trying to undermine the consensus among experts about global warming and its effects.

Another reason is the perceived lack of adequate and cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels. Related to that is the unequal distribution of responsibility.

Some developing nations feel they are at an unfair disadvantage at a time when they are becoming more industrialised.
And perhaps one of the biggest reasons is the implications for the global economic system.

So, as the climate continues to change, what will it take to reverse this trend?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Bjorn Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World; Asad Rehman, the head of international climate for Friends of the Earth; and Daniel Lashof, the director of the climate and clean air programme at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"This is one report in a long line of reports .... And report after report has come back every single year. The key question now is, is the political will there amongst our political leaders to take the kind of action that is required, to change our energy systems from polluting industries towards a decarbonised law?"

Asad Rehman, the head of international climate for Friends of the Earth


Al Jazeera
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