2013 was among the hottest years ever, spurred by the highest accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on record.
2013 was another year of extreme weather. It began in January with sweltering temperatures in Australia. According to Joes Lisonbee of Australia's Alice Springs weather bureau, “Alice Springs airport has seen the most consecutive days above 42 (degrees Celsius) for any time of the year. So far, including today, we have had nine consecutive days.”
The year was marked around the globe by deadly wildfires and floods, unrelenting drought and one of the strongest typhoons ever in the Philippines that left nearly 6,000 dead and more than four million homeless.
While research indicates a warmer atmosphere makes bad weather worse, Richard Kerr, a veteran writer for Science Magazine, says no single weather event can be linked to climate change.
“Beyond heat waves and heavy precipitation, heavy rain storms, heavy snow storms, scientists are being much more cautious about making a connection between typhoons or tornadoes and global warming,” he said.
But leading scientists spoke definitively in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report released in September. In it, they affirmed with overwhelming confidence that global warming is real and humans are largely to blame.
The report makes note of a slowdown in the acceleration of warming, an argument climate change deniers use to support their claims that the higher global temperatures are part of a natural climate fluctuation. But Kerr says the IPCC report concludes the excess heat is being absorbed by the deep ocean rather than the atmosphere.
“There is a strong conclusion that it is not particularly out of the ordinary and that it does not mean in any way that global warming has stopped ... and there is no sign in the ocean that the warming has slowed,” Kerr said.
Announcing the panel's findings in Stockholm, World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarraud underscored the threat.
“It should serve as yet another wake-up call that our activities today will have a profound impact on society, not only for us, but for many generations to come,” he said.
That wake-up call came shortly before the annual U.N. talks in Warsaw, where delegates from 192 countries met to lay the groundwork for a new climate treaty to replace one that expired in 2012.
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions policy expert Elliott Diringer says that while the Warsaw meeting did little to develop a plan to reduce global emissions, it provided a clue about what a new treaty might look like. He sees the accord as one more stitched together by national politics and less by decisions made by negotiations on the global stage.
“Instead, this time countries will be setting their own numbers," said Diringer. "And I think this is an important recognition that in fact the effort needs to come from the bottom up, that the agreement has to reflect the political will that is being generated at the national level, as well as the policies that are taking shape at the national level.”
Diringer points to some positive signs: emissions trading efforts in China, the new climate law in Mexico and the U.S. Climate Action Plan announced by President Obama in June.
Diringer applauds these actions as a global treaty takes shape. He says, "Certainly countries, cities, states do not have to wait for the international agreement and they should not wait for the international agreement. I think instead their efforts need to be brought together and coalesced in the international agreement and only if we are seeing progress at the local and national level that we will be able to produce a strong international agreement.”
Diringer adds that the solution to climate change must come from every level of government, the public and private sectors and each of us as individuals.