The News Source on the Global Warming Summit in Kyoto, Japan


 

Global Warming Earth Summit Fact Sheet

The Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming

The greenhouse effect is a natural process that keeps the planet warm enough to sustain life. When sunlight enters the earth's atmosphere, some of it turns into heat energy. This heat is then absorbed by the surrounding air, water and land which in turn makes the surface of the planet warm. As the earth gets warmer, it radiates some of the heat back into space. But as this heat tries to escape the atmosphere, some of it is absorbed by greenhouse gases -- CO2, methane and water vapor. Instead of escaping the atmosphere, the heat is reradiated back to earth, warming the earth's surface. The Global Warming Theory maintains that human greenhouse gas emissions are so large that they are accelerating the natural greenhouse effect, causing heat to be trapped in our atmosphere and warming the planet beyond acceptable levels. The scientific community is still divided on whether or not this process is underway.

 

The Climate Predictions and Temperature Measurements

Since 1988, international forecasts of the threat posed by global warming have been revised downward a number of times. Chart I shows warming forecasts taken from the 1988 "World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security" conference in Toronto, Canada, the 1990 First Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the 1995 Second Assessment Report of the IPCC.

 

Chart 1

Year of Forecast

Rate of Warming

 Greenhouse Effect by 2030
   

 Temperature Rise

  Sea Level Rise

 1988

 0.8 C per decade

 3.0 C

 20 to 150 cm

 1990

 0.3 C per decade

 1.2 C

  15 to 40 cm

 1995

 0.2 C per decade

  0.8 C

  5 to 35 cm
Source: Dr. Brian O'Brien, October 1997

 

Based on ground, satellite and weather balloon measurements, the IPCC's 1995 forecast also appears to over-estimate warming. Ground temperature readings since 1979 indicate warming of between 0.1° Celsius and 0.15° Celsius, 50%-75% of the amount forecast. Satellite measurements from NASA's TIROs series of weather satellites indicate that there has been a slight cooling trend of 0.04° Celsius per decade since 1979. Satellite measurements are generally considered more reliable than ground measurements as they cover a greater portion of the planet. Satellite measurements have also been corroborated by weather balloons.

 

 Actual Temperature Increase/Decrease Since 1979

 Ground Temperature Readings: 0.1° - 0.15 °C warming per decade

 Satellite and Weather Balloon Measurements: 0.04°C cooling per decade
Source: "Is Earth's Temperature Up or Down or Both?" and "Global Climate Monitoring:
The Accuracy of Satellite Data," NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, 1997

 

Economic Costs of Emission Reductions

 

Likely Impact of Kyoto on Climate

Regardless of the outcome of the Kyoto meeting, it is likely to have little impact on the climate of the planet:

 


Facts and Misconceptions About the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming

Misconception: All global warming is bad.

Fact: Without a certain amount of warming, all life on the planet would cease to exist. Further, a modest increase in current global temperatures could be beneficial. For one thing, warming could result in greater precipitation. With close to one-third of the world's population suffering from chronic water shortages, a little global warming could be welcome. Warming could also mean greater agricultural productivity. For example, between the 10th and 12th centuries, when the planet was roughly 0.5° Celsius warmer than it is today, agriculture in North America and Europe flourished and the southern regions of Greenland were free of ice, allowing cultivation by Norse settlers.

Misconception: Global warming would increase the frequency of violent storms.

Fact: Severe storms are more closely associated with cold weather than warm weather. Since 1492, eight of the twenty deadliest tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean occurred prior to 1850, the beginning of the current planetary warming trend. Only two of the top 20 deadliest storms occurred in the 1980s or 1990s, when the earth reportedly experienced its hottest temperatures. In the North Sea, the most violent storms occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries after the onset of the Little Ice Age. A storm in 1570 claimed 400,000 lives.

Misconception: A majority of climate experts agree that human emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

Fact: By a margin of 44% to 17%, state climatologists believe that global warming is largely a natural phenomenon, according to a survey conducted by American Viewpoint for Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Misconception: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with monitoring the effects of global warming, has determined that global warming will lead to increased incidence of flood, droughts, pest outbreaks and extreme weather events.

Fact: The IPCC has stated that "quantitative projections of the impacts of climate change on any particular system at any particular location are difficult because regional-scale climate change predictions are uncertain; our current understanding of many critical processes is limited..."

 

Selected Quotes

"If models cannot be supported by actual observations of the atmosphere... then we cannot and should not rely on their predictions of a future warming." -Dr. S. Fred Singer, atmospheric scientist

"We've got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic policy and environmental policy." -Tim Wirth, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs

"...We have been seeing some profound changes in the relationship between humankind and the Earth's environment. And that's the first obstacle, in my opinion, to really coming to grips with this issue of global warming. The first big change is population... [With greater] availability of birth control information and culturally appropriate and acceptable techniques... [and] empowerment of women, socially, politically and in the context of the family, to participate in the decisions about childbearing... population begins to stabilize." -Vice President Albert Gore

 

The Road to Kyoto: A Chronology

1896 Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius is the first to articulate the global warming theory.

1985 An international workshop on climate change is held in Villach, Austria under the auspices of the World

Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The meeting finds that significant climate change is probable, and that a global climate convention should be adopted.


1988 The WMO and UNEP establish an intergovernmental panel of experts to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relating to climate change. The panel is named the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The "World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security" is held in Toronto, Canada. The conference calls for global CO2 emissions reductions of 20% by 2005, the development of a world atmosphere fund to be financed through fossil fuel taxes, and the development of a framework convention on the atmosphere.

A United Nations resolution is approved characterizing climate as a "common concern of mankind."

1990 The IPCC releases its First Assessment Report on global climate change at a meeting Sundsvall, Sweden. The report concludes that global temperatures could increase by 0.3 degrees Celsius if CO2 emissions are not abated. Although the broad concepts of the report are approved by the 71 nations participating in the meeting, it is approved only after significant concessions to developing nations. These nations fear that international limits on greenhouse gas emissions could jeopardize future economic development.


1992 Earth Summit is held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The centerpiece of the summit is the ratification of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), better known as the Global Warming Treaty. The treaty was made possible by the IPCC's First Assessment Report issued two years earlier. The FCCC does not contain binding targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, but recognizes that reducing greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels by the year 2000 would be beneficial. The treaty does require industrialized nations to issue national reports on greenhouse gas emissions and to provide financial and technical assistance to developing nations so that these nations can produce similar reports.


1994
The Berlin Mandate is approved, committing signatories to open negotiations to extend and strengthen commitments under the FCCC, including new emission reduction targets beyond 2000. Developing nations are explicitly exempted from these new commitments.


1995 The IPCC completes its Second Assessment Report on climate change. The report finds that greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to rise, climate has changed over the past century and is expected to change in the future, and that the "balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." But the report also finds that many scientific uncertainties still remain.

Sources: "The IPCC: A View From the Inside," by John W. Zillman, August 1997; "The History and Legal Structure of the Global Climate Change Regime," by Daniel Bodansky, May 1997; and "Kyoto: Marching to the Drumbeat of Toronto," by Brian J. O'Brien, October 1997

 





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