As world governments prepare for a pivotal conference in Copenhagen next month to map future strategy to contain global warming, and the U.S. Congress debates legislation to reduce carbon emissions, evidence continues to accumulate that the threat is accelerating.
A new study by a team of British scientists indicates that man-made carbon emissions continue to increase despite the global recession. While emissions in the United States fell by 3 percent last year, they jumped 2 percent worldwide, most of the increase coming from China. The U.S. and China are the world's largest carbon emitters.
Equally ominous, the planet's oceans are steadily losing capacity to absorb the greenhouse gases that trap heat and fuel global warming.
The Global Carbon Project study concludes that unless emissions are substantially reduced, the result would be a rise in average global temperature by nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That is on par with previous worst-case scenarios outlined by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientists have estimated that temperature spikes above 2 degrees could have disastrous consequences, including large rises in sea level, droughts and stronger storms.
One of the authors of the study, Professor Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, says the conclusions raise the stakes for delegates to the Copenhagen gathering, who will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Accords that committed signatory governments to emission reduction goals. The United States did not sign on to that agreement.
In another indication that global warming is accelerating, record minimum sea ice in the Arctic was reported last month. The Catlin Arctic Survey estimates that based on the dwindling expanse and thickness of ice coverage, the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in summer within two decades.
The latest developments should raise the political heat in Washington to produce workable legislation to reduce carbon emissions while propelling the U.S. into a leadership role in crafting an international agreement to limit climate change.