2014: The hottest year since records began

January 16, 2015
The planet continues to heat up, but action to prevent it is moving at a snail’s pace.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded. Other meteorology organisations around the world are on track to confirm this as they process their records over the next few weeks.

This means that 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century.

The signs were clearly evident from May last year when the US government’s atmospheric CO2 concentration readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded their highest ever levels at 399ppm. According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions increased 2.3 % during the year, with emissions from China overtaking those of Europe for the first time.

Although there were differences across the States and Territories, 2014 was Australia’s third hottest year on record after 2013 and 2005.

But with the planet continuing to heat up, action to prevent it is moving at a snail’s pace, and no more so than in Australia, the world’s highest per capita producer of carbon dioxide, where the Abbott government’s disingenuous “Direct Action” plan puts us firmly on the road to environmental ruin.

The five-page Lima Call for Climate Action that was agreed to in Peru last December is far too little and comes far too late. It is likely that the various unenforceable pledges that countries agreed to will not be enough to stop temperatures rising by over 3C, let alone the 2C cap on global warning that science tells us is the minimum requirement to prevent irreversible environmental damage.

Stripped of all the gloss, what came out of the Lima talks was a “framework” for 2015 that was largely the initiative of the outgoing European Commissioner for Climate Action, the Danish politician Connie Hedegaard.

At best, it will lead to a commitment for China, Europe and the US (but not India) to agree to act in accordance with the science and sign an agreement to this effect when world leaders meet again in Paris in December.

Unfortunately, the whole framework of international accords on climate change is a failure of global politics as practised in forums of the United Nations that, historically, can trace its lineage back to the failings of its preceding international institution.

The League of Nations that was cobbled together at Versailles in 1919 crumbled under the weight of fascist aggression in the 1930s.

The first major international meeting to set targets for emission reductions, the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, was held in Toronto in 1988. It recommended that national governments agree to cut emissions by 20% below 1988 levels by 2005.

The Rio Earth Summit that followed in 1992 squandered the opportunity that was then provided to move toward a de-carbonised economy by building on a program to reduce carbon emissions by 2% a year until 2005.

The dithering continued with the Copenhagen Accord that came from the UN climate summit in December 2009. While “recognising” the scientific case for limiting a rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, it contained no commitment to emission reductions that would achieve it.

In the optimistic view of the International Energy Agency we still have until 2017 to take action to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, a position that Naomi Klein seems to endorse in her book This Changes Everything.

But if this is correct, it won’t come from international talkfests. As Angelica Navarro Llanos, principal negotiator for Bolivia at Copenhagen said prior to the 2009 summit, “if we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilisation larger than any in history.”

We do indeed have a world to win — and not much time to win it.

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