Greenhouse Gases in 2013


GENEVA, Switzerland- World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports the year 2013 is currently on course to be among the ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, with greenhouse gases hitting unprecedented levels.

Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the top three main contributors to greenhouse gasses, with carbon dioxide being the single most important man-made greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

“Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new highs in 2012, and we expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013. This means that we are committed to a warmer future,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a press release.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) echoed similar sentiments in its September report that the last three decades has been the warmest than any previous decade since 1850. IPCC indicated that human influence on the climate system is clear.

“This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system,” reiterated IPCC.

IPCC further warned that the continued emissions of greenhouse gases would cause further global warming and climate changes. The international body acknowledged that controlling climate change would entail substantial and sustained cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, WMO emphasized that surface temperatures are only part of the wider picture of climate change and its impact on the water cycle is now becoming evident. Jarraud then referenced the havoc caused by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolando) in the Philippines.

“Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges,” he added.

WMO’s provisional statement confirmed that global sea level attained a new record. “Sea levels will continue to rise because of melting ice caps and glaciers. More than 90 percent of the extra heat we are generating from greenhouse gas is absorbed by the oceans, which will consequently continue to warm and expand for hundreds of years,” emphasized Jarraud.

If global warming and climate change has such devastating effects on the world, why has nobody done anything about it?

Why does the world do nothing about climate change?

A study published in Nature Climate Change by lead author and clinical assistant professor in environmental studies at New York University, Jennifer Jacquet, explained the issues behind the addressing climate change. Jacquet’s study on intra-and intergenerational discounting in the Climate Change Game draws attention to the tension between the interest of a group and that of an individual, which is further aggravated by the intergenerational nature of climate change. The study highlights this as the main reason behind the difficulties of averting climate change.

Climate Change Game

In the Climate Change Game, six players were given €40 to invest in a Climate Account. Each player selects one of three options-to invest €4, €2 or zero euros into the Climate Account. Although the investments are made anonymously, the players are able to view the amount that goes into the account.

The goal of the game requires a minimum collective investment of €120. At the end of 10 rounds, if the account grows to€120, the team would have averted the dangerous climate change and wins the game. The returns on their investment would be €45. This amount is in addition to what each player would have remaining at the end of the game. If the Climate Account does not accrue €120, the team loses and they do not get any prize money.

The game was played with three different sets of rules. In the first setup, €45 prize money would be given to the player immediately the next day. Seven out of 11 teams won.

In the second setup, the prize money would be disbursed seven weeks later. Only four out of 11 teams won.

In the final setup, the prize money would be invested towards the planting of oak trees, which increases carbon sequestration and contributes the highest value to future generations. There was no personal benefit to the individual in this instance. None out of the 11 teams won.

This study showed that when the rewards of collective collaboration are delayed, collaboration significantly decreases. It also spotlights the issue of instant gratification. People want their rewards now and not later, or an entire generation later. “The present generation bears the costs of cooperation, whereas future generations accrue the benefits if present cooperation succeeds, or suffer if present cooperation fails,” Jacquet wrote in her published article.

In an interview with CNN, Jacquet highlighted the importance of anonymity in the Climate Change Game. If the specific amount of investments were publicized, the players would most likely be shamed into contributing more.

While the concept of the game is straightforward and simple, it clearly illustrates the issues and difficulties of nations around the world in dealing with global climate change. Reforms such as carbon taxes, investments in cleaner energy and new infrastructure to protect cities from natural calamities are hard to implement as they are costly and do not yield immediate benefits. It will bring about crucial benefits in many years to come, but as nations focus on the immediacy of incentives and debate on the extent of their contribution to global climate change, few of such reforms may be realized.

– Flora Khoo

Sources: CNN: Why world can’t agree over climate change, CNN: New greenhouse gas record set, IPCC, Nature Climate Change, Reuters, UN News Centre, World Meteorological Organization
Photo: Duke Education


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