As part of a monthly online feature, Impact investigates the latest news, projects and discoveries in the battle against climate change

One could be forgiven for being skeptical when an article in Slate appeared at the beginning of March claiming global warming was ‘going into overdrive’. Whilst we should be cautious when interpreting new data released by NASA this month concerning global temperatures from February, nonetheless the figures make for discouraging reading. 

The ‘unreleased data’ initially confirmed that February was the most ‘unusually’ warm month on record, that is to say it has the largest deviation from it’s average since records began. The temperatures were found to be 1.35 oC above this average. NASA uses a baseline taken using data from 1951-1980, in which the average is around 0.3 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. The preliminary results were confirmed using further satellite evidence, with the warmest results being seen in the northern hemisphere and suggested that the original data was actually underestimating global temperatures from February. Yet to be determined however is the influence of El Niño, a prolonged warming event taking place in the Pacific Ocean, on these studies. Associate Professor Yulsman of the Centre for Environmental Journalism believes it’s role has been underplayed, David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey however was quoted in the Guardian saying ‘It is the opposite, we are now returning to a normality of higher temperatures’. Whilst it is unknown if this is indeed a sign of consistently sharp increases in global temperature to come, the consensus appears to be that of restrained concern.

Coinciding with record temperatures, February also saw the highest levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide recorded since Homo sapiens have existed. The concentration is now above 400 parts per million, which is unprecedented since prehistoric times. There is often a gap between the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and its translation into tangible temperature differences so it is unlikely that the February temperature measurements are an anomaly. In light of these phenomena, it is essential that the pledges made in Paris in December are kept.

Fiji became the first nation to agree to ratify the Paris agreement in February when the bill passed in parliament, and it was signed by the prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama on the morning of the 31st of March. Palau and it’s neighbour the Marshall Islands swiftly followed suit. The rapid action from these island nations is unsurprising as they are particularly susceptible to rising sea levels, which are characteristic results of climate change. The next major event in this process in the timeline of the Paris Climate Accords is the signing event at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on April 22nd, Earth Day. At least 55 nations representing 55% of total emissions must sign the agreement to limit warming to well below 2oC before taking legal effect, so it is imperative that the two largest polluters, the United States and China, pledge. During bilateral talks in March the two nations released a joint statement confirming their intention to ‘work together with others to promote the full implementation of the Paris agreement’, thereby calling on other nations to do the same.

The UK intends to enshrine it’s own goals, as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, into law. Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom delivered the following comment in parliament: ‘The question is not whether, but how we do it’. However, she also stated that the government would ‘wait for the findings of the climate change committee’ in a report describing the potential ramifications of the agreements made in Paris. The previous climate change secretary Ed Miliband who had lobbied for action to be taken following on from Paris, welcomed the remarks.

A study from the IEEP  forecast a uncertain effects on a vulnerable environment in Britain following a potential Brexit. With falling greenhouse gas emissions and a decline in water and air pollution the report argued the results of European policies have been effective and beneficial for Britain. Furthermore with Britain likely wanting access to the single market even in the result of leaving the European Union, it would have no say in EU laws. However, the report also cited the length of time required to get agreements on policy and the overly beaurocratic nature of agriculture yielding little tangible benefits as downside to remaining in the union. There are calls from major UK conservation bodies for greater clarity on both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns to explain what the environmental consequences of their positions are.

The charity founded by the oil magnate J D Rockefeller has committed to withdrawing all fossil fuel holdings ‘as quickly as possible’. Despite accumulating the majority of his fortune from Standard Oil, the primordial guise of Exxonmobil, the Rockefeller Family Fund, a charitable fund set up in 1967,  is to remove a total of $130 million from its holdings. The family wreathed scorn on Exxonmobil, labelling the company ‘morally reprehensible’ in its statement.

Stephen Kenny

Image: Stefan Lins via Flickr 

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