OECD Observer
Carbon dating

Can the Kyoto protocol, which came into force on 16 February 2005, work? Although natural phenomena such as large volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, the likes of El Niño or even changes in the earth’s tilt might all be contributing factors, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–whether running homes and factories or driving cars and lawnmowers–is cited as a major culprit in the rise of global temperatures.

Measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, collected since well before the first major climate change conference in 1979, show the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen nearly 20% over the past 45 years. Climate changes are evident at higher altitudes and latitudes. Ice and snow cover in the Himalayas is shrinking rapidly, and though there are some cases of expanding glaciers, in Alaska 1,987 out of 2,000 glaciers are said to be retreating.

Despite local fluctuations, such as winter cold spells, five of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the past seven years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. As one expert put it: “Climate change is like a pair of dice that are slowly being loaded. There will always be some cold summers or cold winters, but gradually there will be fewer and fewer, and the cold side of the dice will come up less and less frequently.”

©OECD Observer No 249, May 2005