Ten Huge Climate Change Moments of 2015

This is a guest post by DeSmog UK contributor Victoria Seabrook

It’s been a big year for the climate. We saw Uruguay go green and the UK go back to black. Global temperatures rose and Shell dropped Arctic drilling.

Here’s DeSmog UK’s round-up of ten key events from 2015 that stoked the fire of the climate change debate.

World Adopts Paris Agreement

Almost 200 countries agreed to a new international pact on climate change this month to keep global warming well below 2°C, with the aim of trying to keep it to 1.5°C.

The unprecedented deal is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions and came after two weeks of intense negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The 190 nations in attendance also agreed to: peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible; review progress every five years; and commit by 2020 $100bn a year in aid to developing countries in climate matters.

Global Temperatures Pass 1°C Mark

The world is halfway towards the threshold that could result in dangerous climate change, scientists warned in November, after average global temperatures rose 1°C above preindustrial levels for the first time.

We reached the sobering halfway point to the warming limit of 2°C that many scientists say cannot be surpassed if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.

It is an internationally accepted target for climate policy that governments have committed to achieving and was high on the agenda at COP21.

July 2015 was the warmest month ever recorded for the planet and for global oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling

Hugely controversial drilling operations off the Alaskan coast will stop for the “foreseeable” future, the oil giant announced in September, after initial exploration discovered little oil and gas.

Shell’s climb-down was an overwhelming victory for campaigners, who warned drilling would endanger the pristine waters of the Chukchi Sea and yield hydrocarbons that were no longer needed.

Shell had already spent $7bn (£4.6bn) on its failed hunt for oil. But after facing falling oil prices, heavy regulation, and broad outcry from environmentalists, the company put its plans on ice.

Oil exploration in the arctic is unlikely to stop altogether, however. The main reasons Shell pulled out – dropping prices, regulation, and perhaps environmental activism  are not permanent.

Keystone Victory in America

After a long wait, President Barack Obama decided at last to reject the scandal-ridden Keystone XL oil sands pipeline proposed by TransCanada.

The move served to bolster Obama’s climate credentials, as it was made just four weeks before the Paris climate conference.

He said: “If we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.” 

UK Shifts Away From Green Energy

The British treasury made several controversial cuts to green energy policy this year, all the while giving tax breaks to the oil and gas industry.

Just as the world is rushing towards the cheapest forms of energy  wind and solar  the UK seems to be going back to last century.

The government made cuts to solar power, wind energy and home insulation projects, and axed its £1bn support for a carbon storage scheme to capture emissions from power stations, thereby reversing much of the UK’s previous efforts to become one of the pioneering nations in renewable energy.

The changes came despite government claims of being committed to reaching a strong climate change agreement in Paris.

As we move into 2016 all eyes will be on whether or not the UK’s energy policy takes into account the December deal signed in Paris.

Uruguay Has 95% Renewable Electricity

In stark contrast to Britain, green energy provides 94.5 per cent of Uruguay’s electricity, according to the country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez, the Guardian reported.

Renewables now provide 55 per cent of the country’s energy – this is compared to the global average share of 12 per cent.

Pope Francis Changes the Conversation on Global Warming

Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation,” the pope urged in a September speech at the Whitehouse.

Calling leaders to join US President Barack Obama in working to reduce air pollution, Pope Francis said: “When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the change needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”

Watch the full address from 00:49:

Goodbye to Climate Villains Harper and Abbott

This year saw two of the worst leaders on climate action step down from office.

In September Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted in a dramatic late-night party ballot by Malcolm Turnbull.

Then, in October after a decade in power Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost to Justin Trudeau who won a landslide victory in the country’s national election.

The question now is whether the two new leaders will follow through on the commitments agreed to in Paris.

Indian Heatwave Claims 2,500 Lives

In May India was hit by its second deadliest heatwave on record, and the fifth deadliest in world history, with 2,500 people killed.

Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change,” the National Disaster Management Authority of India warned.

The disaster was unfortunately just one of many this year attributable to climate change, from one of the strongest El Niño weather events – which started to build in March and has already wreaked havoc in Africa, Indonesia and across Central America – to the flooding in Cumbria this month.

Chinese Economic Crisis Offers Way of Reducing Emissions

China’s coal consumption fell by almost 8 per cent and CO2 emissions by about 5 per cent in the first four months of this year, an analysis by Energydesk and Greenpeace China suggested.

The changes in China’s coal use fuelled speculation that its greenhouse gas emissions could peak earlier than expected, which could help limit rising temperatures and sea levels.

This is a stark reminder that climate change policy is all too often driven by economics.

Bonus: ExxonMobil Under Investigation for Climate Change Science Denial

In November, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed oil and gas industry giant ExxonMobil to “determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.”

ExxonMobil, now also the subject of U.S. congressional and activist group calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, knew about the risks of climate change since the 1970s and studied those risks internally for decades.

But the company subsequently funded climate change denial and disinformation efforts to the tune of at least $31 million.