It's certain: The Earth is getting warmer, and human activity is largely to blame

The case for climate action is having a hard time in Washington these days. While public officials acknowledge the climate is changing, they’re not necessarily saying why or what should be done about it.

Let’s clear up a few points.


1.The Earth is heating up.

Scientists have measured global temperatures for over a hundred years and see that the Earth is getting hotter. The trend can be best visualized by comparing each year’s average temperature with the long-term average. This figure shows observations of the world’s annual average temperature made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It compares each year’s temperature to the average over the entire century. Blue bars are years that were cooler than average and red bars are years that were warmer than average. In recent decades, the years have always been hotter. If there were no long-term temperature trend, you would expect a mix of red and blue bars throughout the record. That’s not what we see.

Source: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


2. Human activity is largely responsible for this warming.

Over geologic time, the Earth’s average temperature has changed as a result of the sun’s output, the tilt and position of the Earth in its orbit, and the concentration of greenhouse gases. Scientists have developed a good understanding of the natural variations in these factors by examining different proxies for ancient temperatures. Observations tell us that these natural factors have not been changing over the last hundred years or so in a way that would explain the observed temperature increases.

In contrast, greenhouse gases have been changing in a way that can explain the observed temperature increases. The pre-eminent record of modern atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is based at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Researchers there have been sampling pristine air from a mountaintop in Hawaii every month since 1958 and analyzing its composition. Their observations show that both the concentration and isotopic composition of CO2 is changing, and is consistent with manmade sources, including the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Moreover, physics tells us how different climate variables will change the temperature of the atmosphere at different heights. For example, changes in solar output will heat the atmosphere uniformly, while changes due to greenhouse gases will warm the surface but cool the higher part of the atmosphere (the stratosphere).

The National Centers for Environmental Information, run by NOAA, conduct monthly observations of atmospheric temperatures at different levels. Its 39-year record shows that the temperature change is not uniform. This is consistent with the effect of greenhouse gases, and inconsistent with other types of natural effects (e.g., changes in the sun’s output).


3. The impacts of climate change are growing, and we need to stop adding to the problem.

The result of this buildup of greenhouse gases is that we’re trapping heat within the climate system. The basic physics behind this has been establish for over 100 years. But climate change isn’t just a matter of the air temperature being a few degrees warmer.

Some observed climate changes are not bad. For example, growing seasons are lengthening in some parts of the country and costs for winter heating go down when temperatures are mild. But the overall impacts are estimated to be negative and costly.

The good news is that we’re making progress, and that we have many of the tools right now to make a difference, including expanding use of renewable power; zero-carbon nuclear power, carbon capture, use and storage; energy efficiency technologies, and electric vehicles. Many businesses, cities, and states are pursuing clean energy and clean transportation to improve public health, save money, and create jobs.

The question is not whether climate change is happening, but what we want to do about it.

South Korea and Climate Change

South Korea’s Emissions Trading System

On January 1, 2015, South Korea launched an emissions trading system that covers roughly two-thirds of the country’s emissions. Emissions trading is a key policy toward meeting South Korea’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below business as usual levels by 2020.

The South Korean carbon market is the world’s second largest, behind the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). It is also the second nationwide emissions trading program in Asia, following the launch of Kazakhstan’s ETS in 2013.

Background and Details

The original legislation creating the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) was adopted almost unanimously on May 2, 2012. The program was originally scheduled to enter force on January 1, 2013, but the government delayed the start to give companies more time to prepare. Trading officially commenced on the Korea Exchange (KRX) on January 12, 2015.

The program is split into three phases: 2015-2017, 2018-2021, and 2022-2026. More than 500 companies are included in the program, from the power, steel, petrochemical, electronic, cement, automobile, buildings, and waste sectors. In addition, five airlines will participate to cover their domestic aviation emissions.

In the first phase, from 2015 to 2017, a total of 1.64 billion allowances will be allocated. The number of allowances individual companies will be allocated is based on their emissions between 2011 and 2013. There will also be additional allowances available for new or expanded facilities. At the beginning of the program, 100 percent of allowances are allocated to companies, but this will be reduced to 90 percent by 2021. The other allowances will be auctioned by the government. International offsets are currently not available to companies to meet their obligations.

The precursor to the ETS in Korea was the Target Management Scheme (TMS), a greenhouse gas management program with 470 participating companies. As with the ETS, individual companies were required to reduce their emissions to target levels. However, the TMS did not allow trading between companies, and the penalties for not complying are not as severe as under the ETS. Features of the TMS have been incorporated into the new system, such as the governance structure and the collection of greenhouse gas inventories.

Additional Resources

Republic of Korea Ministry of Environment – Emissions Trading Scheme

Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Research Center of Korea (GIR) – Target Management Scheme 

Information about the emissions trading system in South Korea (Repulic of Korea).
Syndicate content