The Biggest Climate Stories of 2015

The Guardian

From the 195-nation agreement in Paris to curb global warming, to a journey down the Mekong River, evidence that climate change is impacting livelihoods and political decisions is stronger than ever
Demonstrators in Rome, Italy, participating in the Global Climate March on November 29, 2015. Photograph: Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/BI
2015 has been a big year for climate change. The year has witnessed dizzying highs and stunning lows, from the hottest January on record, to March, when global carbon dioxide levels hit a million-year high, to December, when nearly 200 nations signed an agreement to minimize global warming. Here are seven stories that give a good snapshot of the political, economic and scientific milestones that changed the way we view – and the way we deal with – global warming.

Paris climate deal: the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era
French president Francois Hollande, president of the COP21 Laurent Fabius, United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hold their hands up in celebration after the final conference at the COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change. Photograph: Francois Mori/AP

The United Nations Environment Programme has said that carbon emissions must be zero by 2070 to avert climate disasters. In December, after two decades of fraught climate talks, representatives from nearly 200 nations reached a historic milestone on the way to that goal.
The Paris agreement, which signals a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, will hold governments accountable for hitting their greenhouse gas emissions targets. It has been lauded for its long term goal to achieve net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, and political leaders hailed the deal as a "major leap for mankind".

Pope Francis calls for urgent action on climate change
Pope Francis has called climate change "a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation". Photograph: Angelo Carconi/EPA

Pope Francis delivered a bracing speech on climate change during a White House speech in September, calling it "a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation".
The speech followed Praise Be to You, a 184-page encyclical that the Pope released in June, in which he urged rich nations to take the lead in fighting climate change. It describes climate change as a "global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods".
The Pope's words appear to have already swayed some of the millions of Americans who are still skeptical about the impact of climate change. A recent study found that, in the past six months, a growing number of Americans – especially American Catholics – have come to believe that climate change is happening and are worried about its effects.

Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline and hails US as leader on climate change
Activists celebrating Obama's blocking of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in front of the White House in November. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline after a seven-year review, saying its construction would have undermined America's position as a global leader in fighting against climate change. The 1,1179–mile pipeline would have carried crude oil from tar sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast. Obama is the first world leader to reject an infrastructure project because of climate change.
"America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," Obama said. "And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership."

US science agency says 2015 is 97% likely to be the hottest year on record
People walk through a park along the East River during an unseasonably warm Christmas Day this year, when temperatures reached near 20C. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

Each month of 2015 has so far been the hottest on record, putting this year on track to be the warmest since records first started being gathered, 130 years ago. Scientists have pointed out that the three warmest years – 2015, 2014 and 2010 – in recorded history have all occurred in this century. This, they say, demonstrates that global warming is getting worse and that actions need to be taken.

Dutch government ordered to cut carbon emissions in landmark ruling
The E.ON coal-fired power station in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, is one of the most powerful coal-fired power stations in Europe. Coal power plants are under pressure all over Europe due to targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

In the first ruling of its kind, the Hague has ordered the Dutch government to cut its carbon emissions by 25% within the next five years. The landmark decision came after 886 Dutch citizens sued the government for not taking enough action to reduce emissions.
Lawyers say that the ruling could have ripple effects around the world. Citizens in Belgium are already preparing a similar case, and another suit may follow in Norway. James Thornton, chief executive of environmental law organization ClientEarth, told the Guardian that: "A major sophisticated European court has broken through a political and psychological threshold. For the first time a court has ordered the government to protect its citizens from climate change."

Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone
Smoke billows from stacks as a Chinese woman wears as mask while walking in a neighborhood next to a coal fired power plant in Shanxi, China. A history of heavy dependence on burning coal for energy has made China the source of nearly a third of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions. China's government has publicly set 2030 as a deadline to reach the country's emissions peak. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Concentrations of carbon dioxide hit a new global average record in March, reaching levels unseen for over 1m years. UN experts said the Earth's climate would enter a "new permanent reality" next year as a result, and that its denizens will likely experience hotter temperatures, extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and rising sea levels and acidity in the oceans. The finding underscored the urgent need for leaders at the Paris climate talks to reach a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Mekong River: where energy needs and ecological damage collide
Sunset over the Mekong River. Photograph: Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images

In this Guardian interactive feature, reporter John Vidal traveled down Southeast Asia's Mekong river, meeting the people who depend on the 2,500-mile river for their livelihoods and struggle to deal with the effects of climate change. The piece puts a face to alarming statistics and demonstrates that climate change isn't something that will emerge in the future – it's already happening.


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