While the United States is now back at early 1990s levels of CO2 emissions, thanks to a switch to natural gas in the energy sector and a moribund economy, that doesn't apply to Asia. The middle class in China alone has a population that exceeds the entire USA and they all want, and are getting, cars and air conditioners and a better life and the emissions to go along with it. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise but warming, the telltale sign of climate change, has not.
Since 2000, global warming has tapered off and virtually no one in the climate science community predicted that could happen.
Lots of people outside the climate science - but in the numerical modeling community - predicted it just might. Because numerical models are a bitch and trying to account for all of the knobs that go into feedbacks in a climate model is extra bitchy. Because nature is, and always has been, a bitch. She is not linear and she is not predictable. People who know how to build numerical models know that. People who insist their p-values are accurate - and they are - while running the wrong model are not going to be right just because they do a Bayesian analysis over and over.
The IPCC, to their credit, has never predicted temperature rises would be linear. They leave it to ThinkProgress and Mother Jones and Grist to make stuff up. Instead, the IPCC recognizes that short-term trends can actually mask the long-term effects of climate change. So while the usual suspects spent 2012 insisting the Great Plains drought and superstorm Sandy were 'aggravated' by climate change (when they weren't outright insisting they were caused by it) the reality is they were just natural events. You know, nature.
So we have a breather but let's not be like a cigarette smoker who goes up to 3 packs a day because they didn't get cancer this year - we can't get all crazy and convert all of our nuclear submarines back to coal because this isn't over - with climate, it is really hard to know other than if you bend something long enough, it is likely to break. Yes, activists got too crazy and declared the science settled in 2001 but, as Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, had to concede in early 2011, "Have we learned a great deal since the IPCC 2001 report? I would say yes, we have. Climate science, like any other field, is a constantly evolving field and we are always learning" deniers can't declare the issue settled and that global warming is not going to happen, it could come roaring back even worse than expected. What we do know is that heat-trapping water vapor models were overly pessimistic - or there are natural variations no one anticipated, in a 'we don't know what we don't know' sense. That's science, folks.
We also shouldn't get too zany and waste another $72 billion on corporate welfare for alternative energy companies; as we have found with wind and solar, the promise of all those 'green jobs' disappears fast when the subsidy checks run out. It doesn't mean that pollution is not bad for us, it certainly is, but there is a basic research problem that needs to be solved before a technology investment should be made. The number of instances where progressive government has created an industry and the private sector took over without subsidies are still sitting at zero.
Basically, we caught a break because there is no basic research solution coming any time soon. Solutions are likely to come from the private sector, not government-controlled science, but they're being vilified, so the recent standard tactics of 'subsidize an industry so the corporations we hate will take it over and save us all' has been somewhat dopey. Exxon or BP or whoever activists hate the most due to media reports this week are not the enemy, nor are they in some vast conspiracy against the environment, they just know science in a way no one at Greenpeace or Sierra Club or Union of Concerned Scientists does.
Ed Hawkins of University of Reading told Graham Lloyd of The Australian that surface temperatures since 2005 are at the low end of the projections of 20 climate models and they will soon be below projections. Well, journalists are out to shake people up so the implication in that is 'maybe models were exaggerated' but it's like saying 'acid rain is down now, so it was never a problem' or 'the world did not collapse due to Y2K so it was never a problem' - of course it was a problem, and it was fixed and that should be a win. Part of the reason why that isn't stressed more is because activists like UCS and Greenpeace make money scaring people about science, not talking about what has gone right. It is the same in all political organizations - Republican advertising during the fall 2012 election focused on how high our taxes would be and how government would take all our guns, not how great Gov. Romney would be as president. The George Bush who talked about "a shining city set on a hill" lost to a guy who scared people on the economy.
A decade ago political pundits, especially in science media, framed it as simple - you either accept global warming or you are anti-science. It was never so simple. Conservatives, reviled by the progressive super-majority in media anyway, accepted climate change but were not buying global warming, and they may have been onto something. It wasn't a good term, scientifically, and insistence that it was became the realm of fanatics, not scientists.