Climate Change - Worse Than We Thought!

GLOBE-Net - The earth’s climate is changing more quickly and more deeply than previous thought according to a UN report for policymakers prepared for the international climate talks that opened this week in Poznan Poland.

According to Reuters, The United Nations published the summary report to help lawmakers meeting at U.N. climate summit to move closer to sealing a new agreement to confront potentially devastating global warming.

Drawing heavily from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 milestone review on the state of the world’s climate, the current summary stated scientific evidence of global warming was unequivocal based on increases in average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels.

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in “greenhouse gas concentrations” from human activities, it added.

Annual greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, it notes, have risen by 70 percent since 1970. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, far exceed the natural range over the last 650,000 years.

The report notes the European Union and other nations have proposed limiting global average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius through measures such as emissions trading and technology transfer. U.N. scientists have warned global warming caused by high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) will lead to rising seas, big storms, mass heat waves and droughts.

In his opening remarks at the meetings  in Poland (COP 14),  Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,  highlighted two important signals received in 2007: The IPCC report, confirming the reality and impacts of climate change; and the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which said failure to act would equal economic failure on the scale of two World Wars and the Great Depression combined.

Five main reasons for concern noted in the report were: 

  • Risks to unique and threatened systems, such as polar or high mountain ecosystems, coral reefs and small islands.
  • Risks of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and heat waves.
  • Distribution of impacts – the poor and the elderly are likely to be hit hardest. And countries near the equator, most of them poor, generally face greater risks such as of desertification or floods.
  • Overall impacts – there is evidence since 2001 that any benefits of warming would be at lower temperatures than previously forecast and that damages from larger temperature rises would be bigger.
  • Risks or “large-scale singularities,” such as rising sea levels over centuries; contributions to sea level rise from Antarctica and Greenland could be larger than projected.

Africa, the Arctic, small islands and Asian mega-deltas, it states,  are likely to be especially affected by climate change. Sea level rise “would continue for centuries” because of the momentum of warming even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized.

“Warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible.” About 20-30 percent of species will be at increasing risk of extinction if future temperature rises exceed 1.5 to 2.5 Celsius.

“The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge, longer than time capsules, far longer than the age of human civilisation so far. Ultimate recovery takes place on timescales of hundreds of thousands of years, a geologic longevity typically associated in public perceptions with nuclear waste.”

Professor David Archer of Chicago University

Overall, there was little in the way of good news about the environment in the months leading to the talks in Poland. The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) 2007 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin published on November 25th reported global concentrations of carbon dioxide had reached their highest levels ever recorded, continuing the trend of rising emissions of greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.

Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in Bogor Indonesia warned on November 28th that without immediate concerted action by governments, climate change could have a devastating effect on the world’s forests and the nearly one billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods. Forests will experience an unprecedented combination of flooding, drought, wildfires, and other effects of a warming climate over at least the next 100 years.

On top of that many industrialized nations are shelving ambitions for the deepest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 as the economic slowdown overshadows the fight against climate change.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN Climate Panel, who said last year that industrialized nations needed to make such cuts to avoid the worst of warming, now says world leaders might find it easier to discuss ambitious cuts in a few months, “after the dust settles” from the financial crisis.

Understandably, there is a growing fatigue among the general public about the dire consequences of climate change. Research results released by the HSBC Climate Partnership reveal that consumers want governments to stop haggling on carbon concessions and act. (See article Stop Haggling and Agree on Carbon ’Fair Share’.)

The meetings in Poland will run until December 12. They are a stepping stone for a new climate pact that hopefully will be reached in Copenhagen in December 2009 for emissions reductions and boosting adaptation funding beyond 2012, when the current Kyoto Protocol expires.

More information on the meetings in Poland is available here.

More information on greenhouse gas emissions, see The New York Times graphic.

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