« Sen. Tom Udall Helps Launch StoryCorps Historia to Preserve Stories of Hispanic Americans | Main | (Updated) Public Option to be Debated in Senate Finance Committee Friday »

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New UN Science Report Underlines Urgency for Governments to Seal the Climate Deal in Copenhagen


Climate Change Science Compendium 2009, a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has enough alarming news about accelerating climate change that even the most dedicated couch potatoes should be stirred into action. With the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen less than 80 days away, we need to pressure the President and members of Congress to get serious and enact a tough and comprehensive energy bill that doesn't cut corners or delay actions until it's too late to counteract the bulk of greenhouse-gas induced climate change.

This week, President Obama gave a speech at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York, which included admonitions about the urgent need for action to combat human-caused climate change. Now the United States needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. 

A fairly tame energy bill passed the U.S. House in June. The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee also passed an energy bill in June -- S. 1462, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act -- but it's been on the back burner ever since. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, discussed the bill he sponsored this week with Grist. Click to see the interview. Finally, a comprehensive bill is set to be introduced next week by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. John Kerry. 

Bottom line: we must convince our government that there's an urgent need for legislation that can make our appearance in Copenhagen meaningful. We must lead, not procrastinate.

Indications of Accelerating Climate Change
According to the Compendium, compiled in association with scientists around the world, the pace and scale of climate change may now be outstripping even the most sobering predictions of the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) -- including in North America and here in the Southwest. An analysis of the very latest, peer-reviewed science indicates that many of predictions at the upper end of the IPCC's forecasts are becoming ever more likely.

Meanwhile the newly emerging science points to some troubling impacts -- originally thought likely to occur in longer-term time horizons -- as already happening or set to happen far sooner than expected.

Important Discoveries
Here's a summary of just some of the disturbing discoveries reported today in the new report:

--Persistent drought crisis conditions for the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, unprecedented loss of sea ice in the Canadian archipelago and seasonal upwellings of acidic seawater off California are all being observed years or even decades ahead of earlier projections.

--Losses from glaciers, ice-sheets and the polar regions appear to be happening faster with the Greenland ice sheet, for example, recently seeing melting some 60 percent higher than the previous record of 1998.

* Some scientists are now warning that sea levels could rise by up to two metres by 2100 and five to ten times that over following centuries.

--There is also growing concern among some scientists that thresholds or tipping points may now be reached in a matter of years or a few decades. These include dramatic changes to the Indian summer monsoon, the Sahara and West Africa monsoon and other factors that affect critical ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest.

--The report also underlines concern by scientists that the planet is now committed to some damaging -- and perhaps irreversible impacts -- as a result of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

* Losses of tropical and temperate mountain glaciers affecting perhaps 20 percent to 25 percent of the human population in terms of drinking water, irrigation and hydro-power.

* Shifts in the hydrological cycle resulting in the disappearance of regional climates with related losses of ecosystems, species and the spread of drylands northwards and southwards.

Time Running Out
Recent science suggests that it may still be possible to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. However, this will only happen within the time span of the current civilization if there is immediate, cohesive and decisive action to both cut emissions and assist vulnerable countries adapt.

In a foreword to the document, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon -- who this week hosted heads of state in New York -- writes that, “This Climate Change Science Compendium is a wake-up call. The time for hesitation is over. We need the world to realize, once and for all, that the time to act is now and we must work together to address this monumental challenge. This is the moral challenge of our generation.”

The Compendium reviews some 400 major scientific contributions to our understanding of Earth Systems and climate change that have been released through peer-reviewed literature, or from research institutions, over the last three years.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said, “The Compendium can never replace the painstaking rigour of an IPCC process -- a shining example of how the United Nations can provide a path to consensus among the sometimes differing views of more than 190 nations. However, scientific knowledge on climate change and forecasting of the likely impacts has been advancing rapidly since the landmark 2007 IPCC report.”

“This is the most sobering assessment yet of how global warming is already affecting our climate and makes it very clear that we must take action,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director, U.S. Global Warming Campaign, at the Pew Environment Group. “The U.S. Congress, President Obama and other world leaders must act now to reduce the threat of global warming. Doing so will create a new clean energy economy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and sustain our environment for future generations.”

Key Scientific Findings
Key scientific observations and developments documented since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 include:

North America:
* Observation and modeling is pointing to an irreversible transition in the southwestern USA and Northern Mexico towards a sustained, drier climate. It may have been under way since 2000. “Dustbowl” conditions are projected to become the norm for the dry season in the region. This change, unprecedented in the instrumental record, is linked to global shifts of rainfall regimes as sub-tropical dry zones move towards the poles.

* Seawater acidic enough to corrode a shell-making carbonate substance called aragonite is already welling up during the summer along the California coast, decades earlier than models predict. It is an indication that oceans are becoming more acidic more quickly than expected, jeopardizing the ability of shellfish and corals to form their external skeletons.

* The average amount of sea ice within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago has decreased by an average of 8.7 per cent each decade since 1979. The melting season has lengthened by seven days per decade, with 2008 witnessing a record 129 days of melting.

* Vegetation surveys of California’s Santa Rosa Mountains between 1977 and 2007 show that dominant plants have on average moved their range 65 metres (213 feet) higher in altitude. Research suggests this has been a response to warming, more variable precipitation and less snow cover, rather than other factors such as air pollution or fire.

The compendium also documents a number of significant recent climate anomalies for North America, including:

* The third-worst fire season and persistent drought in the western and southwestern USA in 2008.

* The worst drought in 70 years in Mexico, in August 2009, affecting about 3.5 million farmers, wiping out some 17 million acres of cropland and leaving 50,000 cows dead.

* The worst wildfire in 30 years in Southern California, in April 2009.

* Alaska’s snowiest winter for 30 years in 2007-8, which also saw Toronto’s third snowiest winter on record.

* Hurricane Gustav in August 2008, the worst storm to hit Cuba in five decades, with recorded gusts of 341 km per hour at one location, the strongest in the country’s history.

* The growth in carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry has exceeded even the most fossil-fuel intensive scenario developed by the IPCC in the late 1990s. Global emissions were growing by 1.1 per cent each year from 1990-1999 and this accelerated to 3.5 per cent per year from 2000-2007.

* Growth of the global economy in the early 2000s and an increase in its carbon intensity (emissions per unit of growth), combined with a decrease in the capacity of ecosystems on land and the oceans to act as carbon “sinks”, have led to a rapid increase in the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This has contributed to sooner-than-expected impacts including faster sea level rise, ocean acidification, melting Arctic sea ice, warming of polar land masses, freshening of ocean currents and shifts in the circulation patterns of the oceans and atmosphere.

* The observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations are raising concern among some scientists that warming of between 1.4 and 4.3 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial surface temperatures could occur. This exceeds the range of between 1 and 3 degrees perceived as the threshold for many “tipping points”, including the end of summer Arctic sea ice, and the eventual melting of Himalayan glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet.

* In 2007, summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean shrank to its smallest extent ever, 24 per cent less than the previous record in 2005, and 34 per cent less than the average minimum extent in the period 1970-2000. In 2008, the minimum ice extent was 9 per cent greater than in 2007, but still the second lowest on record.

* Until the summer of 2007, most models projected an ice-free September for the Arctic Ocean towards the end of the current century. Reconsideration based on current trends has led to speculation that this could occur as soon as 2030.

* Recent findings show that warming extends well to the south of the Antarctic Peninsula, to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported.

* The hole in the ozone layer has had a cooling effect on Antarctica, and is partly responsible for masking expected warming on the continent. Recovery of stratospheric ozone, thanks to the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances, is projected to increase Antarctic temperatures in coming decades.

* Recent estimates of the combined impact of melting land-ice and thermal expansion of the oceans suggest a plausible average sea level rise of between 0.8 and 2.0 metres above the 1990 level by 2100. This compares with a projected rise of between 18 and 59 centimetres in the last IPCC report, which did not include an estimate of large-scale changes in ice-melt rates, due to lack of consensus.

* Under the IPCC scenario that most closely matches current trends – i.e. with the highest projected emissions – between 12 and 39 per cent of the Earth’s land surface could experience previously unknown climate conditions by 2100. A similar proportion, between 10 and 48 per cent, will see existing climates disappear. Many of these “disappearing climates” coincide with biodiversity hotspots, and with the added problem of fragmented habitats and physical obstructions to migration, it is feared many species will struggle to adapt to the new conditions.

To download the full report, visit www.unep.org.

Get Active
A good place to start getting active about battling climate change is at http://www.350.org/. Learn more and sign up. Also, please call Senators Bingaman and Udall and urge them to push for quick passage of an effective, comprehensive bill in the Senate. Contact the White House and do the same.

September 24, 2009 at 06:06 PM in Climate, Energy, Environment, Green Economy, International Relations, Obama Administration, Oceans, Science, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Water Issues | Permalink


I would be very scared except CO2 has nothing to do with global warming. The climate always changes. The global warming trend from 1970 stopped in 1998 and a period of cooling has started. The global temperature is 2 degrees Celsius colder than during the Medieval Warming period. There are well documented periods of the Earth's geological history when CO2 has been at level as high as 10 times the current with no corresponding increase in temperature.

The IPCC models ignore the Medieval Warming period and the little ice age. The Mann et al. hockey stick graph has been debunked by numerous scientists and a Congressional appointed team of scientists.

Australia and New Zealand repealed their carbon tax laws because of the extreme cause of implementing them and the lack of corroborating science.

The driver of climate change is the Sun. Channeling legitimate concern about the environment into global warming is just a way to divert environmentalists and increase energy revenues.

The real issues are non-sustainable use of resources including fossil fuels and water. Exponential population growth and deforestation. These are real issues that need to be solved. Climate change is an oxymoron that will in no way be affected by a carbon tax.

In fact implementing a carbon tax will increase exports of foreign oil as North American oil will become more expensive to refine.

Posted by: alwaysaskeptic | Sep 24, 2009 8:08:48 PM