Posts Tagged ‘Science’

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Doha climate talks: Island states stand up for ambition

5 December 2012

“We have not seen concrete progress on the issues that are important to ensuring the survival of all our members. How many conferences do we have to endure where we go back to our countries and say, ‘next year we will increase ambition to reduce emissions, next year we will see finance, next year we will save the climate’? No more next years.”

Sai Navoti, lead negotiator for Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

The elephant in the room at the Doha climate talks (COP18) is the cavernous “ambition gap” between the pathetically weak pledges on the table and the rapid emissions cuts urgently required to keep global warming below the 2°C limit agreed by the world’s governments, let alone a truly safe global target.

Last year’s conference in Durban established a process to close the ambition gap, Durban Platform workstream 2, yet in Doha it is being sidelined in favor of competing negotiating streams. The state of those other streams has reached a new low: the Kyoto Protocol is set to lock in meaningless targets for its few remaining participants diluted by endless loopholes, Long-term Cooperative Action has devolved into a system of inadequate voluntary pledges, and Durban Platform workstream 1 will not be implemented until 2020 when it will be far too late. An informal note from the Durban Platform chair suggests Doha’s outcome on ambition could consist entirely of planning future negotiations. Indeed the talks may even be going backwards on ambition, with Russia backing away from its pledge to cut emissions 25% by 2020.

Only the Earth’s most vulnerable countries, the small island states, are exposing the emperor’s lack of clothes. “The science is absolutely clear,” AOSIS said in a recent statement. “If emissions are not lowered immediately, the opportunity to avert the worst impacts of climate change may be irrevocably lost.” AOSIS is calling for Kyoto 2 to end in five, not eight years; for there to be no legal gap between commitment periods; for surplus permits to be severely limited; for access to Kyoto offsets to be restricted to those bound by Kyoto targets; and for more ambitious targets from all parties, especially rich countries. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Good Arctic sea ice pic and vid

28 September 2012

I’ve already blogged about the record Arctic sea ice melt. The following picture and video further illustrate the point. This graphic from the Australian Conservation Foundation shows what the Arctic melt would look like if Australia was melting:

Note that Arctic sea ice volume has declined even more dramatically, with four-fifths disappearing in the 34-year record.

This video from The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media also explains it well:

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Arctic sea ice minimum: A planetary emergency

21 September 2012

The news that Arctic sea ice is in meltdown is being treated as merely one news item among many, even though it threatens to set off a chain of tipping points affecting all of humanity and life on Earth. I’m reminded of how the iceberg warnings sent to the Titanic by other ships were interspersed with passenger messages, and the final and most urgent warning was not considered important enough to deliver to the captain. In 1912 it was the presence of Arctic ice that failed to sink in; in 2012 it is the absence thereof; but the lack of needed attention is the same.

After a spectacular melt season, the Arctic sea ice finally appears to have reached its annual minimum on 16 September. In a horrible milestone, the ice extent shrank to just 3.4 million square km, which is three-quarters of a million square km (or 18%) below the 2007 record low broken in late August, and less than half of the 1980s average. (Note that sea ice extent includes areas with only partial ice cover; actual sea ice area got as low as 2.2 million square km.)

Source: International Arctic Research Center

The ice has retreated so far as to make the Arctic Ocean circumnavigable:

Source: National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Read the rest of this entry ?

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Arctic sea ice in a death spiral

29 August 2012

Source: International Arctic Research Center

As Australian politicians fiddle with the details of an extremely insufficient climate change policy, I’ve been watching Arctic sea ice news with increasing dismay. Summer sea ice in the Arctic is fast melting away, accelerated by amplifying feedbacks in what has been called a “death spiral”. The disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice is a key tipping point.

Sea ice floats on the ocean surface and is not to be confused with ice sheets on land. Arctic sea ice grows and shrinks seasonally, with an annual minimum in September. This year, eight independent datasets show we’ve already reached record low sea ice cover in the last week or so, with still weeks to go before the annual minimum.

In the IJIS Arctic sea ice extent dataset (pictured above), the previous record was 4.3 million square km on 24 September 2007 (with the 2011 minimum not far behind). This year we’re only up to 29 August, yet extent has already plummeted to 3.9 million square km. As if that’s not astonishing enough, the ice continues to shrink by 100,000 square km per day. Normally at this time of year, melting slows down as the melt season draws to a close – but this time it seems to be still accelerating, which is unprecedented in decades of observations. Nobody can predict what will happen next. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Is Greenland close to a climate tipping point?

25 July 2012

Recent findings suggest climate change in Greenland may be approaching a tipping point, beyond which amplifying feedbacks could lead (probably over centuries) to complete melting of the ice sheet, raising sea level by about 7 meters.

In June, a team of glaciologists led by Jason Box predicted that we would see melting across 100% of the ice sheet’s surface area in summer within a decade. They drew that conclusion from data on the Greenland ice sheet’s surface reflectivity, or “albedo”, showing the surface has gotten darker over the last 12 years. A darker surface absorbs more heat, leading to more melting, causing albedo to decrease further, and so on in a vicious circle.

The ice naturally gets less reflective in summer because the shape of the snowflakes changes, but in 2012 Greenland has become much darker than in previous summers. This is occurring particularly at high elevations, which were previously too cold to melt and indeed had gained ice from increasing snowfall. This month, at the height of the melt season, Greenland’s albedo has fallen far off the charts:


Figure 1: Surface albedo of the Greenland ice sheet (average of all elevations) between March and October in each year from 2000 to 2012. (Source: Ohio State University) Read the rest of this entry ?

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Climate change explained in 15 minutes

5 July 2012

The other day I found this great TED video where blogger David Roberts explains the significance of increasing degrees of global warming:

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Stop saying yes: Bright-siding

10 June 2012

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

David Spratt at the blog Climate Code Red has recently spoken out against what he calls “bright-siding”: a misguided tendency for climate activists (and governments) to campaign on the arguable side-benefits of climate policies (eg. green jobs), rather than explain the urgent necessity of phasing out fossil fuels to avoid dangerous global warming. I generally agree with Spratt’s arguments, which are worth reading in full.

Spratt suggests the motivations for bright-siding include beliefs that people will respond best to messages about clean energy, climate change science is too depressing, and/or positive thinking is inherently beneficial. There is a misconception that dire warnings about climate turn off listeners, but this is based on one small study which has been misinterpreted (in fact, the message which didn’t work was that global warming is dire and unsolvable, and the message which did work was that global warming is dire but solvable). A related idea is that the public is constantly exposed to negative messages about climate change, but this is a myth.

A recent overseas study concluded “media coverage of climate change and elite cues from politicians and advocacy groups are among the most prominent drivers of the [US] public perception of the threat associated with climate change”. Astoundingly, US media coverage of climate change peaked in 2007 (following the release of An Inconvenient Truth and the IPCC AR4). Anecdotally, as media coverage has declined in amount it also became less negative. Americans’ concern about climate change has declined accordingly (though it is now rebounding). In an Australian context, the number of Australians who agree with the statement, “Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”, has fallen from 68% in 2006 to 36% today. Read the rest of this entry ?