Wellington: Global sea levels will rise substantially more than previously thought and almost irreversibly if greenhouse gas emissions continue, according to New Zealand-led research released on Thursday.
An international team led by Nicholas Golledge, of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre, used state-of-the-art computer modelling to simulate the Antarctic ice-sheet’s response to a warming climate under a range of greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
They found that all but one of the scenarios, that of significantly reduced emissions beyond 2020, would lead to the loss of large parts of the Antarctic ice-sheet, which in turn would result in a substantial rise in the global sea-level, Xinhua reported.
“The long reaction time of the Antarctic ice-sheet, which can take thousands of years to fully manifest its response to changes in environmental conditions, coupled with the fact that CO2 (carbon dioxide) lingers in the atmosphere for a very long time means that the warming we generate now will affect the ice-sheet in ways that will be incredibly hard to undo,” Golledge said in a statement.
In its 2013 Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that the Antarctic ice-sheet would contribute only 5 centimetres to global sea-level rise by the end of this century even for its warmest emissions scenario.
But Victoria University professor Tim Naish, who was a lead author of the IPCC report, cautioned that at the time the report was written there was insufficient scientific knowledge on how the Antarctic ice-sheet might respond to future warming, meaning the IPCC sea-level projections could have been too modest.
“Our new models include processes that take place when ice-sheets come into contact with the ocean. Around 93 percent of the heat from anthropogenic global warming has gone into the ocean, and these warming ocean waters are now coming into contact with the floating margins of the Antarctic ice sheet, known as ice-shelves,” said Golledge.
“If we lose these ice-shelves, the Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise by 2,100 will be nearer 40 centimetres.”
To avoid the loss of the Antarctic ice-shelves, and an associated commitment to many metres of sea-level rise, the study showed atmospheric warming needed to be kept below 2 degrees centigrade above present levels.
“Missing the 2 degrees centigrade target will result in an Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise that could be up to 10 metres above present day,” said Golledge.
“The stakes are obviously very high, 10 percent of the world’s population lives within 10 metres of present sea level.”
To restrict global warming to 2 degrees centigrade and prevent the more dangerous consequences of climate change, the United Nations climate change meeting in Paris later this year had to agree to reduce global CO2 emissions to zero before the end of the century, Naish said in the statement.
“To be on track this will require a global commitment to 30 percent reduction, below year 1990 levels, by the year 2030.”
The last time CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were similar to present levels was about 3 million years ago, when sea levels were 20 metres higher than now, said Golledge.
Two months ago, all 12 boys and the coach of a Thai football team were rescued after being trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for 18 days. Many termed their rescue against heavy odds a miracle.
Sadly, the six-day United Nations Special Climate Conference that concluded on September 9 was not able to rescue the trapped Paris Climate Agreement in the well-lit conference centre in southern Thailand.Many of the delegates wondered if it was about pronouncing the promises only to dodge them.
The Paris Climate Agreement has been hanging from a cliff right from the day US President Donald Trump, a year back, announced his official plan to withdraw from it. Though hundreds of American mayors and thousands of businesses — and even its allies like France — have been seeking to defy the consequences of Trump’s withdrawal, the agreement is getting dangerously close to its fatal consequence.
The good news is that the Paris Climate Agreement has entered into force on November 4, 2016, in less than a year from its consensus adoption on December 12, 2015, in Paris. However, it is yet to be operationalised because its modalities, procedures and guidelines are yet to be agreed upon by its 180 Parties (countries that ratified the Paris Climate Agreement). Indeed, the Paris Agreement in its present form is just an agreement of intent.
These “rules”, as per the time-table agreed in Paris, have to be ready no later than 2018. The Bangkok Climate Conference was a late addition to the schedule after dismal progress was made at the annual meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) in Bonn in May 2018. The Bangkok Climate Conference was the last major negotiating meeting before the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP-24) in Poland in December, when finally the Paris Agreement will be in mission mode.
The exercise in Bangkok turned out to be progress in planning but a stalemate in its objective of operationalising. The Paris Climate Agreement remains trapped in a complex maze of the caves of finance for mitigation and adaptation for the developing countries, deployment of market mechanisms, periodicity of stocktaking and transparency, flexibility for developing countries in reporting.
Formulating the rules on the cyclic and iterative nature by enhancing the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), earlier considered an innovation in international agreements, is now proving to be formidable.
It all boils down to the fact that world is now setting the new norms of not keeping the promises made on global cooperation. Not walking the talk and smartly gyrating the agreed goals is now the global attire of the diplomacy. And each of these new patterns are being justified, sometimes diplomatically and, many times with international arrogance.
Take, for example, financing for mitigation and adaptation for the developing countries. The “polluter to pay” norm has been the anchor in the multilateral environment agreements right from the 1992 Rio Agreement but is now being openly flouted. The promise of providing “additional” finance through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was first proposed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then President Barack Obama in Copenhagen in 2009, is supposed to become fully operational in 2020, i.e. developed countries would provide — starting with $10 billion per year in 2012 to reach $100 billion per year from 2020 onwards — to help developing countries pay for climate adaptation and mitigation.
What has happened to that promise? As of today, GCF has pledges of $10.4 billion whereas the actually committed is only $3.5 billion. The GCF as institution itself is in chaotic state. The GCF head, an Australian, abruptly resigned in July 2018 after just two years in the job because of “personal reasons”. The deputy head from Nicaragua did not even attend the July meeting of GCF, where no projects were approved. “GCF is melting down faster than Antarctica,” one of the delegates in Bangkok said.
In Bangkok, the developed countries smartly proposed to count all the finances provided by the private sector, philanthropy, FDI and regular international development aid of 0.7 per cent of the GDP as part of the promised $100 billion. They also proposed dilution of the financial reporting rules, thereby flouting the agreement on “additional climate financing”.
Not walking the full talk by the star performers on climate change has also resulted in the angry reaction from civil society, and supported by countries, on such climate-hypocrisy.
An example is the Global Climate Action Summit convened from September 12 to 14, 2018, in San Francisco, under the leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown. The summit’s theme is “Take Ambition to the Next Level”. It will be a star-studded international event to showcase climate action at all levels and to inspire enhanced commitments and god-speed action from countries to realise the goals of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, California, the richest US state, has done more in policy setting and its implementation in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency than any other country in the world. Its firebrand governor can be termed as climate’s game-changer.
In Bangkok, Brown was booed by civil society representatives for his soft approach towards oil producers in California by allowing them to drill for oil. “How can we expect a leader to take climate ambitions to the next level when he himself, from the back-door, takes it to a lower level,” queried one demonstrator in Bangkok.
When state leaders arrive in Poland in December, they would have to muddle through the mess of the draft “rule book” mired in diminishing trust. By that time, the GHGs concentration, already higher by 42 percent as compared to 1992 levels, would have risen to the “next level”.
A rescue operation for the trapped Paris Climate Agreement would be near impossible. (IANS)