“We’re Running the Risk of Unstoppable Climate Change” — Oceanographer

Interview with leading marine scientist Chris Reid

“I’m afraid it is going to take a major catastrophe in the developed world…”

GIJON, Spain, Jun 4 (IPS) – Warming seawater, melting sea ice and glaciers, sea level rise, storm intensification, changes in ocean currents, growing “dead zones”, and ocean acidification are just some of the signs that the oceans that cover 71 percent of our watery planet are changing.

Changes in the oceans also means major impacts on the land and the atmosphere. “Policy makers and the public do not realize that the oceans are the drivers of the climate system,” says Chris Reid, recently retired professor of oceanography at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England.

Reid will be producing a report this summer on the impacts the altered oceans are having and will have on the global climate.

IPS environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke to Reid at an international scientific symposium held late last month in Gijon, Spain on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

IPS: What is happening in the oceans that will affect the global climate?

CR: The oceans have absorbed 30 percent of all human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) since the start of the industrial age. There is now good evidence that the oceans are absorbing less carbon as a result of climate change. The warming of surface waters, glacial and sea ice meltwater, acidification and so on are inhibiting or slowing a number of the oceans’ mechanisms for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and safely storing them in the deep ocean.

IPS: How will that affect us?

CR: It means the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will rise much faster than has been previously projected by climate scientists. Human carbon emissions are already on pace for the worst case scenario as envisioned by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). These changes in the oceans means the rate of warming will increase, bringing even more severe hurricanes and cyclones, flooding events and so on.

IPS: Cyclones like the one that recently devastated Burma?

CR: Yes. Research presented at this meeting shows that South Korea and Japan are experiencing more powerful cyclones. While a single event can’t be precisely connected to climate change, the Burma cyclone fits what is expected with climate change. Continue reading

Canada “acting like USA” Torpedoes International Enviro Agreement

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

“Do Canadians know what their government is doing here? You must tell them.” — Mamadou Mana Diakite of Mali

BONN, Jun 3 (IPS) – Self-interest and petty politicking largely paralysed efforts to solve the urgent problem of the widespread extinction of species, with few concrete achievements after nearly two weeks of 14-hour meetings at the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Bonn that concluded last Friday.

Why? Mainly because a few rich and powerful countries like Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China fought tooth and nail to boost their own self-interest regardless of the environmental and human costs.

Six years ago, more than 160 countries at the April 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg agreed on a target of achieving a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. In May 2008, virtually everyone here acknowledged the target will not be met.

Some countries, like Germany and most of the developing world, do understand that species extinction is undermining the vital ecosystem services that nature provides, such as food, fibre, clean water and air. Others, such as Canada, express altruistic sentiments that are belied by their actions. Since decisions at U.N. meetings are by consensus, any country can block decisions on a whim. Or, as is more often the case, countries will block agreement on something they have no connection to simply so they can force concessions on other issues.

“You listen to them debate over every comma and realise they could be arguing over anything,” said Helena Paul of EcoNexus, a British-based environmental group that participated in the CBD meetings. NGOs can observe but are not participants except for the occasional opportunity to express their views. Continue reading

Greed Stalls 21st Century Bio-Economy

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, May 31 (IPS) – The world community took some ever-so-careful steps towards slowing the biodiversity crisis at a major U.N. meeting in Bonn, while emphasising the need for urgency and action.

Agreement on the need for more protected areas in tropical forests and oceans was universal, but only Germany offered any new funding. On the contentious issue of biofuels and their impacts on food and biodiversity, members agreed at the last minute that biofuels production ought to be environmentally sustainable and not impact biodiversity. There was also an agreement on a de facto moratorium on ocean fertilisation schemes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $785 million a year to protect forests.

And, after 16 years of meetings, the 168 nations that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) agreed to a final two-year timetable to establish an asset and benefit sharing (ABS) regime.

ABS is about access to biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from its use. The intent is to end “biopiracy” — the exploitation of indigenous plants and animals for profit without permission or compensation — and reverse countries’ denial of access to any native species for scientific or commercial purposes. Half of all synthetic drugs have been derived from plants or insects.

“This is a real breakthrough. This agreement is a detailed framework on how to put ABS into place,” said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the president of the CBD for the next two years.

It might seem strange that delegates enthusiastically cheered this “Bonn Mandate”, an agreement to have two more years of meetings. But in fact, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have fought hard against anything resembling a legal obligation to compensate countries in the developing world for the use of their genetic resources, a delegate from Malaysia told IPS:

“They don’t want to share any money they’ve made from using our biodiversity.” Continue reading