Burning Down Our House

chilee28094the-fury-of-chaiten-volcano-nat-geoAnalysis by Stephen Leahy

QUEBEC CITY, Canada, Dec 15 (IPS)

The roof of our house is on fire while the leaders of our family sit comfortably in the living room below preoccupied with “political realities”.

That was essentially the message from 1,000 scientists from around the world along with northern indigenous leaders gathered in Quebec City for the International Arctic Change conference that concluded last weekend.

“Climate change and its impacts are accelerating at unexpected rates with global consequences,” delegates warned in a statement.

Presenting data from hundreds of studies and research projects detailing the Arctic region’s rapid meltdown and cascading ecological impacts, participants urged governments to take “immediate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

By happy coincidence, 190 governments were meeting at the same time in Poznan, Poland to do just that: reach an agreement on how much to reduce emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Except that they decided to do nothing.

They couldn’t even agree to help poorer nations survive the ever-worsening climate crisis by providing funds to strengthen infrastructure, build flood defences and improve agriculture.

In chance hallway encounters in Quebec City, scientists — strictly off the record for fear of losing funding — said climate change is happening far faster and is having much larger impacts than they ever imagined.

“Climate change will be an overwhelming global tragedy without major reductions now,” said one Canadian expert.

In Poznan, politicians declared the meeting a success and pledged to agree to cut emissions at next year’s meeting in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, the physics of carbon and climate will not wait for economic recovery or a more felicitous political climate.

In 1992, the global community came together in Rio de Janeiro, agreed climate change was a real danger and promised to reduce their emissions of CO2 and other global warming gases. It took five years to create the first climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which committed rich countries to emissions reductions of five percent below their 1990 levels.

Many countries will meet their very modest reduction targets — with notable exceptions like Canada and Japan, which are grossly over-target by 30 percent. But as far as the atmosphere is concerned, all that counts is global CO2 emissions, and they’ve skyrocketed.

Emissions of CO2 have been growing about four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, despite efforts to curb emissions in a number of Kyoto Protocol signatory countries, reports the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of climate scientists.

“This new update of the carbon budget shows the acceleration of both CO2 emissions and atmospheric accumulation is unprecedented and most astonishing during a decade of intense international developments to address climate change,” said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, in a statement last September.

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere today is well ahead of worst-case projections, hence the accelerating meltdown in the Arctic.

Rather than panicking, governments of Arctic countries seem preoccupied with what they view as an opportunity to exploit the region for its potential energy resources, said Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “National governments don’t get it. We need to keep oil and gas where it is, in the ground,” Byers told IPS in Quebec City.

For complete article see: CLIMATE CHANGE: Chasm Widens Between Science and Policy.

My other recent stories on the Arctic:

Arctic Ice Gone in 5 Years – First Time in One Million Years

Arctic Is the Canary in the Coalmine

Arctic Meltdown Signals Long-Term Trend

Arctic Oil and Gas Rush Alarms Scientists

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