The Annual meeting of the big powers in Climate Change has just wrapped up in Doha. No really it has. I know coverage was minimal and progress has been slow but it is important that we pay attention. Whilst it doesn’t seem to be a very current issue next to other events with a more comprehensive slots in the news, it mustn’t be forgotten. By the time the most serious impacts of climate change take hold, it will be our generation that is in charge of dealing with it, and it might be too late to do anything about it.
What was different about the 2012 conference in Doha? For the first time in the history of climate change talks, it has been agreed that developing countries will receive funds to repair “loss and damage from Climate Change”. It sounds a bit cryptic but really it means that developed countries like those from the EU, Australia and, reluctantly, the US have pledged that they will send money, in the form of Aid donations, to developing countries who are adversely effect by Climate change. It might sound like a given but it was actually quite a push to convince the US who didn’t want to accept any legal responsibility for their contribution to climate change, and the chair of the conference had to rush through the bill so that Russia couldn’t make yet another objection. Even then there are still issues about where countries will get this “loss and damage” money from and whether it will take away from current aid budgets. It really should be easier than this, especially with all the information now available from the science community.
There are 7 main reasons, identified in the New Scientist, that suggest there should be even more cause for concern about climate change than previously anticipated.
- Increased Warming of the Arctic – Melting sheet ice has meant more heat absorbing dark water is exposed, causing more heat trapping moisture in the air and creating bigger waves to break up the weakened ice. Previous models haven’t taken this into account but these factors have lead to the Arctic being the fastest warming place on earth.
- Extreme weather is more, er, extreme – Super storm Sandy, flooding in Somerset. Okay the two examples are on a slightly different scale, but they do fit the pattern. As the world warms, moving rainfall and more evaporation means more droughts and heatwaves. The warmer the atmosphere, the more water it holds, meaning when it rains, it properly rains. With the the path of the jet stream on the move too, the northern hemisphere will get it’s fair share of extreme weather.
- Effect on food production – As climate changes in the different areas, the conditions for growing crops or rearing animals will change. Yield is set to fall by 1% for every degree of temperature rise, except no-one knows how exactly. Wealthy countries will be alright if they shuffle round their produce and look into more hardy crop varieties but on a more local scale, it seems farmers will be effected by the uncertainty of the effects the most.
- Sea level rise is on the rise – As ice melts in Greenland, the snow becomes more dirty as the layer is thinner, this means the snow loses its reflectivity and, you guessed it, temperatures rise. It is widely agreed that sea level will rise by at least one meter by 2100 but as Stefan Rahmstorf, oceanographer, points out, “Sea-level rise is slow to start but in the longer run will turn out to be one of the gravest impacts and longest legacies of the global warming we are causing now”
- We are emitting more and more – The emissions we are producing now, follow the worst case scenario of previous years almost exactly, which isn’t good. The famous agreement to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by developed countries, the 1997 Kyoto protocol, didn’t work; the US didn’t sign up, Canada withdrew and China was exempt anyway. Even trusty Germany, normally the front runners in renewable energy, have committed to building more coal fired power stations in recent years.
- Greenhouse gas emissions could increase anyway – As the earth warms it will be able to absorb less and less Carbon dioxide in sinks like seas, soils, vegetation and ice. The problem is that this Carbon feedback process, of previous stores being released, could become self-perpetuating. Even with the lowest possible emissions, this could be enough to cause continuous increase the release from the sinks.
- Heat Stress – Not something we have really heard about before. It works on the idea that the temperature of the skin, not the air temperature, is actually the most important factor in our bodies surviving a temperature hike. We need to be able to sweat to cool ourselves down and in humid, hot conditions sweating is less effective. It is said that we can survive temperature of 35C in these conditions. If this is true, under current predictions, in a few generations we could end up with “a largely unlivable planet”
Climate change hasn’t been in the spotlight much this year. The next major chance for global progress is set for 2015. The world’s biggest emitters, China and the US,are turning the other cheek or are in complete denial about their impact on the rest of the world. It seems difficult to get people to see the problem, even with all the current evidence, short of giving them a good shake. But I guess it just has to start from the bottom up, making sure it isn’t one of those things we hear about but never really think about, keeping the issue current and in the public domain. Besides the current important measures to reduce emissions, public transport, renewable energies, recycling… There are loads of places that allow your voice to make a real impact. If we all shout loud enough, someone with the power to make a difference will listen. What ever it is that will make you take action, it has to happen soon, before all of these dire predictions come true, before it’s too late.
Sites like these are a good place to start helping on a global scale on issues like climate Change. They are worth a look: