Expired · 11th November 2009
Copenhagen is the focus of environmental attention these days. Little more than a month remains before international climate talks are scheduled to begin in Denmark's capital city this December. Global pressure is building for the nations of the world to reach comprehensive agreements to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are known to be causing global warming.
Preliminary discussions for binding commitments that will replace the Kyoto Protocol – due to expire in 2012 – have been discouraging. Despite a visionary American president, the United States is still mired in senate debate about the extent of its resolve and participation. Canada, after years of inaction, ineptitude, indifference and sometimes outright obstruction, is choosing to follow the initiative of the US. India has so far been unwilling to compromise its industrial growth for greenhouse gas reductions, even though a warmer climate would very likely convert much of the country to desert, melt the Himalayan glaciers, reduce the Brahmaputra and Ganges Rivers to a seasonal flow, and jeopardize the food production of hundreds of millions of Indians. China has so far committed to internal controls even though it, too, would be subject to massive desertification and the flooding of its industrial lowlands from rising sea levels.
Closer to home, BC would experience its share of climate change – an average of 4°C hotter by 2050. The Okanagan Basin would be 20 percent drier. Coastal winters would be wetter – Vancouver already gets more heavy downpours and 30 percent more rainfall than a decade ago. The Georgia Basin could expect a 60 percent increase in December run-off. Melted glaciers and a 50 percent reduction in snow pack would mean more protracted dry spells for salmon streams. Warming weather and water could make BC's rivers unfit for migrating salmon.
These are the kind of scientific warnings that are adding more pressure to the critical importance of the Copenhagen talks. Most scientists agree that many of the world's climate-regulating mechanisms are fast approaching dangerous tipping points – reaching any of them could render all our future emission constraints irrelevant. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are now approaching 390 parts per million, compared to a historical normal of 280 ppm. The resultant warming, which began about 200 years ago, has already overcome 2,000 years of cooling associated with an oncoming ice age. Instead of temperatures and ocean levels dropping, both are now rising.
The 2007 prediction by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of a global sea-level rise of 30 to 60 centimetres for 2100 will likely be upgraded to about 1 metre as a result of more current information. But, even this estimate is probably conservative. The US Geological Survey now predicts 1.5 metres.
Core drilling of the rock beneath the Antarctic Ocean, a project called Andrill, has established that CO2 concentrations of 400 to 450 ppm during the Pliocene era of 5 to 2 million years ago warmed the planet by 3°C to 5°C and left the West Antarctic ice free. Other studies confirm these results. A melting West Antarctic, coupled with Greenland's thawing of ice sheet, would eventually raise sea levels by many metres – although not as early as 2100. Our current CO2 level of 390 ppm is within easy reach of 400 to 450 ppm. And our still unrestrained burning of fossil fuels will almost certainly take us beyond the Pliocene's concentrations.
This is the kind of information that is now reaching the citizens of the world. Global communication is fostering global awareness and initiating global anxiety about the slow progress of nations and their politicians to address what is now perceived to be an unfolding crisis. This groundswell of concern is building, adding even more pressure to December's Copenhagen meeting.
Consider October 24th as an example. This day was proclaimed as an International Day of Climate Change by an internet organization known as 350.org – 350 ppm was set as the upper level of atmospheric CO2 that many scientists consider would safely maintain our existing climate and ecologies, together with the security of future generations. This single initiative was able to generate 5,245 public events in 181 countries on one single day. People sang, chanted, danced, climbed, biked and paraded in countries from Canada and Pakistan to Britain and Liberia. Quadra Island had its event. So did Victoria and Salt Spring Island. Vancouver had 1,000 people marching downtown. To warn of rising sea levels, the government of the Maldives used scuba gear to hold a cabinet meeting under water. Photos from all events around the planet were e-mailed to New York where samples were shown on giant screens in Times Square. A visual petition of 19,000 pictures were presented to the United Nations to emphasize the concern of the world's citizens.
This is the intensifying emotional mood in which December's negotiations will take place in Copenhagen. The pressure is building and expectations are high. Another Kyoto Protocol will not likely be tolerated – beyond focusing attention on climate change and beginning preliminary corrective measures, it has largely been a failure. Worried people are not in the mood for another such failure.
The more we know about global warming, the worse appear the prospects if we do not bring our greenhouse gas emissions under control. Presidents and prime ministers, senators and members of parliament, even mayors and counsellors should be feeling the pressure and initiating action at every level of government.
With dwindling opportunity and shortening time, global hope is now being transferred to Copenhagen. Failure here would likely send political shock waves around the planet, shattering humanity's faith that their leaders are actually capable of leading when leading is critical. The resulting cynicism could have dire implications.