Protesters marched in Washington on a second consecutive Saturday to challenge President Donald Trump’s stance on the environment and call on him to stand by policies to stop climate change championed by his predecessor. Havovi Cooper reports.
AS UN negotiators meet in Bonn in western Germany this week to thrash out the rules for implementing the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, the stakes have never been higher.
Australia formally signed on to the landmark global deal on climate in November as fresh key climate measures continue to illustrate the risks of global warming.
In 2016, Earth’s average surface temperature hit a record level for the third consecutive year since records began in 1880.
The global average temperature was about 1.1C over pre-industrial levels, and about 0.06C above the previous record set in 2015, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
The 21st century has already seen 16 of the 17 hottest years on record. Arctic summer sea ice shrank to 4.14 million square kilometres in 2016 — the second-lowest after 2012 when it reached 3.39 million.
The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer as early as 2030. In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6C to 7C higher than the long-term average.
On the other extreme of the world, Antarctica, sea ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites at the end of summer.
High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, declined in surface area in 2015 for the 36th year in a row.
400 PARTS PER MILLION
The atmospheric concentrations of the three most potent greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) — all hit new highs in 2016.
For the first time on record, in 2015, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere averaged 400 parts per million (ppm).
Most climate scientists agree that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere must be capped at 450 ppm of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for a fighting chance at limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
This is the limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Fossil fuel-generated greenhouse gas emissions are expected to have remained stable in 2016 for the third consecutive year, even as the global economy grew. But to stay on target for 2C, they need to decline.
Meanwhile, scientists are warning of an unexplained rise of methane, which has a far more potent warming effect than CO2, in the atmosphere.
Sea level rise, caused when ice melts and warmer water expands, continued and appeared to be accelerating, according to a recent report.
The average ocean level was 70 millimetres higher in 2015 than the 1993 water mark, having risen as much as 30 per cent faster in the 10 years to 2015 than in the previous decade.
The pace is likely to pick up further as ice sheets and glaciers shed mass, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January the global average sea level could be between 0.3 and 2.5 metres higher by 2100.
On current trends, the melting Antarctic ice sheet on its own could contribute to a metre of lift, according to one study.
According to the WMO, it is possible to “demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high-impact extreme events, in particular heatwaves.” The number of climate-related extreme events — droughts, forest fires, floods, major storm surges — have doubled since 1990, some researchers say.
The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, for example, has increased by 12 to 15 per cent.
Natural disasters drive about 26 million people into poverty every year, says the World Bank, and cause annual losses of about $US520 million.
Of the 8688 species of animals and plants listed as “threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, 19 per cent — 1688 species — have been negatively affected by climate change.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was undergoing an unprecedented second straight year of bleaching due to warming seas, and scientists have warned parts of it may never recover.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
For the first time since Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House, UN negotiators gather next week to draft rules to take forward the climate-rescue Paris Agreement he has threatened to abandon.
The midyear round of haggling in Bonn is meant to begin work on a crucial rule book for signatories of the pact.
But it risks being sidetracked by mounting uncertainty over the world’s number two carbon polluter, with Mr Trump at its helm.
“This was supposed to be a highly technical and uneventful meeting to flesh out some of the details in the Paris Agreement. But, obviously, the speculation coming out of Washington is now at the top of our minds,” the Maldives environment and energy minister, Thoriq Ibrahim, told AFP.
The deal was sealed at the 21st so-called “Conference of Parties” (COP 21) in the French capital in December 2015, after years of haggling.
A diplomatic push led by Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and China’s Xi Jinping, saw 195 countries and the EU bloc — 196 parties in total — OK the deal to the popping of champagne corks. Palestine has also since joined.
The agreement sets the goal of limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels — and 1.5C if possible.
This will be done by curbing planet-warming greenhouse-gas emissions from burning oil, coal and gas — an objective to which countries have pledged voluntary, nationally-determined “contributions”.
Global Climate Change is now recognised as a threat to our future. Political and business leaders including Madeleine Albright, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner and the Dalai Lama are asked… do we have the will to act on the solutions at hand?