November 2014

Lima:  Just a Start

The annual Framework Climate Convention negotiations will take place from December 1-12 in Lima, Peru.  ICCI as always will be there to make certain that delegates hear the latest on cryosphere developments, with a presence that includes an information booth as well as a UNFCCC side event on December 11 (welcome!).

With the aim of a new agreement in Paris next year, the Lima talks are however anything but business-as-usual: in practice, Paris simply will be the end of a long journey that began with the failure in 2009 to reach any meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.  Lima marks the beginning of the final sprint towards such an agreement, and there are encouraging signs that governments will not repeat Copenhagen.  Most significantly, the U.S. and China, long playing a game of “who goes first” on climate issues, finally have shifted their positions to a joint compromise where both have agreed to act.  This adds some momentum and frankly, pressure on other governments, both developed and developing, who have played the same game yet hidden behind the intransigence of the two largest emitters.  The European Union’s commitment to even deeper cuts announced in October helps add to this momentum.

Will these actions be enough?  By no means – and especially, not for the cryosphere.  The rise in temperature in polar and mountain regions documented since the early 1960’s continues unabated.  Current “real” actions by governments remain so low as to keep us on track for a 4-6°C (9-14°F) rise in global temperature in coming decades through 2100, translating into 8-10°C (19-23°F) or more in cryosphere regions, especially in the Arctic.  Such a temperature rise carries enormous risks, especially involving committed sea level rise that would flood a majority of current human population centers far more quickly and inevitably than reasonable adaptation can manage.  Even with decades or even centuries to prepare, the scale of disruption is hard to imagine, and the loss in human and ecological terms enormous.

Nevertheless, these declarations do represent movement; and one would like to think, the beginnings of a shift to a more science-based response to a looming crisis that even now can only be partially avoided, yet is far better than the alternative.  Developments from the Tibetan Plateau to Antarctica continue to add to the picture of disintegration of cryosphere regions, with all the global feedbacks and attendant risks.  Part of ICCI’s role in Lima and the other negotiations planned before Paris will comprise not only highlighting the cryosphere results of the IPCC Fifth Assessment for negotiators, elected leaders and the general public, but also bringing to their attention findings since then that only sharpen the need for action.

This “message from the cryosphere” remains as sharp and as uncompromising as the physical laws that govern the climate of our planet.  Lima can place us on the right track to respond in time.

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