The Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide at a far greater rate than was previously thought, threatening fish stocks and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, a report suggests. The Independent reports
The surface, or top 100 metres, of the ocean is now about 35 per cent more acidic than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, with potentially huge implications for Arctic ecosystems.
The changing chemical make-up of the seawater threatens to wipe out large numbers of herring, cod and capelin – a small fish largely used as animal feed – as well as plankton and crabs.
This could affect the livelihoods of indigenous populations that rely on fishing and hunting, for example, the Canadian Inuit, as well as reducing food for birds and larger marine mammals such as walruses.
The acidification could also put further pressure on the rapidly diminishing global supply of fish for human consumption. The report’s lead author, Richard Bellerby, of the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, told The Independent: “Sea urchins, in particular, are very sensitive to acidification and are a major food source for marine mammals like walruses, as are some of the plankton, which are important food for fish.
Parnuna Egede, an adviser to the Greenland branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents the 160,000 Inuit people living in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka in Russia, said: “The Arctic communities are extremely worried about the effects on our ecosystem because we so deeply rely on the Arctic Ocean and its animals.”
The Arctic Ocean takes in the coastlines of the US, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
Among the world’s seas it is particularly vulnerable to acidification because of a “triple whammy” of conditions, said the report, to which 60 experts contributed. Recent trends that have resulted from global warming have served to accelerate the process of acidification.
The rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice to a record low last year left a greater surface area of sea through which to absorb the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
Additionally, the increasing flows from rivers and melting land ice have delivered another blow since freshwater is less effective at chemically neutralising the impact of the CO2.
Meanwhile, cold water absorbs more CO2 than warmer water, while ever-increasing carbon emissions mean there is even more to absorb, the report said.
“Ocean acidification is likely to affect the abundance, productivity and distribution of marine species, but the magnitude and direction of change are uncertain …. Experiments show that a wide variety of animals grow more slowly under the acidification levels projected for coming centuries,” the report said.
But carbon absorption is “not all doom and gloom”, it added.
The more carbon dioxide the sea absorbs, the less is left in the atmosphere, thereby reducing the impact of global warming. Also, some life forms, such as sea grasses “appear to thrive under such conditions”.
Climate change is allowing agriculture to boom. The Independent on Sunday reports
Inside the Arctic Circle, a chef is growing the kind of vegetables and herbs – potatoes, thyme, tomatoes, green peppers – more fitted for a suburban garden in a temperate zone than a land of northern lights, glaciers and musk oxen. Some Inuit hunters are finding reindeer fatter than ever thanks to more grazing on this frozen tundra, and, for some, there is no longer a need to trek hours to find wild herbs.
This is climate change in Greenland, where locals say longer and warmer summers mean the country can grow the kind of crops unheard of years ago. “Things are just growing quicker,” said Kim Ernst, the Danish chef of Roklubben restaurant, nestled by a frozen lake near a former Cold War-era US military base. “Every year we try new things,” added Mr Ernst, who even managed to grow a handful of strawberries that he served to some surprised Scandinavian royals. “I came here in 1999 and no one would have dreamed of doing this. But now the summer days seem warmer, and longer.”
It was -20C in March but the sun was out and the air was still, with an almost spring-like feel. Mr Ernst showed me his greenhouse and an outdoor winter garden which in a few months may sprout again. Hundreds of miles south, some farmers now produce hay, and sheep farms have grown in size. Some supermarkets in the capital, Nuuk, sell locally grown vegetables in the summer.
Major commercial crop production is still in its infancy. But it is a sign of the changes here that Greenland’s government set up a commission this year to study how a changing climate may help farmers increase agricultural production and replace expensive imported foods. Change is already under way. Potatoes grown commercially in southern Greenland reached over 100 tons in 2012, double the yield of 2008. Vegetable production in the region may double this year compared with 2012, according to government data.
Some politicians hope global warming will allow this country, fully a quarter the size of the United States, to reduce its dependence on its former colonial master, Denmark, for much of its food as political parties push for full independence.
Greenland, which is self-governing aside from defence and security, depends on an annual grant from Denmark of around $600m (£395m), or half the island’s annual budget. But the thawing of its ice sheets has seen a boost in mining and oil exploration as well as an interest in agriculture. “I expect a lot of development in sheep farming and agriculture due to global warming,” said the outgoing Prime Minister, Kuupik Kleist, whose government set up the commission. “It may become an important supplement to our economy.”
Locals love recounting how Erik the Red first arrived in the southern fjords here in the 10th century and labelled this ice-covered island “Greenland” to entice others to settle, an early instance of hype to lure unwary customers. There is evidence that the climate was warmer then, allowing Viking settlements to grow crops for five centuries before mysteriously dying out.
The scale of this new agriculture is tiny. There are just a few dozen sheep farms in southern Greenland, where most of the impact of climate change can be seen. Cows may number fewer than a hundred. But with 57,000 mostly Inuit human inhabitants, the numbers to feed are also small. “You need to put this into perspective. We used to be high-Arctic and now we are more sub-Arctic,” said Kenneth Hoegh, an agronomist and former senior government adviser. “But we are still Arctic.”
The symbolism is enormous, however, highlighting a changing global climate that has seen temperatures in the Arctic increase by about twice the global average –about 0.8C – since pre-industrial times. “There are now huge areas in southern Greenland where you can grow things,” said Josephine Nymand, a scientist at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk. “Potatoes have most benefited. Also cabbage has been very successful.”
Sten Erik Langstrup Pedersen, who runs an organic farm on a fjord near Nuuk, first grew potatoes in 1976. Now he can plant crops two weeks earlier in May and harvest three weeks later in October compared with more than a decade ago. He grows 23 kinds of vegetables, compared with 15 a decade ago, including beans, peas, herbs and strawberries. He says he has sold some strawberries to top restaurants in Copenhagen. But Mr Pedersen is sceptical about how much it will catch on. “Greenlanders are impatient,” he said. “They see a seal and they immediately just want to hunt it. They can never wait for vegetables to grow.”
There is still potential. Mr Hoegh estimates Greenland could provide half of its food needs from home-grown produce, which would be cheaper than Danish imports. But global change is not all about benefits. While summers are warmer, there is less rain. Some experts say that Greenland could soon need irrigation works – ironic for a country of ice and lakes.
“We have had dry summers for the last few years.” said Aqqalooraq Frederiksen, a senior agricultural consultant in south Greenland, who said a late spring last year hurt potato crops.
On the Arctic Circle, a flash flood last summer from suspected glacier melt water – which some locals here blamed on warm weather – swept away the only bridge connecting Mr Ernst’s restaurant to the airport. It came right in the middle of the tourist season, and the restaurant lost thousands of dollars.
It was an ominous reminder that global warming will bring its problems. Still, for Mr Pedersen and his fjord in Nuuk, the future looks good. “The hotter, the better,” Mr Pedersen said. “For me.”
• World’s largest island (not counting Australia), part of North America, but politically and culturally linked with Europe.
• In the early 18th century, Denmark claimed sovereignty over Greenland, and still has control over foreign affairs and defence matters.
• Population: 56,370; the least densely populated country in the world.
• Language: Greenlandic.
• Official religion: Evangelical Lutheran.
• Unemployment: 4.9 per cent in 2011.
• The economy relies on fishing and fish exports. Tourism plays a big role in generating capital too, and Greenland receives an annual grant from Denmark of $600m.
• It could be the world’s next mining frontier, as global warming makes it easier to recover precious metals from glacial surroundings.
• The largest employers in Greenland are public bodies, including the central government in Denmark. Most positions are in the capital, Nuuk.
• Greenlanders elect two representatives to the Folketing – Denmark’s parliament.
• Greenland has its own parliament, with 31 members. The new PM, after winning 42.8 per cent of the popular vote in this month’s election, is Aleqa Hammond of the Siumut (Forward) Party. It wants Greenlandic independence.
• Queen Margrethe of Denmark, is head of state. A high commissioner is appointed to represent the island.
Mathew di Salvo
- Crops grown in the tundra? With climate change, yes (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Produce picked from the tundra: Welcome to climate change in Greenland (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
“In a sense we have moved from the idea of global warming to the idea of climate change, and that is rather important – yes, indeed, temperatures are increasing but the thing that is going to happen is that we are going to see much more variability in our weather,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“I think you only have to look at the last few years to see how that is actually starting to manifest itself even in the UK.”
Sir John said there were “massive problems” in the world of food, water and energy security as the global population increases, all of which would be exacerbated by climate change.
Even if effective action was taken now on global warming, he said there would be “significant” climate change over the next 20 to 25 years as results of past global emissions.
“We have massive problems in the world – in 12 years’ time there will be another billion people on the planet and we have big issues of food security, water security and energy security and many, many people will start to be living in cities,” he said.
“These are massive problems; climate change is just going to make it worse.”
He said there were some “uncertainties” in the analysis of climate and climate change.
“But those uncertainties are completely outweighed by the enormous body of evidence that shows it is happening and is happening in the sort of ways climate models would expect,” he said.
“For example the Arctic is heating up vastly faster than other parts of the world – this is exactly what the climate scientists are predicting.”
Sir John’s remarks were made as Britain experienced freezing cold weather and snow, with thousands of homes across the UK without power and many roads still impassable.
Almost 8,000 homes and businesses were flooded in 2012, as the UK was battered by repeated heavy rain, storms and floods.
England and Wales experienced 10 separate flooding events between April and December last year after widespread drought gave way to the wettest summer in a century, with unusually high rainfall totals and river levels around the country.
- Warning of greater weather extremes (standard.co.uk)
- UK & World News: Warning of greater weather extremes (journallive.co.uk)
- UK News: Warning of greater weather extremes (birminghampost.net)
Landmark Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Celebrates First Anniversary
Nairobi, Kenya – The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) celebrates its first anniversary tomorrow. Launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with an initial group of six country partners and the United Nations Environment Programme, the Coalition has quickly grown to 55 partners, including 27 countries, the European Commission, as well as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and eighteen NGOs.
“In its first year the Coalition has been brilliant in developing a spirit of urgent optimism, a spirit that is critical for solving the daunting problem of climate change,” stated Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, one of the NGO members. “And it’s already working on plans for taking its strategies to the scale it needs to meet the bold challenge of cutting the rate of warming in half for the next 40 years, with the World Bank pledging billions of new dollars for their efforts. The Coalition is a rare climate success story.”
The CCAC is the first-ever global effort specifically dedicated to reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). SLCPs include black carbon (soot), recently recognized as the second most powerful climate pollutant after carbon dioxide, methane and ground-level ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used as refrigerants and to make insulating foams.
To address these pollutants, the Coalition has undertaken a set of fast-action initiatives: reducing methane from urban landfills and from the oil and gas industry; reducing black carbon emissions from brick kilns and from heavy duty diesel vehicles and engines; promoting alternatives to HFCs; scaling up finance to reduce all SLCPs; and developing SLCP National Action Plans. The Coalition is also developing additional proposals to address open burning of biomass and pollution from cookstoves.
Fast action to reduce SLCPs has the potential to cut the rate of climate change in half, slowing global temperature rise by up to ~0.6°C by 2050, while preventing 2.4 million air pollution-related deaths per year, and avoiding around 30 million tonnes of crop losses annually. Reductions of SLCPs are complementary to reductions of carbon dioxide emissions and can often be achieved simultaneously. If large-scale reductions of both SLCPs and carbon dioxide are undertaken immediately, there is still a high probability of keeping the increase in global temperature to less than 1.5°C above the pre-industrial temperature for the next 30 years and below the 2°C guardrail for the next 60 to 90 years.
“The success of the CCAC shows that more and more countries are now recognizing the multiple, cost-effective benefits that swift, coordinated action on SLCPs can deliver,” said UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who put the CCAC at the top of his list of UNEP’s accomplishments in 2012. “UNEP has partnered with researchers for over ten years to bring the science of short-lived climate pollutants to the fore. This research clearly shows that action on SLCPs can deliver important near-term climate gains, and contribute to the achievement of health- and food security-related goals,” added Mr. Steiner, speaking from the UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.
In addition to cutting the rate of global warming in half, reducing emissions of SLCPs is particularly beneficial for some of the most vulnerable and threatened regions on the planet, including the Arctic, which is warming at more than twice the global average rate, and setting off self-amplifying warming feedbacks, according to UNEP’s Year Book 2013 released this week. Addressing pollutants such as black carbon, which has especially powerful warming effects in regions of ice and snow, may be the most effective means of slowing and delaying imminent climate impacts in those regions in the near term.
IGSD has long been a champion of efforts to reduce HFCs, black carbon, methane, and tropospheric ozone, and serves as the NGO representative on the Coalition’s Steering Committee.
Jonathon Porritt wonders why we moderate the ‘scary’ impacts of global warming to avoid alienating people
So here I am, writing this on a flight out to join Forum for the Future colleagues in New York (I know, I know…), pondering, as always, how to manage the advocacy challenge that lies ahead. The Guardian reports
I’m leaving on the day the British media went into overdrive on the latest data from the Arctic on the extent of melting in the summer sea ice. Superlatives abound: ‘worst ever’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘no known comparison in at least three million years’ etc. But the thing that really grabbed me in all the coverage was the personal testimony of some of the scientists involved: shocked, horrified and astonished as they clearly are at the prospect of an ice-free summer Arctic by 2030 – decades earlier than the same scientists were predicting just a few years ago.
A comment from a Cambridge University sea ice researcher says it all: “this is staggering. It’s disturbing, scary that we have physically changed the face of the planet.”
Scary. A word that’s hopelessly understated, and yet seriously difficult to use effectively – especially in the US.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney mentioned climate change only once, and used speech marks around it to demonstrate his contempt for Barack Obama’s marginally more committed position.
It’s election time, and both parties still get a lot of money from the oil, coal and gas lobbies. Money talks louder than science or even basic reason. Just check out the official platform of the Republican Party in Texas: “We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups to disrupt and stop the oil and gas industries. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished. We support the freedom to continue to use and manufacture incandescent light bulbs. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species.”
Now that is scary. Especially if you’re a dune sage brush lizard.
Fortunately, I suspect I won’t have to deal with any Texas Republicans on this visit, though I have in the past. But I will be engaging with many people who may still describe themselves as ‘climate sceptics’, if not full-on ‘denialists’.
No doubt I’ll end up moderating the message to avoid alienating them. To ensure that ‘scary’ doesn’t lead to denial rather than enlightenment. Keeping people on side is a precondition of making any progress on sustainability issues.
I feel bad about that. All the more so having just read the latest broadside from the redoubtable Kevin Anderson at Manchester University, taking to task the vast majority of climate scientists for their mealy-mouthed inability to tell it as it really is: “Contrary to the claims of many climate sceptics, scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, ‘impossible’ is translated into ‘difficult but doable’, whereas ‘urgent and radical’ emerge as ‘challenging’ – all to appease the god of economics. Put bluntly, climate change commitments are incompatible with short to medium-term economic growth.”
He’s right about this. In one way or another, many of us are now involved in playing down the full horror of accelerating climate change. I even do it with my own children, both of whom have started to ask me how, after 40 years trying to narrow the gap between what needs to be done and what is being done, I haven’t collapsed into utter despair!
“Never too late”, I tell them. Not as in “never too late” to avoid some pretty horrendous shocks to the system, but “never too late” to avoid total apocalyptic meltdown.
I spent much of my summer holiday reading books by people wrestling with that very demarcation line, including the latest reworking of the original (1972) Limits to Growth analysis by Jorgen Randers. This time round, he’s casting his somewhat gloomy Norwegian perspective out to 2052, and here’s his conclusion.
“Don’t let the prospect of impending disaster crush your spirits. Don’t let the prospect of a suboptimal long-term future kill your hope. Hope for the unlikely! Work for the unlikely! Remember, too, that even if we do not succeed in our fight for a better world, there will still be a future world. And there will still be a world with a future – just less beautiful and less harmonious than it could have been.”
I suspect I’ll avoid even those uplifting exhortations in the US. Just too scary!
- Arctic sea ice melt brings calls for AGW skepticism to be dropped..but what about the Antarctica sea ice record increase? (seeker401.wordpress.com)
- Greens say abandon climate scepticism (bigpondnews.com)
- Egypt student works to combat climate change in the Arctic (bikyamasr.com)
- Nathan Currier: Saving the Arctic Ice: Greenpeace, Greenwashing and Geoengineering (#1) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Arctic “death spiral” leaves climate scientists shocked and worried (vancouverobserver.com)
- 1975 Shock News : Climatologists Wanted To Melt The Arctic To Stop The Climate Crisis (stevengoddard.wordpress.com)
- Poll deals climate change blow for Mitt Romney. (newscientist.com)
- Media in US and UK give climate scepticism more voice (environmentalresearchweb.org)
- Global warming: Arctic temps out of synch with natural cycles (summitcountyvoice.com)