Global warming will leave the Arctic Ocean ice-free during the summer within 20 years, raising sea levels and harming wildlife such as seals and polar bears, a leading British polar scientist said on Thursday.
Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, said much of the melting will take place within a decade, although the winter ice will stay for hundreds of years.
The changes will mean the top of the Earth will appear blue rather than white when photographed from space and ships will have a new sea route north of Russia.
Scientists say evidence of melting Arctic ice is one of the clearest signs of global warming and it should send a warning to world leaders meeting in Copenhagen in December for U.N. talks on a new climate treaty.
“The data supports the new consensus view — based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition — that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years,” Wadhams said in a statement. “Much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years.”
Wadhams, one of the world’s leading experts on sea ice cover in the North Pole region, compared ice thickness measurements taken by a Royal Navy submarine in 2007 with evidence gathered by the British explorer Pen Hadow earlier this year.
Hadow and his team on the Catlin Arctic Survey drilled 1,500 holes to gather evidence during a 280-mile walk across the Arctic. They found the average thickness of ice-floes was 1.8 meters, a depth considered too thin to survive the summer’s ice melt.
Sometimes referred to as the Earth’s air-conditioner, the Arctic Sea plays a vital role in the world’s climate. As Arctic ice melts in summer, it exposes the darker-colored ocean water, which absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it, accelerating the effect of global warming.
Dr Martin Sommerkorn, from the environmental charity WWF’s Arctic program, which worked on the survey, said the predicted loss of ice could have wide-reaching effects around the world.
“The Arctic Sea ice holds a central position in our Earth’s climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world,” he said.
“This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world’s population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions …. and extreme global weather changes.”
Britain’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the research “sets out the stark realities of climate change.”
“This further strengthens the case for an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen,” he added.
For more on declining Arctic ice volume, go here.
The Obama administration is hoping to win new commitments to fight global warming from China and India in back-to-back summits next month, the Guardian has learned, including the first Indian emissions trading scheme.
The US hopes the new commitments will breathe life into the moribund negotiations to seal a global treaty on climate change in Copenhagen in December, by setting out what action each country will take. But many observers say such bilateral deals also risk seriously weakening any Copenhagen agreement by allowing the idea of a global limit on greenhouse gas emissions to be abandoned.
The US’s twin diplomatic push will see Barack Obama meeting China’s president Hu Jintao in Beijing on November 16-17 before playing host to India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh at the White House on November 24. The visits appear timed to provide a much-needed boost to a proposed law to reduce US emissions now before the Senate, as well as to the Copenhagen talks.
At preparatory UN talks in Bangkok earlier this month, the US and other rich countries were accused by a group of 131 nations of trying to “fundamentally sabotage” the Kyoto protocol, which the group said must be the basis for its successor. Kyoto “” which made no demands on developing countries and which the US refused to ratify “” remains political kryptonite in Washington. The US wants to move away from a legally binding global agreement to one where individual countries pledge cuts in their national emissions.
The state department envoy, Todd Stern, believes strongly that separate bilateral agreements with countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil are the building blocks to an agreement at Copenhagen. But adoption of national action plans is hazardous say others, as there would be little clear idea of whether together they would avoid dangerous global warming.
US officials are hopeful that breakthroughs with India and China could still provide the underpinnings for at least a limited deal at Copenhagen. “China and India are both critically important to achieving our international goals on carbon reduction. We need them as part the system,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the foreign and environment and public works committees. “There has already been a lot of work done between US and China, and there is going to be more work done next month with President Obama going to China.”
Cutting greenhouse gases along the lines of a climate bill pending in Congress would modestly impact the US economy over the next few decades, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday in a report.
“Reducing the risk of climate change would come at some cost to the economy,” CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, two weeks before the Senate takes up the climate change bill.
“Over the next few decades the economic losses from policies to avert climate change would exceed the economic gains in terms of climate change,” he added.
The House of Representatives passed its own version of the climate bill in June. Elmendorf said the Cap and Trade initiative it includes would reduce US gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent in 2020 and by 3.5 percent in 2050.
However, he added, CBO projects that inflation-adjusted GDP growth will be two-and-a-half times larger than today’s, “so those changes will be comparatively modest.”
He also said the House climate bill would have little impact on the standard of living of Americans — CBO projections see purchasing power dropping 0.1 percent in 2010 and 0.8 percent in 2050, averaging out to 455 dollars per year.
Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide may be a little easier than most people think.
Between 2007 and 2009, domestic emissions could drop by 9 percent “” a massive decline due in part to the economic downturn, and in part to a new push to improve efficiency and develop renewable fuels “” according to the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental group.
“We’ve been hearing for years that it was nearly impossible to make substantial cuts in carbon emissions,” said Lester R. Brown, the group’s president. “In fact, it is not that difficult.”
Energy usage has dropped rapidly in the past two years in the United States, mostly as a result of the recession, which has crimped economic activity and pushed up unemployment figures. But Mr. Brown said that recent policies are firmly putting the nation on a path of lower carbon emissions, even in the absence of federal legislation.
These include boosting fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, investing in renewable power generation, and an “energy efficiency revolution” that will save power from buildings and appliances.
On a conference call this morning, Mr. Brown pointed out that 22 coal-fired plants in 12 states were being made more efficient, or replaced altogether by wind farms, natural gas plants or wood chip plants. Over 130 geothermal plants are also under development, he pointed out, and 102 wind farms came online in 2008.
Another 49 were completed in the first half of this year and 57 are now under construction, Mr. Brown said.
Amazingly, 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are awaiting access to the grid, which is the equivalent of roughly 300 coal plants.
He also said the American car fleet is expected to shrink by 2 percent this year, a trend that is likely to continue for years.
Adding all of this together means that the goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent or 20 percent by 2020, as Congress is currently debating, should not be too much of a stretch. The trouble, said Mr. Brown, is that 20 percent will not be enough to prevent some of the worst aspects of global warming.
Preventing ice sheets from melting in Greenland or in the Himalayas will require cuts much deeper than those envisaged either by Congress or by negotiators ahead of the global climate summit on Copenhagen later this year, Mr. Brown said.
That would require cutting carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2020, and need something like a “wartime mobilization” of the economy, Mr. Brown said.
“What we are hearing is not nearly enough,” he said.
Teddy Roosevelt had the Great White Fleet.
Ray Mabus envisions a “Great Green Fleet.”
The secretary of the Navy on Wednesday outlined five energy goals for the Navy and Marines in the next decade. Four involve reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, increasing use of alternative energies and factoring energy costs into the price tag of every new ship, engine or building.
The fifth might be the most radical: Mabus committed to fielding by 2012 a “green” strike group compo sed of aircraft powered by biofuels, surface ships that operate on hybrid power supplies, and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.
The “green” fleet won’t just be for show, Mabus said. The strike group will deploy by 2016.
The CEOs of Air Products & Chemicals, Alcoa, American Electric Power and 11 other companies were urged to withdraw their memberships from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Associations of Manufacturers over disagreements on climate change, according to a statement from a group of 43 institutional investors and related organizations.
“Each of the companies has publicly stated that it supports action on climate change, which the chamber and NAM strongly oppose,” the statement said.
Letters from the group, which were sent Tuesday to the CEOs, ask the companies “to address their disagreement with the chamber and NAM on climate change policy by withdrawing membership, publicly disclosing their disagreement, or asking the associations to refund the portion of their dues used to lobby on the issue,” according to the statement.
Institutional investors in the investment coalition include Boston Common Asset Management, Catholic Health East, Catholic Healthcare West, Clean Yield Asset Management, Domini Social Investments, Green Century Capital Management, MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, Pax World Management Corp., The Russell Family Foundation, Trillium Asset Management and Walden Asset Management
Melissa McHenry, AEP spokesman, said, “We do disagree with the chamber’s and NAM’s position and we actually supported” the American Clean Energy and Security Act that was passed by the House earlier this year and favor climate legislation being considered in the Senate.