As Cancun climate talks plod along, the world copes with Hell and High Water

Pachauri: Climate change impacts are ‘here and now’

As the world’s environmental ministers arrive in Cancun, Mexico, for the 19th year of negotiations to address global warming pollution, new climate disasters are killing people across the planet.  IPCC chief Dr. Rajendra Pachauri warned Friday at a forum on communicating climate science that the impacts of climate change are here and now. Brad Johnson has the double story.
The slow-moving climate talks are hobbled by insufficient amibition, and uncertainty over whether the United States or China “” the world’s largest climate polluters “” will follow through with their Copenhagen Accord commitments. The Obama administration’s stated commitment to cut pollution by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, after Republican climate deniers killed cap-and-trade legislation, now depends on whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned greenhouse standards survive a polluter onslaught.

Meanwhile, the building heat trapped by billions of tons of fossil fuel pollution is fueling catastrophic changes in the world’s climate system predicted years ago by scientists:

– The worst wildfires in Israel’s history, fueled by record warmth and drought during the cele, “have destroyed large sections of Israel’s northern area” and killed 41 people. Four days of intense battle during the celebration of Hanukkah, with assistance from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, France, Britain, Switzerland, Spain, US, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Azerbaijan and others, have finally begun to bring the devastation under control.

– Forty-two separate wildfires are burning in neighboring Lebanon, which has the same tinderbox conditions.

– Dynamic winter-storm systems driven by the rapidly warming Arctic have plunged much of Europe into killer cold weather for the second year in a row, months after a summer of record heat and precipitation. Up to 30 people have frozen to death in Poland, and thirty more killed in the rest of Europe.

Floods have hit Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia after “three weeks of torrential rains,” forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

– Thousands of people have been evacuated amid catastrophic floods in Australia that have already destroyed $500 million in crops, with rivers still rising.

Thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes ripped through the southern United States, injuring at least 30 people, destroying buildings, toppling trees, flooding highways and forcing schools to close.

– New Zealand is facing an intense heatwave and its third consecutive summer of drought.

Speaking at the funeral of a teenage volunteer firefighter, President Shimon Peres said the wildfire “disaster taught us that all of us, Jews, Arabs, Druze, and other peoples, share the same fate.”

In a related WonkRoom cross-post, IPCC chief Pachauri warns the impacts of climate change are “here and now.”

Pachauri, the chair of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that scientists need to do a better job explaining that global warming is not a distant threat, but a present reality:

It is important for us to emphasize the fact that climate change and its impacts are not something in the future. They are here and now. And I am afraid the scientific community has not been very effective in communicating this message, and I hope that we can do something about it.

Pachauri made his remarks at the Climate Change Communication Forum held in association with the ongoing international climate talks in Cancun, Mexico. In his speech, he also argued it is important for people to understand the successes already achieved in tackling global warming pollution, particularly the “win-win” solutions such as energy efficiency that improve both environmental and economic health.

Brad Johnson

Related Hell and High Water posts:

15 Responses to As Cancun climate talks plod along, the world copes with Hell and High Water

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    “… have plunged much of Europe into killer cold weather”

    4th Dec : Warmer temperatures and rain expected to produce black ice
    6th Dec : Dangerous conditions follow thaw
    Wintry conditions exacerbated traffic problems in Germany on Monday, with fresh snow in southern regions and black ice across the country. Two deaths were reported in the north.

    “Floods have hit Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia ”

    Picture This
    A Tide Too High
    High-water alarms sounded in Venice on Friday morning as seasonal winter floods reached their highest level. Over half of the legendary Italian island city was under water. The heavy flooding is due to a combination of persistently bad weather and the usual tide coming in to the Venice lagoon off the Adriatic, the news agency,1518,732786,00.html

    Many feared dead in Columbia landslide
    Medellin, Dec 6 (IBNS) Over 50 people remained missing as a massive landslide buried them alive after flattening 10 houses in the Columbian city of Medellin on Sunday, Red Cross said on Monday.

    Rescue workers with sniffer dogs were at the scene and said they had managed to rescue seven people so far.

    The landslide hit the La Gabriela district of Bello, north of Medellin, eye witnesses said as they feared an unestimated number of people being buried alive and suffocated to death in the Comubia’s second largest city.

    Disaster official John Rendon said at least 50 people were missing but that the number could be higher.

    The initial count was that there may be 150-200 people considered missing.

    The landslide buried 10 houses, each of then with three stories.

    Landslides are common in the Columbian Andes region – the latest was triggered by the heaviest rains in the country in four decades.

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    Rain fury in Bosnia, Serbia; flood worst in a century
    The flooding in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro is the worst in a century. Parts of Croatia have also been paralysed by the rising waters.

    Spared the snow and ice gripping other areas of Europe, authorities said entire villages in Montenegro had been submerged by the flooding.

    Read more at:

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    Land mines shifted by Bosnia flooding
    ‘Only God knows where those mines went,’ says one mine clearer
    SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Floods in Bosnia displaced thousands this week as they washed away homes, crops and bridges. The torrents have also swept loose a perhaps even bigger concern: land mines planted during the Bosnian war.
    Since the end of the war in 1995, authorities have done their best to clear away the estimated 1 million land mines planted by the conflicting sides — or at least to mark contaminated areas.
    But what if the ground moves?

  4. Jeandetaca says:

    Pauchari is perfectly right: we must insist that global warming is here and now, and that every one of us is exposed to this huge danger.
    Peres sentence also is very important. Jews and Arabs and Druzzs an Turqs share the same environment and the same climate. If we destroy our climate we will have nothing to share. Jews and Arabs can negociate, even if it looks very difficult. With the Climate and the laws of physic there is no negociation.
    Could the calamity of global warming be the opportunity to reassess our priorities. Global warming is number1 priority and it needs a peace agreement between Jews and arabs to properly readapt our society against this common ennemy, our CO2 emissions.

  5. toby says:

    Living in Ireland, I have been surprised that the media have not jumped on the simplistic “How can there be global warming, if it is so cold?” sthick, which they did last January..

    In fact, the connection to the Arctic airflows and the warmer polar regions have got a lot of attention.

  6. Leif says:

    “Speaking at the funeral of a teenage volunteer firefighter, President Shimon Peres said the wildfire “disaster taught us that all of us, Jews, Arabs, Druze, and other peoples, share the same fate.””

    The problem in my eyes is that the rich, powerful, decision makers are NOT sharing the same fate. They live in gated communities with power, (both electrical and political), water and wealth and feel that THEY are immune. Their forked tongues allows them to express concern to remain in power but in the end they go home to a warm house, big supper and a secure nights sleep.

    Each and every world leader and negotiator should be stripped to their skivvies and dropped into a climatic induced fleeing mass of humanity for a week. I would call it “on the job empathy training.”

  7. Ed Hummel says:

    Toby #5: After dealing with deniers and skeptics for so long, I am still surprised about what you said is occurring in Ireland. But it also does give me some hope that just maybe enough people are finally starting to make some connection between the strange weather being experienced all over the world and what humans are doing to the atmosphere. Experiencing going from one extreme to the other in a few short months definitely gets people’s attention. Having one exceptional storm after another is another thing that gets people’s attention. Here in central Maine, I have noticed more people wondering what is going on as we experienced servere drought in many places during the summer after an exceptionally warm and early spring followed by a very stormy and wet fall that now appears to be followed by a winter that features one monster storm after another, but with still no major snowfall (still having mostly rain and drizzle) and we’re already almost through the first week of December. Pachauri is quite correct with his plea for linking the strange weather with human induced climate change. I think one of the keys in explaining what is happening is stressing that global warming essentially means adding more energy to the entire climate system. Everybody knows that any system with additional energy will be able to do more things more energetically than one with less. When that system is the climate, it means more energy driving events to their extreme limits, one way or the other. Too many people still think that global warming means that everyone gets warmer all the time and stays warmer. They don’t understand what’s happening in terms of adding more energy to the whole system and so causing extreme weather events to occur more frequently and with greater force, no matter what the event. I think following this track is the best way to get more people to accept human responsibility for what is happening, since it should be obvious that the world economy is removing stored energy locked in fossil fuels (that’s why they’re called FOSSIL fuels) and releasing it to become active again throughout the climate system (atmosphere, cryosphere and oceans). This message must be hammered again and again until it finally makes a dent. Tying weather events that everyone is actually experiencing now is the best way to do this (probably the only way at this point!). We know that our opponents will continue doing so with their message, and will probably do so with increasing vigor if they perceive any hint of losing the battle.

  8. Joe, that photo of the forest fires in Israel – was a powerfully great image to present. It says so much. Thanks.

    In the land of religious symbolism – we should call them the harbinger fires.

  9. Chris ODell says:

    This is completely off-topic, but for some global warming humor of the day, here is esteemed professor Scott Denning doing the “molecule dance”, to explain how the greenhouse effect works:

  10. Aaron Lewis says:

    So much for a policy of calm mitigation. Looks like it is time to aggressively adapt and mitigate.
    And, it it is very hard to engineer rational adaption measures, when we do not know what is coming. For example, we still do not have good numbers on ice dynamics in the ice sheets, which could lead to rapid or abrupt sea level rise. Not knowing what will occur makes the engineering difficult, which makes the politics impossible.

    In order to break the policy log-jam, we need climate impact numbers that fully state all risks. We are not going to get those numbers in time. We need to develop and act on engineering estimates. Those estimates may seem alarmist, but I expect that they will still dramatically understate the problems.

  11. Some European says:

    Venezuela’s Chavez blames capitalism for deluges

    CARACAS, Dec 5 (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez blamed “criminal” capitalism on Sunday for global climate phenomena including incessant rains that have brought chaos to Venezuela, killing 32 people and leaving 70,000 homeless.

    “The calamities we are suffering with these cruel and prolonged rains are yet more evidence of the unfair and cruel paradox of our planet,” Chavez said on Sunday.

    “The world’s powerful economies insist on a destructive way of life and then refuse to take any responsibility.”

    I think this is a very important signal. Maybe not very apt for broad communication in the US and Europe because it is very criticizable (oil exports, communism).
    But, as far as I know, it’s the most direct statement ever made by a leading voice about climate justice.
    It might not be very accurate but that’s beside the point.
    If we can get the Pakistani people, Ethiopians, Kenyans, and many others to pick up this message, they will soon become mobilised in a ‘war against the western-induced third-world-climate-holocaust’.

    I see Chavez’ statement as a key moment. What do you think?

  12. Florida is looking very droughty lately, too. At least one location set a record for driest autumn on record.

  13. Badgersouth says:

    Progressives and environmentalists must join together and launch a nationwide grassroots movement to make climate change the #1 issue in the 2012 election!

  14. Roger says:

    Many great comments, as usual.

    Leif (#6) has it right about many of the people blocking progress, or doing little, on climate: they figure they’ll at least be better off than most. But they’re only half smart because a)they won’t escape the suffering for long, and b)they’re missing an opportunity for mankind to preserve a livable climate for all, them included–if we begin working together on it soon!

    I also like what Badgersmith says above, and we need to start NOW!

  15. Chris Winter says:
    Subarctic wildfires a ‘runaway climate change’ risk
    Posted by Jim at Monday, December 06, 2010

    PARIS (AFP) – Global warming is driving forest fires in northern latitudes to burn more frequently and fiercely, contributing to the threat of runaway climate change, according to a study released Sunday.

    Increased intensity of fires in Alaska’s vast interior over the last decade has changed the region from a sink to a source of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for heating up the planet, the study found.

    On balance, in other words, boreal forests in the northern hemisphere may now soak up less of the heat-trapping gas than they give off.

    The bulk of the released CO2 comes not from the burning trees, but from what is in the ground.

    “Most of what fuels a boreal fire is plant litter, moss and organic matter in surface soils,” said Merritt Turetsky, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and lead author of the study.

    The findings are worrisome, he said, because about half of the world’s soil carbon is trapped in northern permafrost and peatlands.

    “This is carbon that has accumulated in ecosystems a little bit at a time for thousands of years, but is being released very rapidly.”

    While the study, published in Nature Geoscience, focused on Alaska’s 18.5 million hectares (45 million acres) of forests, its conclusions likely apply to huge expanses of wilderness in Siberia, Canada and northern Europe as well.