Sunday, 23 December 2018

Rudolph the Reindeer threatened

Where are we on tackling climate change? Judged by actions taken we are not even close to achieving the scale, pace and scope of the changes needed according to the best available scientific evidence.
Judged by words spoken and 'agreements' reached (in Katowice recently; in Paris previously; and on many previous occasions going back for at least 30 years) we are on our way, with common rules on how carbon is to be cut, how finance is supplied to less economically developed countries and how the monitoring of any actions taken will be done.
Am I impressed by the greenspeak? Not at all. What was agreed to in the Paris climate pact: was far too vague; much of it was not legally binding; and would not keep climate change that much below 3 degrees of warming even if fully implemented. In any case what was agreed there has often not been implemented - since the words were spoken carbon emissions have increased further.

The recent climate talks in Katowice nearly failed altogether at one point. A great deal of time has passed since the best scientific evidence told us that we need urgent, large scale and wide ranging action to tackle climate change. Yet only this year, decades on, have common rules on cutting carbon emissions, providing finance and checking on whether commitments made are being adhered to, been agreed.
Legal liability for causing climate change has not been agreed, even though we have continued causing more climate change long after it was known to bring huge problems, whilst storing even more problems for the future. Issues where disagreement persists, such as the rules governing carbon markets, have been kicked down the road to future talks.
Disagreement on how to regard the scientific evidence still persists: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United States all thought it was wrong to welcome the recent UN report which pointed out that far from being on the road to achieving 1.5 degrees of warming (included in the Paris climate pact as an ambition) we are instead heading for 3 degrees. 

Commitments to cut carbon emissions are still entered into on a voluntary basis. The commitments currently made would not cut carbon deeply enough or rapidly enough. Urgency is lacking. Plans are insufficient.  Actions are even more insufficient - or are making things even worse.

The signals that need to be sent to the public, to all levels of government and to the markets, are not being sent. They needed to be sent some time ago.

As things stand we are set to get 4.5 degrees of warming if we take no action. Following our current policies results in 3.5 degrees of warming - and implementing current voluntary commitments results in 2.9 degrees. None of these scenarios will lessen or prevent the serious and large scale consequences of climate change.

The consequences of climate change have already been impacting us seriously, from: huge and increasingly frequent forest fires in the United States; to droughts in and accelerated human migration from Africa; to flooding in Somerset, Gloucestershire and elsewhere; to the health impacts of heatwaves in Australia; to the reduction in the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice from 7.7 million square kilometres in 1980 to 4.4 million in 2018; to the reduction in Arctic reindeer numbers by more than half in the last twenty years. Climate change impacts are everywhere.
If there is a Rudolph the reindeer living somewhere in the Arctic then he is threatened by climate change - with some herds becoming 90% smaller over the last two decades. Why is this happening? Less food energy in, more food energy out, in short. 
Reindeer like to eat lichen. A warmer Arctic climate has resulted in taller plants which outcompete the low growing lichen. In addition there are drought conditions in some parts of the Arctic. In other places there is more rainfall which freezes on the snowy ground, creating a hard layer that reindeer cannot push through to get at the lichen. All this means less reindeer food is available and more time and energy is spent looking for and digging around for it. Warmer conditions also mean higher bug populations which plague the reindeer, who use up a lot of energy trying to get them off or finding places with fewer bugs around.  
Further information:
The Paris climate agreement:
The Katowice talks on climate change:
Arctic Reindeer number cut by half:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Report Card, tracking recent environmental changes:  

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