New report warns of runaway climate change

Issue 

A new report published by Friends of the Earth (FoE), Climate Code Red: The case for a sustainability emergency, warns that human-induced climate change is dangerously impacting on the planet and its people, and calls on the Rudd government to take real action to avert disaster from global warming.

Philip Sutton from Greenleap and David Spratt from Carbon Equity argue that "human activity has already pushed the planet's climate past several critical 'tipping points', including the initiation of major ice sheet loss".

They quote US climate scientist James Hansen who warned in 2007 that the loss of 8 million square kilometres of Arctic sea ice now seems inevitable, and may occur as early as 2010 — a century ahead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections.

"There is already enough carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere to initiate ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland and to ensure that sea levels will rise metres in coming decades", the report's authors say.

"The projected speed of change, with temperature increases greater than 0.3̊C per decade and the consequent rapid shifting of climatic zones will, if maintained, likely result in most ecosystems failing to adapt, causing the extinction of many animal and plant species. The oceans will become more acidic, endangering much marine life.

"The Earth's passage into an era of dangerous climate change accelerates as each of these tipping points is passed. If this acceleration becomes too great, humanity will no longer have the power to reverse the processes we have set in motion."

The authors conclude that we can avert this potential disaster, but warn that the science demands that "politics as usual" be rejected. "The climate crisis will not respond to incremental modification of the business as usual model."

"The sustainability emergency is now not so much a radical idea as simply an indispensable course of action if we are to return to a safe-climate planet", the authors conclude.

Cam Walker, spokesperson from FoE, used the report's launch on February 4 to call on the government to urgently review the role of the Garnaut Climate Change Review which is to make recommendations on carbon emission targets.

Walker criticised the terms of reference for Ross Garnaut, and the government's policy of a 60% cut in emissions by 2050, saying that global warming of 3̊C would lead to disaster.

"The government is potentially allowing Garnaut to engage in dangerous trade-offs with the lives of many species and many people rather than setting a safe-climate target", he said.

Walker said the government is behind the times on climate science and urged it to bring James Hansen, head of the US NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, and that country's most eminent climate scientist, into the review process "so that the science was put first rather than last in making climate policy".

Walker said that Hansen warned in December that climate tipping points have already been passed for large ice sheet disintegration and species loss, and there is already enough carbon in the Earth's atmosphere for massive ice sheets such as on Greenland to eventually melt away.

"These impacts are starting to happen at less than one degree of warming, yet the government is effectively planning on allowing warming to run to 3 degrees", said Walker.

[Climate Code Red: The case for a sustainability emergency is available at <http://www.climatecodered.net>. These issues and more will be discussed at the Climate Change — Social Change conference to be held in Sydney, April 11-13. For more information, or to register interest in holding a workshop, visit <www.greenleft.org.au/conference.php>.]

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