Small island states: 2°C of warming too high

The 42 nations that make up the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have called for world governments to set targets that would limit global warming to a 1.5°C increase.

AOSIS represents the smallest low-lying islands most threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

The 2°C target agreed to by the 17 biggest polluting nations at the July 9 Major Economies Forum in Italy was too high to save their homelands, AOSIS said.

In a July 10 statement, AOSIS chairperson Dessima M. Williams said: "We welcome new outcomes which indicate greater momentum towards tackling the challenges of climate change. However, for AOSIS, 2°C of temperature rise is still unacceptable, because it exceeds safe thresholds necessary for the protection and survival of small islands."

Williams said the world's governments needed to adopt strong short-term targets based on science to avoid catastrophe. She pointed to the decades-long time lag between greenhouse pollution and average temperature rises.

This means mere temperature targets are meaningless. Long-term targets for 2050 are not enough, unless short-term targets for deep emissions cuts are also adopted.

Climate scientists believe current pollution levels have already locked in a further 0.6°C average temperature rise — even if emissions stopped tomorrow. Because the average temperature rise since the pre-industrial era sits at 0.8°C today, rich countries must make strong cuts immediately or a 1.5°C outcome will be impossible.

The 2°C target condemns low-lying island nations, who have polluted the least, to disappear under the waves.

In a July 13 article, NASA climate scientist James Hansen also said the 2°C target favoured by the world's corporate politicians would not achieve a safe climate.

Global warming of 2°C "implies that we would hand our children and grandchildren a condition that would run out of their control, a situation that should be unacceptable to humanity", he said.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) released its annual review of climate science on July 16. The report found that the impacts of climate change are occurring much faster than previous studies indicated.

The WRI report is based on peer-reviewed climate change studies published in 2008. It found the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions had gone up by a staggering 400% from 2000 to 2007 compared with the previous decade.

Other findings in the review included:

• The rate of ice mass loss in Antarctica rose by 75% from 1996 to 2006;

• The rate of melting of 30 glaciers in nine different mountain ranges around the world doubled between 2004-05 and 2005-06;

• Tropical ocean "dead zones" will increase by 50% by 2100 if business-as-usual climate policies continue;

• The melting of the Arctic ice caps would have a warming effect on the frozen permafrost soil up to 1500 kilometres inland. This would trigger the rapid release of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane in vast quantities;

• Today's levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are unmatched for at least 800,000 years;

• The concentration of the greenhouse gas nitrogen trifluoride has risen by 11% a year since 1978. The gas has a warming effect 17,000 times that of carbon dioxide; and

• 2008 was the ninth hottest year on record. However, the Antarctic and the Arctic were "exceptionally warm".

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