COPENHAGEN, Denmark, December 14, 2009 (ENS) – Snow and ice across the planet are melting much faster than anticipated, and the cryosphere – the Earth’s ice and snow cover – is very vulnerable to climate change, finds a new report presented today at the United Nations Climate Summit by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
Snow cover is diminishing, and glaciers from the Himalayas to the Alps are melting rapidly, with the greatest reductions in the Andes and the Rockies, the report shows.
The study was commissioned by Gore and Støre as they co-chaired the conference Melting Ice: Regional Dramas, Global Wake-Up Call on April 28 in the town of Tromsø in northern Norway. A group of the world’s most knowledgable climate researchers produced the report, coordinated by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
“The Arctic ecosystem, the world’s glaciers, indeed the entire cryosphere is at risk if we don’t cut the pollution that causes global warming,” warned Gore.
“This report, the result of over two years of work with Foreign Minister Støre and many of the world’s top scientists, demonstrates that we must take action now to solve the climate crisis,” Gore said.
The most important new findings relate to Antarctica, which previously had seemed immune to the loss of ice that has occurred in other areas, shows signs of a net reduction of ice on a similar scale to that of inland Greenland.
And the report shows that the rate of reduction in the Greenland ice cap has tripled in the last 10 years alone.
“This is disturbing news,” said Foreign Minister Støre. “The world’s leaders must reach an agreement that ensures dramatic cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases.”
The previous figures from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which were published in 2007, indicated that sea levels would rise by almost half a meter (18 inches) by 2100; this is now a minimum estimate, according to the report.
Since the rate of melting in Greenland and other areas is now faster than anticipated, it is now estimated that sea levels will rise between 0.5 and 1.5 meters by 2100, and in the worst case by 2.0 meters (6.5 feet).
This sea-level rise will affect many hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas throughout the world.
When snow and sea ice melt, less sunlight is reflected away from the surface of the Earth, and when permafrost melts, more of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide are released. Both these changes further increase global warming and thus cause ice to melt even faster, the report confirms.
The melting of glaciers can cause extensive water shortages. Today, more than a billion people depend on water from the Himalayan plateau.
“This gives cause for concern,” said Støre. “The overriding message is that we have to succeed in Copenhagen. The countries of the world must agree on measures that limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and restrict global warming to 2°Celsius.”
A target temperature rise of two degrees above the pre-industrial temperature, or around 1.2°C above today’s level is a target that has been widely agreed to by government leaders, including the Group of Eight industrialized countries in July, the Major Economies Forum the following month and at the UN Secretary-General’s climate summit in New York in September.
Nevertheless, negotiators at the Copenhagen talks now in progress have not agreed on how to achieve this limit.
Foreign Minister Støre said, “We need an emergency plan for the crysosphere, with immediate measures to save as much of our ice and snow cover as possible.”
“We should start by cutting emissions of short-lived drivers of climate change such as soot and ozone, which are not included in any climate agreement today, and we also need to pay more attention to short-lived greenhouse gases such as HFCs and methane,” said Støre. “Measures to reduce these would have immediate effect and cost relatively little.”
Click here to read the report, Melting snow and ice. A call for action.”