Scientists have issued their strongest warning yet that the world’s ice is under serious threat from even moderate, near-term global warming, and called for a radical redefinition of climate ambition ahead of the COP28 climate summit this month .
“1.5 degrees Celsius is the only option”, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) warned in a new report published on Thursday, saying just a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperatures this century would cause irreversible damage. Ice sheets, glaciers, ice, sea ice and permafrost, and accelerate sea level rise.
Subtitled “We cannot negotiate with the melting point of ice,” the report calls on countries attending the COP28 climate summit starting on November 30 in Dubai to define 1.5 degrees as the upper limit for global warming. The call has been made.
This would be a revolutionary step: the historic 2015 Paris Agreement [PDF] Committed the international community only to limit the temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and to “continue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. But researchers say a tighter limit is necessary to prevent “irreversible” ice loss, and hope such ambition would help boost efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions and finance climate action.
“Much more needs to be done as we move toward a future where non-renewable energy is no longer an option,” the authors say. “The only way to tackle this climate crisis is to finally leave fossil fuels behind and oppose greenwashing. Ultimately, the melting point of the ice doesn’t pay attention to rhetoric, only our actions.”
Noting that global average temperatures could come close to exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming this year, he further warned that “clearly even 1.5 degrees Celsius is too much.”
James Kirkham, a report author and chief science advisor and coordinator of the advisory group Ambition on Melting Ice, explains: “The cryosphere is a lifeline for the billions of people who depend on it for drinking water, agricultural irrigation and hydroelectric power generation. This is also a big danger.”
Kirkham told me that, for the duration of human history, ice has played a stabilizing role in the climate, allowing human civilization to flourish. Now, however, greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, are raising global temperatures to levels humans have never experienced.
“Although these areas are incredibly remote and difficult to access, changes occurring in these areas have ramifications for the entire planet and no country is left untouched,” says Kirkham. “The old adage ‘what happens in the polar regions, doesn’t stay in the polar regions’ is absolutely true in this regard.”
Kirkham explains that two-thirds of the current sea level rise is being caused by the loss of ice from glaciers and ice sheets. Since more than 600 million people live within 10 meters of the sea, each additional centimeter of sea level rise leaves 2-3 million more people vulnerable to flooding.
Rising sea level also causes large-scale economic losses. In just one example, experts found that when Hurricane Sandy struck the US East Coast in 2012, sea level rise caused an additional 13% of economic losses – $8 billion in damages. Scientists are expecting a rise of 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) by 2100, even if governments follow through on current climate promises, potentially harming 150 million people.
But sea level rise is only one effect of ice loss. In Asia, about 2 billion people depend on meltwater from mountain glaciers and snow for irrigation, drinking water and power generation. Under the current global warming trajectory, up to 75% of the Himalayan ice could be lost this century.
Elsewhere, Kirkham emphasizes that, while the thawing of permafrost – frozen ground – is “incredibly worrying”, permafrost is now emitting almost the same amount of greenhouse gases as the top-10 emitting countries combined , which actually reduces the amount that countries can emit into the world. The temperature will remain at 1.5 degrees Celsius. “If we continue to thaw vast areas of permafrost, these emissions could rise to the level of the US or China today if key climate targets are missed,” says Kirkham.
In its research, ICCI has shown that the observed impacts will worsen for each additional tenth of a second of temperature increase, and once ice loss accelerates, it may not be reversed for thousands of years. is, even if the temperature is constant.
For this reason, the report emphasizes the urgent need for rapid emissions reductions, and identifies the COP28 climate summit to be held in the UAE as the platform for a new level of global ambition.
Responding to the report today, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jacobsdottir said: “1.5 degrees Celsius is not simply superior to 2 degrees or more. It is the only option. At COP28, we need a clear global stocktake, and Of particular fresh urgency is what we have learned about cryosphere feedbacks, which are getting worse for each additional tenth of a degree in temperature rise. We need to phase out fossil fuels and finance climate action. What is needed is concrete results and clear guidelines for the financial system.”
Pema Gyamtsho, director general of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which studies climate impacts in the Himalayas, said: “The Hindu Kush Himalayas, with our glaciers, ice and permafrost, are already at the center of the global cryosphere crisis.” Is undergoing unprecedented and irreversible changes. These changes are affecting the lives of mountain communities by increasing uncertainty in the timing, availability and seasonal distribution of mountain water resources, threatening water, food and energy security. The ‘State of the Cryosphere’ report is a warning to global leaders that inaction at COP28 would be disastrous.”
COP28 will take place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December.