Saturday, 12 December 2009

Mitigation options will save Pacific islands from sea level rise: IPCC

Cherelle Jackson, Environment Weekly, Climate Pasifika
COPENHAGEN, 12 December - Pacific island countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu may just be spared from experiencing further effects of climate change if immediate mitigation efforts are implemented by the international community.

This is according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In a Press Conference today in Copenhagen, the Chairman of IPCC DR.Rajendra Pachauri said: "If we were to take action, the cost of mitigation are really much much lower than what anyone had anticipated. Whats even more significant is that fact that there are huge core benefits in taking mitigation action."

According to Pachauri, the responsibility to reverse the impacts of climate change lies in the outcome of the United Nations Conference of the Parties and scientific findings should be considered.

"I think this is an issue that the negotiators have to come to grips with because there is value based judgement.  What I  would like to say is, the limit that we set as a target globally, in my view should
also depend on which parts of the world are going to be hit by the impacts of climate change to specific degrees."

IPCC identified sea level rise as an immediate concern for low lying islands, and this will only become greater by the decade.

"The temperature increase of two to 2.3degrees celsius if we were to limit temperature to that level, we would get sea level rise due to global expansion alone of 0.4 to 1.4 meters, for some parts of the world, that can be life threatening, lets accept it."

According to the IPCC Synthesis Report Increases in sea level are consistent with warming'.  The global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year over 1961 to 2003 and at an average rate of about 3.1mm per year from 1993 to 2003.

Ocean temperatures in the Pacific are also changing according to the Physical Basis Report by the IPCC.  Trends towards increased heat content in the subtropical Pacific are expected, although the northern Pacific ocean is cooling. 

Oceanic currents and circulation are also affected, IPCC reports: "The strength of the South Pacific subtropical gyre circulation increased more than 20% after 1993, peaking in 2003, and subsequently declined." 

In an interview with Vice Chair of IPCC, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the full impact of sea level rise for the Pacific was seen as not so drastic in the short term.

 "In the present rate the average sea level by about 3 to 4 centimeters every 10 years. Now 3 to 4 centimeters is probably not a catastrophe even if you have a low altitude, but on the longer term after a few decades it starts to matter."

He added that drastic changes could be triggered by severe weather events: "During the twentieth century we have had already about 15 to 20cm increase in average sea level, which means that if there is a storm for example, the starting level, when there is a tropical storm the level can increase temporarily over the average level.  If the starting point is slightly higher, the risk of overflooding is much higher. In the coming decades the increasing sea level is certainly a source for concern, but it won't change radically in the next ten years."

Ypersele explains more weather events may occur.

"Climate itself changes slowly, but it also means that the probability of strong events is affected, and changes for example, the frequency of extremely high rain events, precipitation is increasing, the frequency of heat waves is increasing as well. With warming climates some extreme events," he said.

At the national level IPCC identified some mitigation options such as the integration of climate policies in broader development policies, introducing financial incentives to stimulate the development and diffusion of new technologies and voluntary agreements between industry and governments on climate friendly initiatives.

At the community level IPCC recommended and noted evidence that changes in lifestyle and behaviour patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors. 

Examples that can have positive impacts on mitigation include changes in consumption patterns, education and training, changes in building occupant behaviour, transport demand management and management tools in various industries.

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