From Martin Kaiser, political advisor on climate, on board the Esperanza in Svalbard.
This week the United Nations climate negotiations are continuing in Bonn, Germany. Actually, I should be there right from the beginning, but I will only make it for the second week. I am in Ny-Ålesund, in Svalbard, on board the Esperanza for the Greenpeace Arctic Under Pressure expedition. I can’t imagine what it will be like to enter the conference room in the Maritim Hotel again in order to follow the negotiations of almost 190 countries from around our fragile globe. Right now, I am following the research experiments in the Arctic on ocean acidification. It’s so exciting to gain insight into the dynamic of this ecosystem, which is so important from a global perspective. This motivates me. The situation so far up in the North is so different from all the diplomatic battles during the negotiations. Diplomats are trying to prevent a fair, ambitious and legally binding global climate deal. That has been my experience many times before, including at at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen last year
It has been so obvious that the oil, coal and timber industries have actively lobbied behind the scenes before, and in Copenhagen to stall a global climate deal. They fear they will lose profits if the planet is steered towards an energy revolution and zero deforestation. A few weeks ago a Greenpeace investigation reported that the fossil fuel industry have provided 30 million dollars of backing to the Koch Institutes to damage the credibility of climate science.
When witnessing the speed of environmental change here in the Arctic and talking to scientists here in Ny-Ålesund, I am even more concerned about the slowness of intergovernmental responses. Here scientists are crystal clear that without a greenhouse gas emission peak by 2015, there will be an increase of an up to 80 percent chance that we will be unable to keep global temperature rise far below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold necessary to prevent the most dangerous consequences of global warming for nature and human beings. A big challenge for all of us!
Another impact of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere is the ocean acidification. It is not a form of climate change, nor is it caused by climate change. Instead, ocean acidification is caused by the ocean’s absorption of CO2. It’s a measureable form of global pollution, created by humans, and the only way it can be addressed is by cutting our addiction to fossil fuels. That’s why I wil bring the issue of ocean acidification to the attention of diplomats at the international negotiations.
The confererence in Bonn is doomed to fail due to the ongoing pressure from the oil and coal industries. Although it’s going to continue from where the Copenhagen Climate Summit ended, there is very little hope for a change in political circumstances. The negotiations will build on a draft text that incorporates those political agreements that had been covered in the ‘Copenhagen Accord’. This means endless discussions, line by line. This slow pace doesn’t correspond at all to the apparent speed of dramatic change in the chemistry and biosphere of the Arctic Ocean, which I am bearing witness to here. Ocean acidification alone is caused by the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere, and is caused by industrialized and major economies’ burning of oil and coal. Scientists fear that the acidification will impact organisms and the food web of the Arctic Ocean and oceans around the world.
A mesocosm is deployed in front of the Esperanza -- used by scientists to simulate different ocean acidification scenarios.
The main problem which has remained since last years’s meeting in Copenhagen is that rich countries are not ready to both drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and support developing countries in reducing deforestation to zero by 2020. Governments gathered in Bonn for the latest round of climate negotiations should add ocean acidification to the list of compelling reasons to agree a fair, ambitious and binding deal. We need to end our addiction to fossil fuels and cut CO2, immediately and aggressively. But why is the UN process is not moving ahead?
The US President hasn’t managed to properly engage in getting an ambitous national climate law passed in the Senate, which would enable him to be active on contributing to a global climate deal. Since the beginning of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama has come under extreme high public pressure. Rather than defend industry-friendly climate and energy politics he would have the opportunity to make drastic changes in the next month. Many editorials have picked up the issue in the last few weeks, and the delay of offshore drilling until next year has been a first but definitely not the last positive step needed.
Witnessing the vulnerability of the ecosystems here, I haven’t high hopes for either the Arctic, or the climate negotiations yet. North of 78th latitude, the interdependence of both becomes immediately apparent to me. We need a drastic change for which we on board of the Esperanza are more than ready to engage in. Time for change is overdue.
Image © Greenpeace/ Nick Cobbing