Antarctic ice-bridge snaps, as Obama offers a chance for climate action

Feature story - April 5, 2009
Patience for world leaders talking about tackling climate change is wearing thin. Just as US President Barack Obama addressed a crowd of thousands in Prague on Sunday, Greenpeace activists unveiled a banner urging him to "lead the change on climate", a challenge Obama accepted in his speech.

Six Greenpeace activists unfurled a huge banner with a message addressed to leaders of the EU-US Summit in Prague saying: "Bail out the climate!".

Meanwhile far, far away from the EU-US Summit, an ice-bridge holding the Wilkins Ice Shelf (the size of Jamaica) to Antarctica collapsed due to global warming.

Delivering an urgent message to world leaders

We also unfurled a huge banner reading "Bail Out the Climate" from Prague's Nustle bridge, in full view of venue hosting the EU and US summit, which President Obama is also attending.

Obama said that the US is ready to lead on climate change. Now we need to see the European Union commit to working with him on that. This year's major UN climate change summit in Copenhagen is now only eight months away.

After all has been said and done at recent summits of world leaders discussing climate action, much more has been said than really done.

A transatlantic alliance we can be proud of

With the US claiming to be committed to action on climate change there is an opportunity for the transatlantic alliance to take real action. Runaway climate change could make poverty permanent in the developing world, and strangle growth in the developed world, but the right decisions could head off the looming crisis.

To reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and cope with the already unavoidable impacts of climate change, developing countries need at least EUR 110 billion a year by 2020 from rich countries. This money should be raised through an international scheme that asks rich nations to pay for their carbon footprint, thus providing the certainty developing countries need to leverage private funds for green investment.

40 percent GHG emission reductions by 2020

Besides financing green measures in developing countries, both the US and the EU will need to upgrade their reduction targets in the light of recent science.

To avoid runaway climate change, developed countries as a group need to commit to an aggregate target of at least 40 percent emission reductions from 1990 levels by 2020. (Read Greenpeace demands for Copenhagen: Long version, Short version)

World Leaders: Mark your diaries

World leaders have a chance to deliver both the financing and emission cuts through the UN climate process.

That's why we're calling on heads of state to tae personal responsibility for thenegotiations and sign up to attend the final climate summit in Copenhagen, at the end of the year: to ensure a good deal for the climate.

Meanwhile Antarctica melts

The shattering of the bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to Antartica comes in stark contrast to the glacial pace of the international climate negotiations taking place in Bonn where governments are trying to avoid acting responsibly, and bickering about who's at fault (hint: somebody else is).

Simply put, since ice-shelves float, their collapse will not in itself contribute to sea level rise. Nonetheless, any resultant increase in the "flow" of inland glaciers due to the loss of the shelves, together with increased melt water runoff will add to sea level rise.

To put it in context, it's probable that the current reduction in ice-shelves in the region has no precedent in the last 10,000 years, and it is certain that this minimum has not been reached at any time in the last millennium.

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