The ultimate irony: Glaciers respond to climate change faster than politicians

by Guest Blogger

August 22, 2005

We arrived yesterday in Ilulissat, where Ministers from more than 20

countries were wrapping up their three-day discussion on the threat of

climate change and what to do about it. I went to the press conference,

and listened to a panel of Ministers who were very pleased with

themselves and all expressing optimism about the meeting’s outcome. It

has been no secret that the rest of the world is concerned with the

attitude of the U.S. government towards the Kyoto Protocol.

They all

realize that we are running out of time if we are to avoid the worst

consequences of global warming and the resulting climate changes.

Greenland is a perfect backdrop for discussing the urgency of greenhouse

gas reductions. As we have documented and learned in the last two months,

in this part of the Arctic, warming is already negatively affecting

Greenlanders. The Greenland Ice Sheet may be melting its way out of

balance, with global implications for sea level rise.

We sent letters

and some of the results from our tour here to the Ministers,

hoping that the result of the meeting would reflect the urgency of the

situation. Unfortunately, I found myself leaving the meeting deeply concerned about

the speed (or lack thereof) of political action.

I have been involved in international climate negotiations for many many

years and have learned to “read the code” embedded in political

documents. They all sound as if some meaningful action has been agreed

to, but for those of us used to reading the underlying code, it becomes

very evident when one looks underneath euphemisms that there is still no

agreement to save our climate from ourselves.

The Danish environment minister summarized the results of the meeting in

a two-page document. The crucial term “greenhouse gas emission

reductions” is suspiciously absent.

One of the paragraphs states that the scientific debate is no longer

about whether climate change is happening or not, instead it has shifted

to figuring out how best to grapple with the problem. The shift is

hailed as a milestone in politics. But that had already been agreed in

Kyoto in 1997, before the Bush Administration contested it. It has taken

an additional eight years to reach the same conclusion once again, a

problem most of the world attributes to the Bush administration’s

adamant denial that the science of climate change is conclusive.

It has become obvious to me that in 2005, the U.S. changed its tactic from

denying the problem exists, to blocking meaningful action by promoting a

lax “do what you want, when you want, if you want” type of regime.

On my way back to the Arctic Sunrise my mind wandered to all the signs

of climate change we have observed in the last two months and the threat

of catastrophic consequences should we be unable to stop the Greenland

Ice Sheet from melting. I thought about Noah’s ark and the great

deluge. In the context of global warming, the Kyoto Protocol can be seen

as that ship that can save us from the flood. And instead of coming on

board, the U.S. is now trying to sink it.

We can’t let that happen, we just cannot afford to let them get away

with it. That is why even after our tour in Greenland is now finished

for this year, our work will continue.

– Martina

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