Fri, Dec 14, 2007 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The environment must come first

Shocking new research from the US predicts that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer as early as 2013, almost 30 years earlier than previously estimated.

The study, conducted by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski from the US Naval Postgraduate School in California, does not even incorporate data from the two worst summers for Arctic ice coverage, 2005 and this year, leaving Maslowski to believe that even this prediction may be conservative.

The professor told the BBC that he believes other previous climate models have underestimated the speed at which warm water is moving into the Arctic basin and that positive feedback mechanisms are contributing to faster levels of ice melt than previously thought.

More troubling than this, however, is the possibility that predictions on the Greenland Ice Sheet melting could be equally conservative and therefore inaccurate.

Current predictions say it won't melt until around 2100, but bring that forward a few decades and the apocalyptic scenes from the movie The Day After Tomorrow may not be too fanciful.

Scientists around the world agree that the disappearance of the 3km-thick Greenland Ice Sheet would cause about a 7m rise in global sea levels -- enough to inundate several major cities including London, New York, Bombay and Tokyo. Large parts of the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Florida would also disappear.

Such a rise in sea levels would also threaten low-lying areas of Taiwan, most notably the western plains where most of the population lives.

This startling news came as 190 countries from around the world gathered in Bali to try to thrash out a road map to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will hopefully minimize the effects of serious climate change.

But negotiations have stalled as the US has rejected a proposal that requires industrial nations to cut emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020. The prospects of a deal that would set cuts anywhere near what are needed seem gloomy, to say the least.

But despite the US government's intransigence, people and governments around the world are now becoming fully aware of the severity of the threat posed by climate change, and not just by rising sea levels -- everyone except Taiwan, that is. As the rest of the world tries desperately to work out solutions to this challenging problem, Taiwan remains locked in its own little "climate bubble."

Being excluded from the UN and other international bodies that deal with environmental issues like climate change severely hampers the green movement and means that Taiwan comes under no pressure whatsoever to reduce its shocking emissions levels. All we get from time to time is bluster about how we should "voluntarily" meet our "obligations." That didn't work too well with Kyoto, because the nation's emissions have doubled since 1990 -- the baseline year in the agreement.

In other countries, protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are hot topics and appear high -- if not at the very top -- of the agenda during election campaigns. The recent Australian elections are a good example.

Not so here. With legislative and presidential elections just round the corner and the UN talkfest in Bali in full swing, we have heard precious little about the environment from anyone, bar a surprising pledge yesterday by Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung cities -- again voluntary -- to cut emissions.

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