Sun, Sep 01, 2019 - Page 7 News List

The oceans are turning from friend to foe, the UN warns

Destructive changes could see a steady decline in fish stocks, a hundredfold increase in damage from superstorms and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas

By Marlowe Hood and Patrick Galey  /  AFP, PARIS

Illustration: June Hsu

The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilizing the marine environment is brought to heel, warns a draft UN report obtained by Agence France-Presse.

Destructive changes set in motion could see a steady decline in fish stocks, a hundredfold or more increase in the damage caused by superstorms and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas, according to a report on the oceans and the cryosphere, or frozen zones, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As the 21st century unfolds, melting glaciers would first give too much and then too little to billions who depend on them for fresh water, the report found.

Without deep cuts to emissions, at least 30 percent of the northern hemisphere’s surface permafrost could melt by century’s end, unleashing billions of tonnes of carbon and accelerating global warming even more.

The 900-page scientific assessment is the fourth such tome from the UN in less than a year, with others focused on a 1.5°C cap on global warming, the state of biodiversity, and how to manage forests and the global food system.

All four conclude that humanity must overhaul the way it produces and consumes almost everything to avoid the worst ravages of climate change and environmental degradation.

Governments meet next month in Monaco to vet the new report’s official summary. While the underlying science — drawn from thousands of peer-reviewed studies — cannot be modified, the diplomatic corps, with scientists at its elbow, plan to tussle over how to frame the findings, and what to leave in or take out.

The final advice to policymakers is to be released on Sept. 25, too late to be considered by world leaders gathering two days earlier for a summit convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to extract stronger national commitments in confronting the climate crisis.

Guterres might be disappointed by what the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters put on the table, according to experts tracking climate politics in China, the US, the EU and India.

The Big Four — accounting for nearly 60 percent of global fossil fuel-based emissions — all face devastating ocean and ice-related impacts, but none seem prepared to just announce more ambitious goals for purging carbon from their economies.

US President Donald Trump — a no-show at the G7 climate segment this week — wants the US to exit the 2015 Paris agreement and has taken a chainsaw to former US president Barack Obama’s climate policies.

India is rapidly developing solar power, but continues to build up coal-fired capacity at the same time.

The EU is inching toward a mid-century “net zero” emissions goal, but several member states are dragging their feet.

Long seen as a leader on climate, China — which emits nearly as much carbon dioxide as the US, the EU and India combined — is also sending mixed signals.

“The eyes of Beijing are gradually moving away from environmental issues, and climate change in particular,” said Greenpeace International analyst Li Shuo (李碩), a longtime observer of China’s climate policy.

A resurgence of domestic coal-fired power and a relaxing of air pollution regulations point to a preoccupation with China’s slowing economy and its trade dispute with the US, he said.

Yet, all of these nations face many of the threats outlined in the panel’s report.

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