For the first time ever, leading international scientists have drawn up a report on the status of the parts of the world covered by snow and ice. The conclusion is that they are disappearing faster than anticipated. “This is disturbing news. The world’s leaders must reach an agreement that ensures dramatic cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases,” commented Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
Today, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and former US Vice President Al Gore are presenting a report on the melting of the cryosphere – that areas of the world covered by snow and ice – at a side event at the climate summit in Copenhagen (COP15). Mr Støre and Mr Gore requested a group of the world’s leading climate researchers to produce the report at the conference on melting ice in Tromsø in Norway, in April. The Norwegian Polar Institute has coordinated their work.
The report shows that snow and ice are melting at an alarming rate, and that the cryosphere is very vulnerable to climate change. The most important new findings relate to Antarctica. Mighty Antarctica, which previously seemed immune to the loss of ice that has occurred in other areas, shows signs of a net reduction of ice on a similar scale to that of inland Greenland.
“This gives cause for concern. The overriding message is that we have to succeed in Copenhagen. The countries of the world must agree on measures that limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and restrict global warming to two degrees. Furthermore, we need an emergency plan for the crysosphere, with immediate measures to save as much of our ice and snow cover as possible. We should start by cutting emissions of short-lived drivers of climate change such as soot and ozone, which are not included in any climate agreement today, and we also need to pay more attention to short-lived greenhouse gases such as HFCs and methane. Measures to reduce these would have immediate effect and cost relatively little,” said Mr Støre.
“This report, the result of over two year of work with Foreign Minister Store and many of the world’s top scientists, demonstrates that we must take action now to solve the climate crisis. The Arctic ecosystem, the world’s glaciers, indeed the entire cryosphere is at risk if we don’t cut the pollution that causes global warming,” said Mr Gore.
The report shows that:
- The rate of reduction in the Greenland ice cap has tripled in the last ten years alone.
- Snow cover is diminishing, and glaciers from the Himalayas to the Alps are melting rapidly, with the greatest reductions in the Andes and the Rockies.
- The previous figures from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which were published in 2007, indicated that sea levels would rise by almost half a metre by 2100; this is now a minimum estimate. Since the rate of melting in Greenland and other areas is now faster than anticipated, it is now estimated that sea levels will rise between 0.5 and 1.5 metres by 2100. This will affect many hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas.
- When snow and sea ice melt, less sunlight is reflected away from the surface of the Earth, and when permafrost melts, more methane and CO2 are released. Both these changes further increase global warming and thus cause ice to melt even faster.
- The melting of glaciers can cause extensive water shortages. Today, more than a billion people depend on water from the Himalayan plateau, which is often referred to as the “third pole”.
Read the report here: www.regjeringen.no/callforaction
If you have technical questions, please contact Director Jan-Gunnar Winther at the Norwegian Polar Institute.