The ice is melting and the heat is on for international delegates assembling in Buenos Aires next week to find new ways to confront global warming under the 194-nation treaty on climate change.
The treaty’s Kyoto Protocol, requiring initial cuts in “greenhouse gas” emissions by 2012, finally comes into force in February, seven years after it was negotiated. Next, European governments want the annual treaty conference — Dec. 6 to 17 in the Argentine capital — to get down to talks on steps beyond 2012 to limit heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
“We are, in fact, only at the beginning of what we need to do,” Margot Wallstrom, the European Union’s outgoing environment chief, recently told European Parliament members.
But the U.S. government, which rejects Kyoto and its mandatory controls, balks at that idea.
“We think it’s premature to be discussing post-Kyoto 2012 arrangements,” Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state who will head the U.S. delegation, said in an interview.
Instead, she said, she will use the conference to spotlight Bush administration efforts to develop cleaner energy technologies and ways to capture and safely store carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. Developing countries, facing possible emissions controls for the first time after 2012, have also resisted opening talks about the “post-Kyoto” future.
That debate will go on in the corridors at Buenos Aires, while the formal meeting agenda puts a “major, major emphasis” on adapting to climate change, said the Dutch head of the treaty secretariat, Joke Waller-Hunter.
Small islands and low-lying lands such as Bangladesh worry over rising seas. Poor nations face possible water shortages if warmth washes away glaciers. Climate change may kill off traditional crops.
“Developing countries don’t have capacity to deal with climate-related risk,” Waller-Hunter said. They’re seeking more technical and financial help to predict and cope with changed climates.
The focus on adaptation also suggests that warming is having an impact sooner than many anticipated.
A Nov. 8 report by the intergovernmental Arctic Council, based on a four-year study by 300 scientists, said average winter temperatures in the Arctic have increased as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years.
Permafrost is thawing, buckling roads. The extent of Arctic Sea ice is shrinking. Polar bears and other animals are threatened. Satellite images show the summer melting area of the Greenland ice cap moving far inland. If it melts entirely, over hundreds of years, it could raise sea levels worldwide by 23 feet, the report said.
As for global temperatures, U.S. scientists last April reported NASA satellite readings showed an average increase of 0.77 degrees Fahrenheit between 1981 and 1998.