Ioana Teitiota, the Kiribati man seeking climate refugee status in order to avoid being deported from New Zealand, has had his case rejected by the Court of Appeal. He and his family will now have to return to the low-lying islands and deal with the worsening impacts of sea level rise. In a powerful Comment Is Free piece for the Guardian, Morgan Godfery looks at the lack of humanity implicit in the court’s ruling:
The decision reveals — in all its misery — the protection deficit in international law. A judicial decision is an uncodified statement of power relations. Never could there be a more unequal power relationship than here: on one side, the I-Kiribati and their sinking home, on the other the rigid machinery of international law. If Lord Diplock is right, then “law is about man’s duty to his neighbour”. That principle should underpin our approach to climate change and forced migration.
He then echoes Naomi Klein’s call for mass action to compel governments to act:
But the law doesn’t encompass all of our moral obligations. It’s clear that the international system isn’t fit for purpose. Let’s look past it to social resistance and political solutions. Science, as Naomi Klein argues, “is telling us to revolt”. Ordinary people need to put pressure on their governments to deal with climate change displacement. The missing link isn’t some new legal rule, but mass action.
As the news about sea level rise gets worse, with bigger rises looking likely to happen sooner than expected, the prospects for the I-Kiribati and many tens of thousands more in the Pacific are becoming ever more gloomy. In that context, New Zealand’s responsibilities to its neighbours is clear. Godfery’s conclusion is compelling:
The social history of the Pacific is one of migration, from the early Austronesian and Polynesian expansions to the recent European settler migration. How can we say no to refugees when we are all migrants ourselves?
Over at The Daily Blog today, in a post headlined The Inconvenient Neighbours, I consider the case of the Kiribati man who is claiming refugee status in New Zealand because of the impact of sea level rise on his home island. With the IPCC report suggesting that sea level could rise by as much as a metre this century, it’s surely a sign of things to come…
As the northern hemisphere starts to warm (rather rapidly in the USA), climate watchers’ thoughts turn to melting ice, and to tell us what happened last year and what might be in store this summer, Glenn and Gareth welcome back Greenland expert Jason Box from the Byrd Polar research Centre at Ohio State University. It’s a wide ranging and fascinating discussion, not to be missed. John Cook looks at the differences between sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, and we have news coverage of the new HadCRUT4 global temperature series, summertime in winter in the USA, worrying news about sea level from the Pliocene, a new report on climate change in the Pacific, and new developments in solar power and biofuels.
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International Falls, Minnesota hit 78°F yesterday, 42° above average, and the 2nd hottest March temperature on record in the Nation’s Icebox. The record of 79°F was set the previous day. Remarkably, the low temperature for International Falls bottomed out at 60°F yesterday, tying the previous record high for the date. I’ve never seen a station with a century-long data record have its low temperature for the date match the previous record high for the date. Yesterday was the seventh consecutive day that International Falls broke or tied a daily record. That is spectacularly hard to do for a station with a century-long weather record. The longest string of consecutive records being broken I’m aware of is nine days in a row, set June 2 – 10, 1911 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with weather records going back to 1905.) International Falls has a good chance of surpassing nine consecutive records this week.
“6th, 7th Consecutive Days of Record-Warmth Likely Updated: Monday, 19 Mar 2012, 12:37 PM CDT Published : Monday, 19 Mar 2012, 7:38 AM CDT Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago – In what meteorologists are calling a ’historic and unprecedented’ streak, the Chicago area should hit the sixth day in a row of record warm temperatures on Monday, even on the last day of winter.”
Even if humankind manages to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends, future generations will have to deal with sea levels 12 to 22 meters (40 to 70 feet) higher than at present, according to research published in the journal Geology.
…until recently there has been limited reliable detailed scientific information available to [Pacific Island] countries. A major new report recently released by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO is helping to fill this gap. It provides the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of climate change in the Pacific region.
The 530 page, two-volume scientific report called ’Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research’ shows clear evidence of how the climate in the Pacific has changed and may change in the future.
Arctic average surface air temperature remained high in 2011, ~1.5 C above the 1981-2000 baseline
shift in the Arctic [Ocean] system since 2006
persistent decline in the thickness and extent of the summer sea ice cover, and a warmer, fresher upper ocean.
As a result of increased open water area, biological productivity at the base of the marine food chain has increased
sea ice-dependent marine mammals continue to lose habitat.
increases in the greenness of tundra vegetation
increases in permafrost temperature
more downward sensible heat and positive albedo feedback, reduced sea ice
loss of habit for walrus and polar bears.
less duration of solid platform for seal to ‘pup’
Possibly linked to recent changes in wind patterns, ozone concentrations in the Arctic stratosphere during March 2011 were the lowest ever recorded during the period beginning in 1979.
Higher temperatures in the Arctic and unusually lower temperatures in some low latitude regions are linked to global shifts in atmospheric wind patterns.
Links to ’Weird Weather’
While oceanic and atmospheric patterns such as El NiÃ±o, La NiÃ±a, and the North Atlantic Oscillation have been blamed for the spate of unusual weather recently, there’s now a new culprit in the wind: Arctic amplification…
new Arctic amplification (enhanced Arctic warming relative to that in mid-latitudes) news from: Francis and Vavrus (2012), Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L06801, doi:10.1029/2012GL051000
a slower eastward progression of Rossby waves in the upper-level flow
1) weakened zonal winds,
2) increased wave amplitude.
may cause more persistent weather patterns in mid-latitude
A persistent and strong negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index was responsible for southerly air flow along the west of Greenland, which caused anomalously warm weather in winter 2010-11 and summer 2011.
Greenland ice sheet mass loss has accelerated in the past decade responding to combined glacier discharge and surface melt water runoff increases.
During summer, absorbed solar energy, modulated at the surface primarily by albedo, is the dominant factor governing surface melt variability in the ablation area.
Using satellite observations of albedo and melt extent with calibrated regional climate model output, we determine the spatial dependence and quantitative impact of the ice sheet albedo feedback in twelve summer periods beginning in 2000.
We find that while the albedo feedback is negative over 70 % of the ice sheet, concentrated in the accumulation area above 1500 m, positive feedback prevailing over the ablation area accounts for more than half of the overall increase in melting.
Over the ablation area, year 2010 and 2011 absorbed solar energy was more than twice as large as in years 2000—2004.
Anomalous anticyclonic circulation, associated with a persistent summer North Atlantic Oscillation extreme since 2007 enabled three amplifying mechanisms to maximize the albedo feedback:
(1) increased warm (south) air advection along the western ice sheet increased surface sensible heating that in turn enhanced snow grain metamorphic rates, further reducing albedo;
(2) increased surface downward solar irradiance, leading to more surface heating and further albedo reduction; and
(3) reduced snowfall rates sustained low albedo, maximizing surface solar heating, progressively lowering albedo over multiple years.
The summer net radiation for the high elevation accumulation area approached positive values during this period.
while negative feedback has been reducing impact of warming, the surface radiation budget has gotten more positive, seems a threshold is about to be crossed! All what is needed more is another decadal trend increase like the last decade, THIS IS LIKELY! It is reasonable to predict that we will observe mid summer (mid July) melting over 100% of the ice sheet surface. Max melt extent was ~65% in 2010.
The area and duration of melting at the surface of the ice sheet in summer 2011 were the third highest since 1979.
The area of marine-terminating glaciers continued to decrease, though at less than half the rate of the previous 10 years.
In situ measurements revealed near record-setting mass losses concentrated at higher elevations on the western slope of the ice sheet, and at an isolated glacier in southeastern Greenland.
Total ice sheet mass loss in 2011 was 70% larger than the 2003-09 average annual loss rate of -250 Gt y-1. According to satellite gravity data obtained since 2002, ice sheet mass loss is accelerating.
’holistic’ glacier study, Store Glacier, 70 N W Greenland…the idea is to observe the system not just make and analyze this or that measurement
in-situ crevasse widening measurements x 2
water filled crevasse depth measurements x 2
continuous GPS x 3
seismometers x 3
time lapse cameras
tidal modulation of flow dynamics
multi-beam swath sonar repeat survey of sub marine glacier front
hydrographic surveying (temperature, salinity, current; vs depth)
heat and water mass budget
acoustic doppler current profiler
aircraft and satellite remote sensing data
Debunking the sceptic [1:01:50]
John Cook from skepticalscience.com talks about Antarctic sea ice:
’We are facing the end of history. We don’t want to be the sacrificed countries of the 21st century. We want to survive.” These were the words of Antonio Lima, ambassador of Cape Verde to the UN, speaking at the start of the CancÃºn conference, where he is one of the delegates representing the 43 members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
They’re heartfelt words. They’re also knowing. The realities of climate change at this early stage are much closer to some countries than to others. Small island states are among them. Hot Topic has drawn attention to some of the most threatened such as Kiribati, the Maldives, and Tuvalu. To them can be added most of the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands as nations which Lima said will be washed away by sea level rise (SLR).
The effect of SLR on Caribbean islands will be less total but a new report nevertheless reveals highly alarming prospects. Commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme, the UK’s Department for International Development and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the report has been produced by Caribsave, a partnership between the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the University of Oxford. There’s an excellent survey in this week’s Independent, written by the environment editor Michael McCarthy. The report itself is accompanied by a convenient publication which provides the key points and a summary for policy makers.
It carefully analyses the impacts of a one metre SLR this century. They include the loss of nearly 1300 km2 of land, the displacement of over 110,000 people, damage to or loss of at least 149 multi-million dollar tourism resorts, beach assets lost or greatly degraded at many more resorts, and the severe disruption of transportation networks. Severe storms would exacerbate these effects, as would the coastal erosion which will accompany SLR. The study also details the even worse impacts of a 2 metre SLR, which many scientists now consider cannot be ruled out.
The likely costs of adaptation are detailed in the report. Suffice to say here that they rise to very large percentages of GDP by the end of the century. The figures are staggering for developing countries.
AOSIS makes two pleas to the developed world. The first is not to accept a 2 degree rise in global temperature as safe for humanity. 1.5 degrees is the maximum we should settle for. They are not on their own with such a claim. Indeed where the science is concerned it is becoming increasingly clear that 2 degrees cannot be considered a safe limit. As Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows put it in their recent paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, ’the impacts associated with 2â—¦C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2â—¦C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change.’
I’ll briefly detour to note that Anderson’s and Bow’s paper, Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world, is one in a series in a Theme Issue of the Philosophical Transactions which considers the probability and consequences of a warming of 4 degrees or higher, as a not unlikely result if the present trajectory of emissions is not reversed more drastically than so far indicated. Their article speaks of a ’pivotal disjuncture between high level aspirations and the policy reality’.
So if there’s little as yet to suggest that even the 2 degree guardrail is likely to be achieved, how much less likely is the 1.5 degrees that AOSIS pleads for? One can almost hear the ’get real’ response from the big guys. But AOSIS are dealing in a physical reality: ”The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is the difference between survival and collapse,” said Lima. It may not be a political reality, but it’s hardly their task to trim the science to fit what negotiators consider politically possible.
The second plea from AOSIS is for assistance in coping with the future effects of climate change. The Telegraphreports that they are calling for a global insurance fund to be set up.
’Poor nations at risk of sea level rise would pay an annual premium, but a large chunk of the money would come from climate change aid provided by rich nations. Like a normal insurance fund, the money would be invested privately so that there are hundreds of billions of pounds available in the event of a crisis.
’The fund would pay out according to damage, as it is impossible to prove weather is directly caused by climate change. However the insurance would only be available to nations that are affected by global warming and do not have the capacity to protect themselves. Also they would have to first take reasonable preventative measures, such as building coastal defences, so that the money is only used for extreme events.
’The insurance pay-outs could help whole nations pay for a new ‘homeland’ if sea level rise means it becomes impossible to live on their own island. It could also be used to repair airports, roads and hotels.’
The plea for assistance should not fall on such deaf ears as the plea for mitigation action is likely to. The Copenhagen Accord agreed that developed countries will support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries, and that such funding ’will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa.’
The closer we draw to the unfolding effects of global warming the more apparent it becomes that the costs of adapting to it will stretch our economic capacity. Beyond breaking point in the case of some developing countries if they do not receive assistance. Reports such as that on the Caribbean will be invaluable in identifying with more precision the adaptation needs in specific regions and prompting the preparations which simple prudence demands. They may also serve to jolt us into more serious endeavours to cut emissions. We don’t have to construct such a dangerous future.
What do you do when you don’t the like the facts of the matter? You ignore them, right? Or you attempt to downplay them, or perhaps pretend that the data are somehow tainted or not to be trusted. But if you’re a really devoted denier, you can do all these things at the same time. Something like this seems to be going on at smear merchant Richard Treadgold’s Climate Conversation blog, where he’s been working himself into a fine lather about Bryan’s recent posts on sea level rise in Kiribati.
Treadgold’s first riposte made use of the very accurate data from the Seaframe measuring site on Kiribati, relying on the most recent (September) report from the South Pacific Sea Level & Climate Monitoring Project. He said:
The latest report shows that whatever is causing the problems with sea water incursion into or onto the island, it’s certainly not rising sea levels. For at least the last nine years there has been no acceleration in sea level rise at the monitoring station on Kiribati.
The September report says that the average sea-level trend at the station on Kiribati for the last 17 years has been a rise of 3.2 mm per year. That’s 32 mm per decade, and 320 mm per century. A little higher than normal, but hardly catastrophic. Considering coral atolls have kept pace with 140 metres of sea level rise since the last ice age, it’s hardly catastrophic.
The figures come from the September 2010 monthly data summary (pdf) from the sea level project, and are quoted accurately. (For a broader overview, with lots of good background information, the 2009 full year report (pdf) is recommended). I would note that there is a big difference between corals “keeping up with sea level rise” on an uninhabited island sticking 145 metres up out of the ocean, and the current situation. In his latest response to Bryan, however, the previously acknowledged rise magically disappears:
There has been no increase in sea level in Kiribati. However you slide by this fact, Bryan, as long as you fail to refute it you fail to persuade anyone that Kiribati has already experienced any ’adverse impacts of climate change’.
How malleable those facts become in the hands of Treadgold! First he acknowledges that the sea is rising — but not by much (though a little higher than “normal”, he’ll admit) — then it’s not rising at all. Meanwhile, out on the islands he admits to having never visited the inhabitants are noting the impacts of that small (5.8cm) rise — particularly in its impacts on extreme high water levels.
Which Treadgold are you going to believe? Neither, for preference. I’ll place my money on the people on the spot, and the Seaframe numbers. And you don’t need to be a genius to work out that with the rate of ice loss from the big ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica increasing, 30-40 years of unavoidable further warming in the pipeline, and the long term sea level rise that will come from thermal expansion of the deep ocean, the future for human habitation of low-lying islands around the world looks pretty grim. The only credible argument left is about how soon the people of Kiribati will lose their home.
I’d like to return briefly to the fate of Kiribati as sea levels rise, following up my recent post on the conference of the Climate Vulnerable Forum held there last week. The post made its way through Sciblogs to the NZ Herald website where a number of people offered comments. The vigour of denial is as evident as always. The sea isn’t rising, or if it is it’s rising slowly enough for coral islands to adjust. The islanders aren’t looking after their environment — they’re blasting their coral reefs and leaving themselves open to the ravages of the sea. They should use their tourist income to do some reclamation to make up for erosion. Salt contamination is due to over-extraction of fresh water by a rising population. The islanders are playing this up in order to get money.
At greater length than the comments in the Herald, Richard Treadgold and Ian Wishart have devoted uncomplimentary posts about the article on their respective websites. Treadgold is fully satisfied that the sea level rise is very moderate, within the range that a coral island can be expected to cope with. He chides me for not being guided by the data he has found, and concludes that if there are problems on Kiribati they are not caused by sea level rise. He’s happy to lend them a hand if they need it, but not because of emotional blackmail or out of a guilty conscience.
Wishart is brutal. He quotes from a Kiribati foreign investment brochure which includes some environmentally foolish suggestions, and concludes:
’Stupid idiots are now seeing ocean rollers eroding their beaches, and trying to milk the climate change lark for all its worth to pay for their utter buffoonery.’
Climate change effects are always intertwined with other aspects of a society’s life. No doubt there are improvements that could be made to Kiribati’s handling of its environment, just as there are in New Zealand. But the attempt to explain away the impacts of climate change by pointing to such defects is clutching at straws. Sea level rise is an overwhelming and unavoidable consequence of global warming. The science is not difficult to comprehend. Thermal expansion of the existing ocean must follow warmer temperatures. And when land-based ice melts or disintegrates it must end up in the ocean. There’s nothing uncertain about that. It is already under way. The only uncertainty is how much ice will be so transferred and how quickly.
Some commenters refer to the Webb and Kench study which, using historical aerial photos and high-resolution satellite images, reported most of 27 low-lying islands studied in the Pacific are holding their own and even growing. Coral debris washed ashore is the reason. However Paul Kench points out that this doesn’t mean that they will necessarily continue able to provide human habitation. Nor is it apparent what the more rapidly rising future sea levels expected by many scientists might mean.
The people of Kiribati and other islands consider that they are already seeing the early effects and know it can only get worse. They live there. They experience what is happening on the ground. They are apprehensive. To throw piddling accusations at them or suggest that they have no reason for concern is heartless. Even worse is to claim that they are dishonestly inflating their concern in the hope of getting money from us. It’s true they will need assistance, but it’s in order to help them make what adaptation is possible to the encroaching threats. As Cancun draws nearer the goal set at Copenhagen to provide $100 billion annually from 2020 to assist poorer developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change is coming under the spotlight. ’Challenging but feasible’ was the conclusion of therecently finalisedReport of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which will be presented at Cancun. The executive summary on pages 5-8 indicates the wide variety of sources from which the money will need to come.
Heaven knows whether it will eventuate. But what is at stake is more than just the money. The big question is whether we can tackle the threats of climate change as a global community, recognising the obligation of the better off to help those who might otherwise be overwhelmed by its impacts. If we fail to do that for the kinds of reasons offered by some of the commenters I’ve referred to we may well be hastening the day in which we will all be overwhelmed.
The small Pacific Island states are doing their best to keep the developed world aware of what is happening to them and other vulnerable states under the impacts of climate change. Kiribati this week hosted the second session of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a forum initiated by the Republic of the Maldives in 2009 to bring together countries that were particularly susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate change.
Nineteen nations, both small island states and larger economies, attended this week’s Tarawa Conference and after what sounded like tough negotiation agreed on the Ambo Declaration, named after the village in Kiribati where parliament sits. It’s not a legally binding agreement, but is intended for presentation at the upcoming Cancun conference.
The text of the Declaration has not at the time of writing been published. It will appear on the climate change website of the Office of the President of Kiribati but in the meantime the news report provided there summarises it:
’The declaration covers the urgency of addressing the immediate effects of climate change, the need for fast funding to combat these concerns in vulnerable nations, and agrees upon an aim to make concrete decisions at the meeting in Mexico kicking off late this month.’
It doesn’t sound startling. Kiribati President, Anote Tong, said the meeting tried to focus on where delegates would find agreement “rather than fight and debate over our different positions”. The Maldives Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, facilitated the meeting and spoke of the need to negotiate when a clause gives even marginal reference to a sensitive issue. He instanced the sensitivity of such questions as how emissions are limited and how they are monitored without infringing a country’s sovereignty.
One has to feel for the predicament of the vulnerable states. What they most need, and must strongly call for, is a legally binding international agreement which will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But they also need help from the countries most responsible for emissions to enable them to cope with the changes they have begun to experience and are set to get worse.
This double bind is reflected in the somewhat convoluted comments of President Tong to reporters at the conference:
Tong told reporters he was still pushing for a legally binding agreement treaty to promote long-term action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – a bid that was snubbed at last year’s summit in Mexico in favour of the Copenhagen Accord.
However, he knows this is a big call and would settle on short-term solutions and dedicated funding boosts.
“It’s unrealistic to think that we can resolve these issues in a couple of sessions; it’s going to take the next few decades,” Tong said.
“There are certain issues which must not take that long.
“The longer we wait the more costly it’s going to be.”
However there was more to the conference than the Declaration. The President said in a Radio Australia interview before the conference opened:
’I think this will be the first opportunity for the large countries to actually see first hand what it is we have to contend with. To actually experience the high tides and the very marginal rise in elevation and land when the tide is coming in at the very highest level. And so this is an experience which not many people truly understand, and hopefully this will be an opportunity for, particularly the countries which are making the largest contributions to greenhouse gas emissions to truly appreciate what it is we are talking about.’
Asked by the interviewer to enlarge on the differences which he was hoping the conference might find a way round he replied:
’Well we continue to argue, vulnerable countries, about our survival. The developing countries, the large developed countries continue to argue about economic growth, the poverty and what have you. I think we must believe that there are common grounds, we must believe that there is a way forward.’
The interviewer noted that in Kiribati people are having to move further and further inland because of the inundation of water on their produce gardens. She asked how much further inland they can keep going before there’s nowhere else for them to go. Tong replied:
’Well that’s precisely the point, there is no inland for us. But I think this is also something that we want to demonstrate, that in some parts of the island you throw a stone and you actually hit the other side of the island. So there is no inland. And these are the issues and these are things that we want people to be able to appreciate.’
The interviewer asked whether this means there’s now is a need for more talk about environmental refugees, suggesting that what he’s saying is that the people on Kiribati will have to move eventually.
’Well I always make the point that I reject the notion of environmental refugees. I think what we want to be able to be prepared for is all possible eventualities, one of which may be the need to relocate our people. And in order to relocate we must begin to address these issues now, and part of the process of addressing them is referring for that process. And so it requires a very well planned and a long-term process. If we know it’s going to happen, we have the time to plan it, then there is no reason why we should not begin planning it now.’
That’s the ultimate in adaptation. But if we won’t listen to the call for no more than a 1.5 degree global temperature rise or 350 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere justice will demand that we at least enable such relocation as proves necessary.
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