A new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says that an area of Arctic sea ice larger that the area of the US melted this year. According to the UN weather agency, the effects of global climate change are playing "before our eyes."
The WMO’s provisional annual statement (PDF) on the state of the global climate, focused on the unprecedented melt of the Arctic sea ice, weather and climate extremes that affected many parts of the world. The WMO said it released the report to inform negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.
According to WMO, this year's Arctic ice melt was among other extreme weather events in 2012. The report (PDF) says that the Arctic sea ice reached its lowest recorded extent in 2012. The first ten months of 2012 recorded the highest temperatures on record. January through October 2012 was the ninth warmest on record since 1850.
In a press release, WMO said: "January-October 2012 has been the ninth warmest such period since records began in 1850. The global land and ocean surface temperature for the period was about 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the corresponding 1961–1990 average of 14.2°C... After the end of the La Niña in April 2012, the global land and ocean temperatures rose increasingly above the long-term average with each consecutive month. The six-month average of May–October 2012 was among the four warmest such periods on record."
NOAA Photo Library
The Arctic Ocean.
According to the organization, nearly two-thirds of the continental United States (65.5 percent) experienced moderate to exceptional drought in September. Drought also affected parts of western Russia and western Siberia during June and July, including Southeast Europe, the Balkans and some Mediterranean countries during summer. In China, the Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan province experienced severe drought during winter and spring, while Northern Brazil experienced the worst drought in 50 years.
Major heat waves occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, the most dramatic being during March–May across the continental US and Europe. According to WMO: "Warm spells in March 2012 resulted in many record-breaking temperatures in Europe and nearly 15,000 new daily records across the USA. Russia witnessed the second warmest summer on record after 2010. Numerous temperature records were broken in Morocco in summer."
Many parts of West Africa and the Sahel, including Niger and Chad, suffered serious flooding between July and September. Heavy rainfall from the end of July through early October caused floods across Nigeria.
Cold spells on the Eurasian continent from late January to mid-February were extreme in intensity, duration, and impact. In eastern Russia, temperatures ranged between -45°C to -50°C at the end of January. Areas of eastern Europe reported temperatures as low as -30°C, and some areas in northern Europe and central Russia experienced temperatures below -40°C.
The Atlantic basin experienced an above-average hurricane season for a third consecutive year with a total of 19 storms, with ten reaching hurricane status, the most notably being Sandy, the report said.
But of all the extreme weather events, it was the ice melt that has caused the greatest concern. The ice cover in the North Pole has reached a "new record low." According to the report (PDF), between March and September, 4.57 million square miles of Arctic sea ice, an area larger than the size of the continental United States, melted. The Arctic ice sheet reached its lowest extent ever on September 16, nearly 20 percent smaller than the previous record low.
Michel Jarraud, the WMO's secretary general, raised alarm:
"The alarming rate of [the Arctic's] melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth's oceans. Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records."
The Daily Mail reports that the new WMO reports follows a report released Tuesday that found that melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming. In Qatar, delegates from 200 countries worked for a deal to cut emissions to a level that would ensure that temperatures don not rise more than 2 degrees (3.6 degrees F) relative to an agreed baseline.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees (1.4 degrees F).
Failure to broker a deal to cut emissions is due significantly to a persisting squabble between delegates from rich and poor countries over who is responsible for the global warming trend and who has the responsibility to act on certain key issues.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of IPCC, urged delegates to take quick action. He said:
"When I had the privilege in 2007 of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, in my speech I asked the rhetorical question, 'Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear.' I am not sure our voice is louder today but it is certainly clearer on the basis of the new knowledge."
Poorer countries argue that richer countries are responsible for most of the emissions and that they need financial assistance from richer countries to combat the effect of climate change. Poorer countries are also pointing accusing fingers at some richer countries, such as the Untied States, that refused to be part of the Kyoto Protocol to control emissions.
National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
Arctic sea ice extent on 19 August 2012 (orange line shows the 1979-2000 median)
According to the Daily Mail, Su Wei, a member of the Chinese delegation, said: "For developed country parties like the United States and the European Union, the pledges and commitments... put forward on the table are far below what is required by the science... And far below what is required by their historical responsibility."
The United States has refrained from signing the Kyoto Protocol because of concern about its potential impact on economic growth
China is currently the largest carbon emitter and India is following close on its heels, but both countries are still far behind the major industrial countries in emissions per person because large sections of their populations are still in poverty.
Wei said: "We are still in the process of industrialization. We are also confronted with the enormous task of poverty eradication. In order to eradicate poverty, to try to improve the living standards, certainly we need to develop our economy. So the emissions will need to grow for a period of time."
This leads to a nightmare scenario for environmentalists: What happens when the Eurasian giants, India and China, achieve average standards of living equivalent to what obtains in the major industrialized economies of the West?
Environmentalists predict Armageddon.