Science

Climate change accelerating beyond expectations, urgent emissions reductions required, say leading scientists

In 2008 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were ~40% higher than those in 1990.
Wednesday, 25 November, 2009

Global ice-sheets are melting at an increased rate; Arctic sea-ice is disappearing much faster than recently projected, and future sea-level rise is now expected to be much higher than previously forecast, according to a new global scientific synthesis prepared by some of the world's top climate scientists.

In a special report called 'The Copenhagen Diagnosis', the 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago.  

The report also notes that global warming continues to track early IPCC projections based on greenhouse gas increases.  Without significant mitigation, the report says global mean warming could reach as high as 7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which was a year in the making, documents the key findings in climate change science since the publication of the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.

The new evidence to have emerged includes:

  • Satellite and direct measurements now demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea level rise at an increasing rate.
  • Arctic sea-ice has melted far beyond the expectations of climate models. For example, the area of summer sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% greater than the average projection from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
  • Sea level has risen more than 5 centimetres over the past 15 years, about 80% higher than IPCC projections from 2001. Accounting for ice-sheets and glaciers, global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100, with a rise of up to 2 meters considered an upper limit by this time. This is much higher than previously projected by the IPCC.  Furthermore, beyond 2100, sea level rise of several meters must be expected over the next few centuries.
  • In 2008 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were ~40% higher than those in 1990. Even if emissions do not grow beyond today's levels, within just 20 years the world will have used up the allowable emissions to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

The report concludes that global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to ten years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change.

To stabilize climate, global emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases need to reach near-zero well within this century, the report states.

The full report is available at:  http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org, read the report online at read.copenhagendiagnosis.org.

Statements by Authors
 

"We have already almost exceeded the safe level of emissions that would ensure a reasonably secure climate future. Within just a decade global emissions need to be declining rapidly. A binding treaty is needed urgently to ensure unilateral action among the high emitters."
Professor Matthew England, ARC Federation Fellow and joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

"Sea level is rising much faster and Arctic sea ice cover shrinking more rapidly than we previously expected. Unfortunately, the data now show us that we have underesti­mated the climate crisis in the past."
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans and a Department Head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

"The massive climate change risk of continuing our surging carbon emissions is clear. It's imperative for us to move to a low carbon economy or we risk a climate crunch that would be far more damaging to humanity this century than any financial crisis."
Dr. Ben McNeil, Climate Change Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

"The latest data all support the longstanding predictions that the Earth will keep warming if we keep emitting greenhouse gases like we do now - and nobody really knows how well Australia or the rest of the world could cope with a dramatically warmer climate."
Professor Steven Sherwood, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, Climate Change Research Centre, the University of New South Wales, Australia.

For more information contact:
Stephen Gray +61 403 802 027 (mobile) or Stephen.Gray@unsw.edu.au
Matthew England +61 425 264 485 (mobile) or M.England@unsw.edu.au
Ben McNeil +61 401 336 857 (mobile) or B.McNeil@unsw.edu.au