Our choice to save ourselves: stay below 2 degrees or face a catastrophe

The effects of the climate crisis are already upon us. No matter what changes we make now, sea levels will rise at least two metres. If we do nothing, things will get far worse than most of us can imagine.

The cryosphere. You may never have heard the term, but it might soon be on everyone’s lips. The cryosphere is the parts of the globe that are covered in ice and snow, and it’s here that the climate effects are hitting hardest.

“We have a climate system which in many ways is determined by the amount of ice we have on the globe. The battle against climate change really is the struggle to keep the cryosphere in a sustainable state”, says Pam Pearson, founder and director of ICCI, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative.

During her keynote speech at the 2018 WeDontHaveTime Climate Conference, the first ever “no-fly” free and public event of its kind, Pam Pearson emphasised the need to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming. If we exceed that, the damage will in many cases be irreparable.

“Some of what’s lost won’t return unless we induce a new Ice Age” — Pam Pearson at the 2018 We Don’t Have Time Climate Conference.
Pam Pearson. Original Source: Deutsche Welle (DW). Photography: Irene Quaile (DW).

We are quickly running out of time. When Pam Pearson’s team put together a graph for the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, the global temperature was 0.8 degrees higher than in pre-industrial times.

“Today, less than three years later, we are already at 1.1 degrees higher.”

What makes matters even worse is that the effects of climate change are exaggerated at the poles. A global two-degree annual mean temperature rise equates to five degrees in the Arctic.

“Based on today’s temperature, we are going to hit a two metre sea level rise, no matter what. It will take a few centuries to reach, but two metres is now inevitable. The question is: how much higher are we willing to go?”

If we continue on our current path and do nothing, the global temperature will rise up to four degrees, the ice sheets of Greenland will melt, which will in turn increase sea levels by 6–7 metres. At 4.5 degrees the permafrost thaw will lead to an additional 125 gigatons of carbon release by the year 2100.

“That’s like adding another USA or China to our carbon budget”, says Pam Pearson.

The melting of the ice will also impact the pH levels in seawater, especially in the far north and south. That change would be more or less irreversible.

“To get us down to today’s pH could take 60,000–70,000 years. We’re playing with chemistry that hasn’t changed for 35 million years. Virtually all of today’s species evolved at today’s pH. We really don’t know how they will respond to the higher pH we’re heading for.” - Pam Pearson at the 2018 We Don’t Have Time Climate Conference.

Written by: Markus Lutteman

Proofreading by: Jane Davis


Facts about Pam Pearson

Pam Pearson is founder and Executive Director of ICCI, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative.

She was part of the Kyoto Protocol negotiating team and worked for many years as a US diplomat until she resigned in 2006 in protest at changes in US development policies, especially related to environmental and global issues programmes.

From 2007–2009, Pam Pearson worked from Sweden with a variety of organisations and Arctic governments to bring attention to the potential benefit to the Arctic climate of reductions in black carbon and other short-lived climate forcers, culminating in Arctic Council ministerial-level action in the Tromsø Declaration of 2009.

She founded ICCI immediately after COP15 to bring greater attention and policy focus to the rapid and markedly similar changes occurring to cryosphere regions throughout the globe

Web site: iccinet.org

Facts about We Don’t Have Time

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