The United Nations 2005 Climate Change Conference gets under way in Montreal today – the first such meeting to be held since the Kyoto Agreement came into force earlier this year, and the largest gathering since the Kyoto Conference itself in 1997.
The meeting, which is scheduled to last until December 9, is expected to assemble between 8,000 and 10,000 participants, among them government delegates, business and civic leaders and environmental activists, the largest since Kyoto.
A UN bulletin notes: “The high level of interest is not least due to the fact that the conference is serving as the first ever meeting of the 156 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP1). At the same time, it is serving as the 11th Conference of the 189 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”
The Conference comes at an opportune moment, following the announcement last week by EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) that current CO² and methane levels are the highest recorded in 650,000 years. EPICA’s analysis of gas composition and temperature levels in ice cores dating back that far revealed “a very tight relationship between CO² and temperature even before 420,000 years,” stated project leader Thomas Stocker from the University of Bern, Switzerland (as quoted by the BBC).
Prof. Stocker noted that the findings enabled the team to put “current levels of carbon dioxide and methane into a long-term context. We find that CO² is about 30 percent higher than at any time, and methane 130 percent higher than at any time; and the rates of increase are absolutely exceptional: for CO², 200 times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years.”
Another study, reported in the journal Science, claims that for the last 150 years, sea levels have been rising twice as fast as in previous centuries. The study used data obtained from tidal gauges and reviewing findings from many previous studies. It notes that U.S. researchers have constructed a new sea level record covering the last 100 million years. They calculate the present rate of rise at 2mm (app.1/ 8 of an inch) per year. “The main thing that’s changed since the 19th Century and the beginning of modern observation has been the widespread increase in fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gases,” Stated Kenneth Miller from Rutgers University (as quoted by the BBC). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body which collates scientific evidence for policymakers, concludes that sea level rose by 1-2mm per year over the last century, and will rise by a total of anything up to 88 cm (app.2 feet/10 inches) during the course of this century.
The findings aren’t just academic. The insurance industry depends upon being able to calculate risk levels with a certain degree of accuracy. Changes in the multitude of variables that go into risk models affect those calculations. Higher risks of flooding, drier climates, stronger windstorms and similar changes iassociated with weather patterns affect risk levels, and therefore they need to be constantly monitored and updated. Many larger companies – Swiss Re, Munich Re, Aviva, Allianz- have recognized this and have entire departments actively working on the effects of climate change.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect last February 2005, more than 30 industrialized countries are bound by concrete and legally binding emission reduction targets during the period 2008-2012. Several of the world’s biggest polluting nations, including the U.S. India and China, have refused to sign the protocol, which further weakens its already minimal application.
The Montreal Conference aims to further define emission parameters for the parties that have signed the accord. They are “expected to adopt a set of decisions critical to complete the ‘rule book’ of the Protocol,” said the UN bulletin. “Parties are for example expected to agree on steps to strengthen the clean development mechanism, a tool designed under the Protocol to support sustainable development projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries. The United Nations Climate Change Secretariat will be showcasing such projects at the conference.”
The Parties will also start to shape future steps to protect the world’s climate. “The Montreal climate change conference is starting to lay the foundation for future climate policy now that the Kyoto Protocol is in force and implementation is underway”, stated the UNFCCC’s acting head Richard Kinley.
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