DOHA, Qatar (AP) — An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States
melted this year, according the U.N. weather agency, which said the dramatic
decline illustrates that climate change is happening “before our eyes.”
In a report released at U.N. climate talks in the Qatari capital of Doha,
the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of a
myriad of extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in
2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States as well
western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped west Africa and heat
waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.
But it was the ice melt that seemed to dominate the annual climate report,
with the U.N. concluding ice cover had reached “a new record low” in the
area around the North Pole and that the loss from March to September was a
staggering 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) — an
area bigger than the United States.
“The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching
changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” WMO Secretary-General
Michel Jarraud said. “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
The dire climate news — following on the heels of a report Tuesday that
found melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming — comes
as delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled for a third day to lay the
groundwork for a deal that would cut emissions in an attempt to ensure that
temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over what they
were in preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 0.8
degrees C (1.4 degrees F), according to the latest report by the IPCC.
Discord between rich and poor countries on who should do what has kept the
two-decade-old U.N. talks from delivering on that goal, and global emissions
are still going up.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former U.S. Vice
President Al Gore, urged delegates to heed the science and quickly take
“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,’ “ he said. “I am not sure our voice is louder today but it is
certainly clearer on the basis of the new knowledge.”
Delegates in Doha are bickering over money from rich countries to help
poorer ones adapt to and combat the impacts of climate change, and whether
developed countries will sign onto an extension of a legally binding
emissions pact, the Kyoto Protocol, that would run until 2020.
A pact that once incorporated all industrialized countries except the United
States would now include only the European Union, Australia and several
smaller countries which together account for less than 15 percent of global
emissions. And the United States is refusing to offer any bolder commitments
to cut its emissions beyond a non-binding pledge to reduce emissions by 17
percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
“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,” Su Wei, a member of the Chinese
delegation, told reporters. “And far below what is required by their
Developing countries have said they are willing to take steps to control
emissions, but that they must be given space to build their economies.
Although China is the largest carbon polluter and India is rapidly catching
up, both countries lag far behind the industrial countries in emissions per
person and still have huge populations mired in poverty. They don’t see
emissions peaking anytime soon.
“We are still in the process of industrialization. We are also confronted
with the enormous task of poverty eradication,” said Wei, acknowledging that
the country’s emissions won’t peak by 2020.
“In order to eradicate poverty, to try to improve the living standards,
certainly we need to develop our economy,” he said. “So the emissions will
need to grow for a period of time.”