A year after the relative failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference, officials from governments around the world are currently meeting at this year’s UN Climate Summit in Cancún, Mexico, in an attempt to forge a collective response to climate change. With such a hotly debated and divisive topic, some voices are questioning the likelihood of an agreement being reached.
The climate change debate throws up its fair share of confusion and misinformation, but the release of a number of controversial studies preceding the Cancún Climate Summit serves to illustrate how essential it is that a consensus is reached in tackling global climate change.
A new UN report that studied the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean warned that sea levels could rise by up to 6.5 feet (2 metres) by the end of the 21st century if global warming continues. This could mean that 260,000 people are displaced from islands around the globe and that one million people would be at risk of flooding, leading small island states at the summit to call for tougher measures to stop climate change.
Scientists from the University of Exeter and the Met Office also warned that if high levels of carbon dioxide emissions continued, temperature rises of 4 degrees Celsius would be reached by the 2070s, leaving the Arctic devoid of ice for parts of the year and raising sea levels around the world. Furthermore, the International Food Policy Research Institute warned that warming of even one degree Celsius by 2050 could play havoc with food production – with hotter temperatures cutting crop yields and causing 130 percent price rises in some staple foods.
This year’s massive floods in Pakistan, floods across the U.S., drought in the Amazon, and a record-breaking heat-wave in Russia all provided a window into a future of extreme weather conditions. According to Oxfam, extreme weather events linked to climate change caused the deaths of 21,000 people worldwide in the first nine months of 2010. While a single weather event cannot be solely attributed to climate change, scientists have warned that a warming Earth will increase the number of severe weather occurrences.
It is not all doom and gloom, however, and a new study published in Conservation Letters by Conservation International found that the REDD+ Programme (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) – an initiative that provides nations with financial incentives to limit deforestation – could reduce global deforestation by about 70 percent and cut extinction rates by up to 82 percent, if properly funded. Amid low expectations at the Cancún Climate Summit, many hope that kick-starting the REDD+ Programme may be one of its major accomplishments.
With some scientists warning that we are entering into a sixth mass extinction event (extinction rates are currently estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the average rate of previous extinctions), it has never been more apparent how critical global cooperation is in fighting climate change, putting pressure on all nations at the Cancún Climate Summit to reach an agreement.
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Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author