14 may 2009

Scientists fear for seas at climate talks

By John Aglionby in Manado

Financial Times, May 14 2009

Climate change negotiations will not take proper account of the devastating impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the seas, hundreds of scientists attending the World Ocean Conference in Indonesia warned on Wednesday.

The meeting aims to influence the crucial United Nations climate change talks scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December. But the latest draft declaration from the ocean conference, seen by the Financial Times, has deleted the recommendation in an earlier version that the international negotiators “consider the ocean dimension in the post 2012 [climate change] framework”.

“Everyone’s waiting for the new US administration to elaborate its position before they commit to anything,” said one participant.

Water temperatures, sea levels, acidity and coral bleaching are rising so fast that hundreds of millions of people will be at risk within decades unless drastic action is taken promptly, scientists at the first global conference on oceans and climate change concluded.

Cuts in carbon dioxide emissions planned for 2050 should either be made deeper or brought forward, they said. Proposals on the agenda for Copenhagen are for an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 for developed countries and a halving for developing countries.

But politicians attending the conference, which is hoping to issue a declaration on Thursday to influence the Copenhagen negotiations, do not appear to have the same sense of urgency as the scientists. “It means it’s even more urgent for scientists working on oceans to increase their lobbying,” said Meg Caldwell, an ocean specialist at Stanford University in the US.

Ms Caldwell launched a report on Wednesday by the Centre for Ocean Solutions, synthesising the findings of 3,400 studies of the Pacific.

Endorsed by 450 ocean scientists, it concludes: “The rates of current environmental change far outpace anything seen in human history and are likely to accelerate in the near future. Many areas of the Pacific Ocean may become uninhabitable [within decades].”

Rising water acidity caused by climate change is one previously ignored area now of increasing concern.

Nancy Knowlton, a marine science professor in the US, said corals put in water of the acidity expected by 2100 completely lost their skeletons. “Coral reefs will cease to exist as physical structures by 2100 and perhaps 2050,” she said.

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