Climate Change Threatens Peace
United Nations Security Council members this
week agreed to a watered down text which spoke of the “possible security implications”
of climate change. But UNEP’s Aichim Steiner warned that an increase in the
frequency of natural disasters across the globe could prove a major challenge
in the coming decades. Scientists have come up with a possible explanation for
why the rise in Earth’s temperature paused for a bit during the 2000s – its
from sulphur pollution in the air from China’s massive coal-burning. But help
is at hand: trees are an incredibly effective climate change weapon given the
amount of greenhouse gases they absorb, according to a new study in the journal
BBC Report (21 July 2011):
Climate change poses a major threat to future
peace and security, a senior UN official has warned.
Achim Steiner from the UN Environment
Programme said climate change would also “exponentially” increase the
scale of natural disasters.
His comments followed a UN declaration of
famine in parts of Somalia.
Meanwhile, Russia rejected a Security Council
statement backed by Western nations which asserted the link, but later agreed
to a weaker text.
The Russian envoy Alexander Pankin said he
was sceptical about the implications of putting climate change on the security
Security Council members finally agreed to a
text which spoke of the “possible security implications” of climate
Steiner warned that an increase in the frequency of natural disasters across
the globe could prove a major challenge in the coming decades.
He said recent crises, such as in Somalia,
illustrate that “our capacity to handle these kinds of events is proving a
challenge, particularly if they occur simultaneously and start affecting, for
instance, global food markets, regional food security issues, displacing
people, creating refugees across borders”.
“Clearly the international community -
if the scenarios in climate change for the future come true – will face an
exponential growth of these kinds of extreme events,” he added.
His comments came as the Security Council
formally debated the environment for the first time in four years, with Germany
pressing for the first-ever council statement linking climate change to global
peace and security.
Diplomats said there were intense
negotiations between Germany and Russia, which initially opposed any council
action, before a statement on the issue was agreed to.
Speaking as negotiations were continuing, Mr
Pankin argued that the move was unnecessary and opposed by many countries.
“We believe that involving the Security
Council in a regular review of the issue of climate change will not bring any
added value whatsoever and will merely lead to further increased politicisation
of this issue and increased disagreements between countries,” he said.
However US Ambassador Susan Rice said that
the council had an “essential responsibility to address the clear-cut
peace and security implications of a changing climate” and said all countries
should be demanding action.
She also called failed attempts to reach
consensus earlier in the day “pathetic” and “shortsighted”.
The final statement expressed “concern
that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate
certain existing threats to international peace and security”.
It also requested UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon to include information on possible climate change impacts in his
regular reports on global trouble-spots.
German Ambassador Peter Wittig welcomed the
outcome, describing it as a “good day today for climate security”.
“We had quite extensive
discussions,” Mr Wittig said. “We wanted to get everyone on board.
And we did.”
The council had failed to agree on whether
climate change was an issue of world peace in 2007, when Britain brought up the
The move came after two regions of Somalia
were declared a famine, after the worst drought in six decades.
Conditions for famine include more than 30%
of children being acutely malnourished, and four children out of every 10,000
More than 10 million people have been
affected by the crisis across east Africa.
AFP reports (15 July 2011):
Forget wind power and extra efficient
lightbulbs — trees are an incredibly effective climate change weapon given the
amount of greenhouse gases they absorb, according to a new study in the journal
Trees are natural sponges, or “carbon
sinks.” The study found that they cumulatively absorbed almost a third of
annual fossile fuel emissions, or nearly 2.4 billion tons of carbon. And
tropical forests that have been allowed to grow back after deforestation are
removing an astounding 1.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere,
co-author Josep Canadell told Agence-France Presse.
“This is the first complete and global
evidence of the overwhelming role of forests in removing anthropogenic carbon
dioxide,” Canadell said. “If you were to stop deforestation tomorrow,
the world’s established and regrowing forests would remove half of fossil fuel
An international team of climate scientists
compiled data spanning nearly two decades, from 1990 to 2007, to present the
findings. The central implication, given the capacity of forests to act as
safeguards against rising CO2 emissions, is that “forests are even more at
the forefront as a strategy to protect our climate,” Canadell said.
The report also noted the toll aggressive
deforestation has taken, pointing out that razed trees allowed more than three
billion tons of carbon to remain in the atmosphere. That means that
deforestation rivals the burning of fossil fuels as a chief driver of climate
change — last year, emissions grew by 5.8 percent to 33.16 billion tons.a
Canadell noted that the findings could also
add an economic incentive for Latin American countries to sign onto a United
Nations program known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation
that allocates credits to tropical countries that take measures to slow the
rate of deforestation.
By Randolph E. Schmid for Associated Press (4
Scientists have come up with a possible
explanation for why the rise in Earth’s temperature paused for a bit during the
2000s, one of the hottest decades on record.
The answer seems counterintuitive. It’s all
that sulfur pollution in the air from China’s massive coal-burning, according
to a new study.
Sulfur particles in the air deflect the sun’s
rays and can temporarily cool things down a bit. That can happen even as
coal-burning produces the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.
“People normally just focus on the
warming effect of CO2 (carbon dioxide), but during the Chinese economic
expansion there was a huge increase in sulfur emissions,” which have a
cooling effect, explained Robert K. Kaufmann of Boston University. He’s the
lead author of the study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy
But sulfur’s cooling effect is only
temporary, while the carbon dioxide from coal burning stays in Earth’s
atmosphere a long time.
Chinese coal consumption doubled between 2003
and 2007, and that caused a 26 percent increase in global coal consumption,
Now, Chinese leaders have recognized the
effects of that pollution on their environment and their citizens’ health and
are installing equipment to scrub out the sulfur particles, Kaufmann said.
Sulfur quickly drops out of the air if it is
not replenished, while carbon dioxide remains for a long time, so its warming
effects are beginning to be visible again, he noted. The plateau in temperature
growth disappeared in 2009 and 2010, when temperatures lurched upward.
Indeed, NASA and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, have listed 2010 as tied for the warmest year on
record, while the Hadley Center of the British Meteorological Office lists it
as second warmest, after 1998.
Sulfur’s ability to cool things down has led
some to suggest using it in a geoengineering feat to cool the planet. The idea
is that injecting sulfur compounds very high into the atmosphere might help
ease global warming by increasing clouds and haze that would reflect sunlight.
Some research has concluded that’s a bad idea.
Using enough sulfur to reduce warming would
wipe out the protective Arctic ozone layer and delay recovery of the Antarctic
ozone hole by as much as 70 years, according to an analysis by Simone
Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, Colo. This is the ozone layer that is high above Earth and
protects against harmful UV rays, not the ground level ozone that is a harmful
“While climate change is a major threat,
more research is required before society attempts global geoengineering
solutions,” said Tilmes.
Overall, global temperatures have been
increasing for more than a century since the industrial revolution began adding
gases like carbon dioxide to the air. But there have been similar plateaus,
such as during the post-World War II era when industrial production boosted
sulfur emissions in several parts of the world, Kaufmann explained.
Atmospheric scientists and environmentalists
are concerned that continued rising temperatures could have serious impacts
worldwide, ranging from drought in some areas, changes in storm patterns,
spread of tropical diseases and rising sea levels