Summer polar ice may vanish in 7 years: Al Gore

December 15, 2009

New modelling suggests that the Arctic Ocean could be almost ice-free in the summertime as early as 2014, Al Gore warned delegates Monday at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The projection, based on computer models showing several years of dramatic losses of polar sea ice, suggest the ice cap could vanish well before 2030, as forecast by the U.S. government eight months ago.

A U.S. government scientist said the new prediction was too severe, but many other researchers have predicted a quicker end to the summer Arctic ice cap as well.

“It is hard to capture the astonishment that the experts in the science of ice felt when they saw this,” former U.S. Vice-President Gore said in his first appearance at the two-week conference.

His group presented two new reports on developments in Antarctica, Greenland, and the rest of the Arctic.

“The time for collective and immediate action on climate change is now,” Denmark’s foreign minister, Per Stig Moeller, said.

However, the negotiations were bogged down through much of Monday, even as developing countries agreed to resume talks.

European Union spokesperson Andreas Carlgren said a series of informal talks resolved the impasse, which erupted when developing countries halted the negotiations and demanded that rich countries offer much deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Representatives from 135 developing countries had refused to participate in any working groups when the boycott was announced earlier Monday. The move disrupted delegates from working on technical issues they hope to resolve before the arrival of more than 110 world leaders later this week.

Poor countries, supported by China, suggested that conference president Connie Hedegaard had raised suspicion that the conference was likely to kill the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limited carbon emissions by wealthy countries and imposed penalties for failing to meet those targets. These countries want to extend Kyoto, but the U.S. has withdrawn from the treaty, citing economic concerns and the fact that China, India and other major greenhouse gas emitters are not required to take action.

Gore’s reports

Gore and Danish ice scientist Dorthe Dahl Jensen used slide shows to present two reports at a stand-room only crowd of hundreds.

One report was on the Greenland ice sheet and was issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, a group formed by eight Arctic governments, including Canada and U.S. The other report commissioned by both Gore and Norway, was compiled by the Norwegian Polar Institute on the status of ice melt worldwide.

Average global temperatures have increased 0.74 C in the past century, but twice as quickly in the Arctic. Scientists says the northern polar ice has dropped significantly in recent years.

In summer 2007, the Arctic ice cap was reduced to a record low of 4.3 million square kilometres. The melting in 2008 and 2009 was the second and third greatest decreases on record.

“Some of the models suggest that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months will be (nearly) ice-free within the next five to seven years,” Gore said.

No consensus

Prior to the end of the boycott, CTV’s Tom Kennedy described Monday’s events as being a “global squabble” with “no sign of an emerging global consensus.”

“At the moment, it does really look like a complete and utter failure is possible,” he told CTV News Channel by telephone.

Others saw more progress in the talks that have taken place so far.

“I don’t think the talks are falling apart, but we’re losing time,” said Kim Carstensen, of the World Wildlife Fund.

Canada’s environment minister, Jim Prentice, said Monday’s boycott was “not particularly helpful” to the Copenhagen talks.

Earlier Monday, Prentice said the divide between the U.S. and some of the major emitters is posing a challenge to the ongoing climate negotiations.

“Essentially, here in Copenhagen, the United States has indicated they’re not prepared to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, or something that looks like Kyoto,” Prentice told CTV’s Canada AM from Copenhagen on Monday.

“The Chinese, the Indians, Brazilians and others, want an international agreement that looks a lot like Kyoto, in terms of some of the obligations. And so that is the essential challenge we all face at the negotiating table.”

Despite the challenges, Prentice said he remains optimistic that the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen will be able to eventually make a deal they can all live with.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach, essentially, an agreement in principle, which could then be translated into a full international treaty in the subsequent year 2010,” he said.

From a Canadian perspective, Ottawa is hoping to also develop a continent-wide approach to fighting climate change in North America.

Also Monday, Canada’s Conservative government was forced to refute a fake press release that suggested Ottawa would be changing its climate change policy.

It is not clear who is behind the fake press release.

“They don’t know which group or who was targeting Canada for this kind of embarrassment, but it’s just one more of these very peculiar elements coming out of what has been a very difficult conference so far,” said Kennedy, when explaining the incident to CTV News Channel.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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