NEWS: UN Secretary General witnessed first hand the impacts of climate change on trip to Greenland this week
By Sophie Yeo
The dangers of global warming cannot be ignored, said Ban Ki-moon during a Greenland visit to assess how the Arctic is being affected by rising temperatures.
Flanked by the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Greenland, the UN Secretary General highlighted the need for rapid action from the world’s most senior politicians in order to avoid the impacts of climate change.
“We have to take action now. The time is now, and I’m very much committed to working with world leaders,” he said. “The problem doesn’t go away by being silent.”
The trip to Greenland is the latest attempt by the Secretary General to hoist climate change up the political agenda before his landmark climate summit in September, which will take place in New York alongside the UN General Assembly.
The UN chief wants heads of government attending his September summit to bring “bold pledges” to tackle climate change, which could be incorporated into the international climate change treaty that the UN hopes to sign off in 2015.
Governments have committed to limit warming to less than 2C above pre industrial temperatures, although the IPCC says the world could hit 3-4C by the end of the century.
— Jesper Zølck Felbo (@zolckfelbo) March 26, 2014
No leaders have yet committed to attending Ban’s summit, although those close to the UN process say it is unlikely many would snub the event.
Former Norway prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, one of Ban’s climate envoys for the meeting, told RTCC it will be an opportunity to remind leaders how critical this issue is, and try and cement some kind of raised political awareness ahead of negotiations on a global agreement.
“There’s no way we can achieve the necessary cut in emissions without including all major emitters,” he said.
Next week a UN climate science panel meeting in Yokohoma, Japan, will deliver its latest assessment of the risks linked to rising levels of greenhouse gases.
Online leaks suggest it is likely to say risks to the overall global economy and Earth’s biodiversity become moderate for warming between 1-2 degrees Celsius and high around 3 degrees. Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 C.
A recent study published in Nature Climate found that even the north eastern part of Greenland’s ice sheet, which was previously considered stable, is melting. This means that Greenland’s impact on rising sea levels is greater than scientists had previously accounted for.
Between 1979 and 2006, summer melt on Greenland’s ice sheet increased by 30%, reaching a new record in 2007.
“I am just overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of this great land, with over 2 million square kilometres of ice cap and with such vast land covered with snow and ice – this is majestic,” said Ban yesterday.
“At the same time, I am deeply alarmed by fast-moving glaciers and by the fast-melting ice cap which raises the sea level which affects the whole international community’s environmental system.”
The Secretary General toured the Ilulissat Icefjord by boat, went dog sledging in a traditional sealskin outfit and met with indigenous people in the town of Uummannaq, which lies 590 kilometres above the Arctic Circle.
But the sub-zero temperatures are deceptive: due to the geography of the region, the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than any other part of the globe.
The first instalment of the UN’s three-part science report predicted that sea ice in the Arctic could completely melt during the summer months by the middle of the century, unless action is taken to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases.