Politicians are gearing up for the U.N. sustainable development conference later this month in Brazil. The organization’s secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he wants the session to define a path to an inclusive green economy that will lift people from poverty and protect the global environment.
This requires international collaboration, investment, and an exchange of experiences and technology among countries, he said Wednesday.
In addition, Ban said that leaders need to define sustainable development goals with clear and measurable targets and indicators that will be a central part of the post-2015 global development framework.
The U.N.’s Environment Programme was more critical. Executive Director Achim Steiner said that only four of the 90 most important environmental goals and objectives had seen progress. He cited favorably eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, the removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies, and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment.
He said there was little progress and even deterioration of efforts toward halting climate change, desertification, drought and protecting the world’s coral reefs.
Steiner said that his agency’s global environmental outlook reminds world leaders and nations meeting in Río why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating green economy is urgently needed. “The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt,” he said.
Steiner notwithstanding, the U.N. is not stressing mitigation of climate change for this conference even though the theme of sustainability clearly includes that concept. In advance of the conference, which will be June 20 to 22 in Rio de Janeiro, there has been a flurry of related scientific reports.
Although increases in global temperature are attributed to rising levels of carbon dioxide from human activity, a research team at theUniversity of California at Santa Cruz said this week that they found temperatures across a broad swath of the North Pacific were 9 to 14 degrees F warmer than now, while atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations remained low and near values prior to the Industrial Revolution.
The research relies on evidence of ancient climate preserved in microscopic plankton skeletons, called microfossils, that long-ago sank to the sea-floor and ultimately were buried beneath it in sediments, said the university. Samples of those sediments were brought to the surface in cores drilled into the ocean bottom by marine scientists working aboard the drillship JOIDES Resolution, which visited Costa Rica a year ago.
A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences absent adequate preparation and mitigation, according to the University of California at Berkeley. . The authors of the studypublished in Nature argue that, although many warning signs are emerging, no one knows how close Earth is to a global tipping point, or if it is inevitable.
One author, Elizabeth Hadly from Stanford University, said that “We desperately need global leadership for planet Earth.”
Two research reports had troubling news on global warming. A study from scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, published in the journal Oceanography, said that a warmer arctic means colder winters in the Northern Hemisphere.
They reasoned that melting sea ice exposes darker ocean water to incoming sunlight and changes wind currents. This will allow colder arctic air to move south, they said.
Although trees are usually considered good by environmentalists, a report from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology said that shrubs in the arctic tundra are becoming tall trees which stand above the winter snow thereby absorbing more sunlight. This increased absorption of the sun’s radiation, combined with microclimates created by forested areas, adds to global warming: making an already-warming climate warm even more rapidly, the report said.
The U.S. National Science Foundation said that over the past two decades, strong scientific evidence has emerged showing that decline of the world’s biological diversity reduces the productivity and sustainability of ecosystems. The foundation cited a study by an international team led by the University of Michigan. It also decreases ecosystems’ ability to provide society with goods and services like food, wood, fodder, fertile soils and protection from pests and disease, the study by 17 ecologists said.
Human actions are dismantling ecosystems, resulting in species extinctions at rates several orders of magnitude faster than observed in the fossil record, the study, published this week in Nature, said. The paper is a scientific consensus statement that summarizes evidence from more than 1,000 ecological studies over the last two decades, said the foundation.
The Institut de Recherche pour le Développement reported that shrinking glaciers threaten to eliminate some water supply and will cause the reduction in biodiversity in some watercourses that are fed by them. The study focused on glaciers that are near the Ecuadorian capital Quito.
The Institut also is the source for the study on sea levels, which is of critical importance for Costa Rica.
The universities of Tokyo and Oxford researchers said a spectacular rise in sea level took place 14,650 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The study said, based on studies of coral, that the sea level rose 14 meters (about 46 feet) in less than 350 years. The sea is rising at about 3 millimeters a year now.
The study said that predictions of sea level rise advanced in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not account for some of the factors uncovered by the current study. The Intergovernmental panel predicted sea level rise by 2100 to be 20 to 60 centimeters., about 8 to 24 inches. Instead, this current study predicts an increase in sea level of between 60 and 180 centimeters or from two to six feet.
The risks are high, said a summary of the study: More than three billion people, or half of the world’s population, live on the coast or less that 200 kilometers from a coastline, and one tenth of the population currently lives less than 10 meters above sea level.