Update [2005-12-8 12:3:16 by Steven D]: For an explanation of how phony and cynical Bush’s pledge to cut “greenhouse gas intensity” by 18% over the next decade really is, scroll to the end of this diary for an addendum that explains exactly what “greenhouse gas intensity” really means — Steven D.

Ps. I’ve posted this at Dkos in slightly different form. If you’re so inclined please go there and recommend it. Thanks, Steven

Glaciers are melting.

In Greenland:

SAN FRANCISCO Dec 7, 2005 — Two of Greenland’s largest glaciers are retreating at an alarming pace, most likely because of climate warming, scientists said Wednesday.

One of the glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq, is currently moving about 9 miles a year compared to 3 miles a year in 2001, said Gordon Hamilton of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

The other glacier, Helheim, is retreating at about 7 miles a year up from 4 miles a year during the same period.

“It’s quite a staggering rate of increase,” Hamilton said at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting.

In Alaska:

Alaska’s rapidly disintegrating Columbia Glacier, which has shrunk in length by 9 miles since 1980, has reached the mid-point of its projected retreat, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Tad Pfeffer, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said the glacier is now discharging nearly 2 cubic miles of ice annually into the Prince William Sound, the equivalent of 100,000 ships packed with ice, each 500 feet long. The tidewater glacier — which has its terminus, or end, in the waters of the Prince William Sound — is expected to retreat an additional 9 miles in the next 15 years to 20 years before reaching an equilibrium point in shallow water near sea level, he said.

In the Himalayas:

Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people, the conservation group WWF has claimed.

In a report, the WWF says India, China and Nepal could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades.

The Himalayas contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps, and feed seven great Asian rivers.

. . . “The rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers will first increase the volume of water in rivers, causing widespread flooding,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme.

“But in a few decades this situation will change and the water level in rivers will decline, meaning massive eco and environmental problems for people in western China, Nepal and northern India.”

In Antartica:

WASHINGTON – Glaciers once held up by a floating ice shelf off Antarctica are now sliding off into the sea — and they are going fast, scientists said on Tuesday [Note: article is from September, 2004].

Two separate studies from climate researchers and the space agency NASA show the glaciers are flowing into Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, freed by the 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf.

. . . It was not clear how the loss of the Larsen B ice shelf would affect nearby glaciers.<p.

But soon after its collapse, researchers saw nearby glaciers flowing up to eight times faster than before.

“If anyone was waiting to find out whether Antarctica would respond quickly to climate warming, I think the answer is yes,” said Theodore Scambos, a University of Colorado glacier expert who worked on one study.

“We’ve seen 150 miles of coastline change drastically in just 15 years.”

In faraway Kazakhstan:

The political stability of a key central Asian state could be imperilled by climate change, researchers say.

They say glaciers are melting so fast in parts of Kazakhstan that the livelihoods of millions of people will be affected.

They found the area’s glaciers were losing almost two cubic kilometres of ice annually during the later 20th Century.

With regional temperatures rising, they believe climate change is responsible.

In South America:

The Patagonia Icefields of Chile and Argentina, the largest non-Antarctic ice masses in the Southern Hemisphere, are thinning at an accelerating pace and now account for nearly 10 percent of global sea-level change from mountain glaciers, according to a new study by NASA and Chile’s Centro de Estudios Cientificos.

Researchers Dr. Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Andres Rivera of Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile; and Gino Casassa of Centro de Estudios Cientificos, Valdivia, Chile, compared conventional topographic data from the 1970s and 1990s with data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, flown in February 2000. Their objective was to measure changes over time in the volumes of the 63 largest glaciers in the region.

Results of the study, published this week in the journal Science, conclude the Patagonia Icefields lost ice at a rate equivalent to a sea level rise of 0.04 millimeters (0.0016 inches) per year, during the period 1975 through 2000. This is equal to nine percent of the total annual global sea-level rise from mountain glaciers, according to the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scientific Assessment. From 1995 through 2000, however, the rate of ice loss from the icefields more than doubled, to an equivalent sea level rise of 0.1 millimeters (0.004 inches) per year.

I’m no expert, but this looks like a trend to me.

Meanwhile back at the climate summit discussing proposals to extend the Kyoto Protocols on global warming:

U.S. still balks on global warming, tweaked by Lithuania

Montreal, Canada – Despite fierce international pressure at a climate summit, the United States signalled that it would continue to go its own way on global warming, citing its investments in alternative energy and bilateral pursuits.

. . . Ministers are debating a draft proposal during three days of talks on how to combat climate change, wrapping up the 180-nation, two-week meeting.

The proposal calls on nations to negotiate a new pact against global warming by the end of 2007, but suggests no firm emission cuts.

However, French President Jacques Chirac, in a message to the conference, called for a halving of greenhouse emissions by 2050. This would mean a 75 per cent reduction from current levels if one factors in growth in developing countries, he said.

He dismissed proposals – heard often from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush – that humanity must adopt to climate changes, or confront them with technology.

Bush has also argued that the Kyoto protocol, which mandates emission reductions, would hamper economic growth an idea Chirac disdained.

‘The time has come to rise above the illusory opposition between growth and the fight against climate change,’ Chirac said.

Paula Dobriansky, a State Department official heading the U.S. delegation, insisted that the U.S. was making progress on its own terms.

. . . [S]he insisted the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas ‘intensity’ – a new standard Washington unveiled in 2002 to answer international criticism – by 18 per cent by 2012. Critics say the new standard is an economic ratio that doesn’t address the added 1.9 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses that would enter the air by then at current U.S. economic growth rates.

The United States, with about 4 per cent of the world’s people, is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases – about 25 per cent.

The official plan at the conference reflects pressure by European and other governments for strong measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions – mainly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – after the Kyoto pact expires in 2012.

The final document offered by conference chairman Stephane Dion, Canada’s environment minister, would pledge nations to reach a new U.N. pact against climate change by December 2007.

To sidestep U.S. objections and other countries opposed to binding targets, the draft proposes no specific further emission cuts for industrialized countries.


Fucking lovely.

ADDENDUM: What Bush’s pledge to reduce “greenhouse gas intensity” really means.

What it really means is that in all likelihood actual greenhouse gas emissions by the United States will continue to rise over the next decade. The truth behind Bush’s smoke and mirrors plan to reduce “greenhouse gas intensity” is spelled out in detail right here:

Announced with great fanfare last month (C&EN, Feb. 18, page 10; see also page 33 of this issue), the Bush Administration’s initiative can only be described as a cynical sop to an American public increasingly concerned about the prospects of global climate change. The initiative is billed as a bold step toward addressing climate change, when it is, in fact, a blueprint for doing nothing at all.

The centerpiece of the new Bush policy is a pledge to reduce the “greenhouse gas intensity” of the U .S. economy by 18% in the next 10 years. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). According to the White House, the President’s initiative “sets America on a path to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, and-as the science justifies-to stop and then reverse that growth.”

It does no such thing. The President’s approach, according to the nonpartisan Pew Center on Global Climate Change, minimizes the economic impact of curtailing greenhouse gas emissions “by allowing emissions to rise or fall with economic output; however, it provides no assurance that a given level of environmental protection is measured in relation to GDP” In other words, as long as GDP is in the denominator of the equation, the Bush initiative guarantees nothing about the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas intensity is likely to decline in the coming decade, but not because of anything the Bush Administration is proposing. The Pew Center’s analysis of the President’s initiative points out that, “although total emissions {of greenhouse gases} continued to rise, greenhouse gas intensity in fact fell over the last two decades.”

Because of improved energy efficiency and the continuing transformation of the US economy toward services, greenhouse gas intensity in the U.S. declined 21% in the 1980s and 17% in the 1990s. If the pattern of the past 20 years continues, the President’s goal for greenhouse gas intensity will be achieved with no changes in our pattern of greenhouse gas production.

To read the Pew Center study on this issue quoted above, go to this link:

Although total emissions continued to rise, greenhouse gas intensity in fact fell over the last two decades. Contributing factors include energy efficiency improvements, the introduction of new information technologies, and the continued transition from heavy industry to less energy-intensive, service-oriented industries. In the 1980s greenhouse gas intensity fell by 21 percent. During the 1990s greenhouse gas intensity fell by 16 percent. The Administration’s strategy aims to cut greenhouse gas intensity to a level of 151 metric tons carbon equivalent per million dollars of GDP by 2012, 18 percent below its present level. While this would represent a very modest improvement over the “business as usual” emissions projections for 2012 used by the Administration, it appears to continue the same trend of GHG-intensity reductions and GHG emissions increases experienced over the last two decades.

In terms of actual emissions, total U.S. GHG emissions would grow 12 percent by 2012, resulting in GHG emissions of 2,155 MMTCE (7,900 MMTCO2E). Emissions in 2012 would be 30 percent above 1990 levels (1990 is often used as a “base year” because the Framework Convention on Climate Change called for industrialized countries to return to their 1990 levels by 2000). The Administration proposes to achieve its GHG intensity target entirely through voluntary measures. Prior experience has shown that despite the existence of a range of voluntary government programs to encourage early reductions, despite significant actions by individual companies, and despite improvements in greenhouse gas intensity, emissions continue to rise as these gains are outpaced by economic expansion, changing consumer preferences, and population growth. Further, because the target (1) is voluntary, (2) represents only a slight change from the “business as usual” path, and (3) does not appear to advance specific policy solutions, it is unclear how this goal will be translated into actual reductions in GHG intensity across various sectors of the economy. Previous voluntary GHG targets, including the UNFCCC’s target of returning to 1990 levels of GHG emissions by 2000, have not been met by the United States.

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