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COP18: Permafrost Melts While Government Negotiations Stall

Rich nations do nothing while permafrost melt increases emissions by 39%

Common Dreams staff

Government negotiations continue to stall as the earth continues to heat and melt. (Image by Greenpeace and tcktcktck via Enviro Space)

Scientists report that significant thawing of the Arctic permafrost will "significantly amplify global warming," says a new UN report released Tuesday, which many hope will spur some agreement and action on the second day of negotiations underway at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP18).

"Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 percent of total emissions," said the report's lead author and COP18 presenter, Kevin Schaefer. "This must be factored in to treaty negotiations expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol."

Rising global temperatures are increasingly softening the hard-packed earth, which covers nearly a quarter of the northern hemisphere. As stated by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, "Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world."

"The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales," states the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost, which estimates that the methane seeping from the thawing Arctic will "eventually add more to emissions than last year's combined carbon output of the US and Europe."

This sobering report was announced on the second day of the UN's Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.

Thus far, the focus of the negotiations has been on extending the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire this year, to at least 2020.

At the climate talks on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports, a number of wealthy nations including Japan, Russia and Canada have joined the ranks of the U.S.—which never agreed to the original pact—and "refused to endorse the extension," reducing sole remaining backers to the "European Union and Australia and several smaller countries, which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions."

Despite continual reports indicating the increasing urgency of our climate situation, U.S. deputy climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said in a press conference that President Barack Obama was sticking with the 2009 goal of cutting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, adding, "I do not anticipate that the United States will modify the commitment we have made."

Pershing went on to defend the U.S.'s climate record adding, "Those who don't know what the US is doing may not be informed of the scale and extent of the effort, but it's enormous."


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According to The Guardian, the senior climate representative was referring to the carbon reductions attributed to the "widespread adoption of shale gas" which is extracted by means of 'fracking,' the effects of which are manifold including the contamination of precious groundwater resources.

In an open letter to "governments and their negotiators," leaders Bill McKibben, Nnimmo Bassey and Pablo Solon write:

Without dramatic global action to change our path--the end of the climate story is already written. There is no room for doubt--absent remarkable action, these fossil fuels will burn, and the temperature will climb creating a chain reaction of climate related natural disasters.

Negotiators should cease their face-saving, their endless bracketing and last minute cooking of texts and concentrate entirely on figuring out how to live within the carbon budget scientists set. We can't emit more than 565 more gigatons of carbon before 2050, but at the current pace we'll blow past that level in 15 years. If we want to have a chance to stick to this budget by 2020 we can’t send to the atmosphere more than 200 gigatons.

The letter goes on to echo the argument by developing countries, who are most at risk from global temperature increases, that it is vital that developed nations lead the way towards a new worldwide accord.

As stated by Andre Correa do Lago, director general for Environment and Special Affairs in the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affair, who is heading the Brazilian delegation at the conference:

If rich countries which have the financial means, have technology, have a stable population, already have a large middle class, if these countries think they cannot reduce and work to fight climate change, how can they ever think that developing countries can do it.

That is why the Kyoto Protocol has to be kept alive. It's the bar. If we take it out, we have what people call the Wild West. Everybody will do what they want to do. With everyone doing what they want to do, you are not going get the reductions necessary.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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