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'Alarming' Year of Extremes as Climate 'Tipping Point' Looms

UN groups issue stark warnings at climate summit in Doha

Common Dreams staff

An "alarming" rate of Arctic Sea ice melt and "far-reaching changes" to the Earth from climate change follow a year of extremes, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday as the third day of climate negotiations take place in Doha, Qatar.

The WMO statement comes a day after the UN Environment Program (UNEP) warned that the looming release of methane in the Arctic could push the world past a "tipping point."

"The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth's oceans and biosphere," Michel Jarraud, head of the WMO, an agency of the UN, stated on Wednesday.

"Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records," he added.

The Geneva-based group pointed out: "In August, the Arctic sea ice lost an average of nearly 92,000 square kilometers of ice per day -- the fastest observed loss for the month of August on record."

But the climate predictions, as dire as many are, fail to take into account the ticking time bomb of the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the thawing permafrost.

"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," UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stated on Tuesday.

"Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long," he added.

As the planet warms and the active area of permafrost that thaws and refreezes each year extends, huge of amounts of carbon dioxide and methane will be released into the atmosphere.

"Once this process begins," UNEP explains, "it will operate in a feedback loop known as the permafrost carbon feedback, which has the effect of increasing surface temperatures and thus accelerating the further warming of permafrost - a process that would be irreversible on human timescales."

Another threat that has been understated, according to research published in Environmental Research Letters on Tuesday, is the level of sea rise.

Scientists assert in this new study that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sea level projections have been "biased low," and the sea level is rising 60% faster than the IPCC predictions, heading towards a rise of one meter by the end of the century.

"I would say that a metre of sea level rise by the end of the century is probably close to what you would find if you polled the people who know best," study co-author Grant Foster told Agence France Presse.

"In low-lying areas where you have massive numbers of people living within a metre of sea level, like Bangladesh, it means that the land that sustains their lives disappears, and you have hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and that can lead to resource wars and all kinds of conflicts," he added.

"For major coastal cities like New York, probably the principal effect would be what we saw in Hurricane Sandy.

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