Special Oceans report due in September

Another special report into our changing world under the climate crisis is due for release in September, this time on the oceans and frozen waters.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on oceans and the cryosphere is divided into six chapters, covering high mountain areas, polar regions, sea level rise and implications for low lying islands, coasts and communities, changing ocean, marine ecosystems, and dependent communities and extremes, abrupt changes and managing risks.

It will also feature an “integrative cross-chapter” section on low lying islands and coasts, investigating the key climate drivers for the areas, and the impacts and risks of climate driven changes and addressing options to limit or address the changes.

Katherine McInnes is one of about 130 scientists from 37 countries co-authoring the report. She has been in Samoa presenting to the 5th Pacific Meteorological Council meeting.

She is working on chapter six, on extreme tipping points: “elements that could be irreversibly changed.

“Antarctica going into decline is one example of that,” Ms. McInnes said.

“It’s a potential tipping point where if we initiate Greenland or Antarctica going into decline we are committing humanity to sea level rise of many metres over many centuries.”

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is another urgent matter. The A.M.O.C, the ocean current which mixes warm salty water from the Atlantic with colder deep waters has slowed dramatically in the last 150 years, suggesting it could even come to a slow even more.

“If that shuts down then all the warm water sits on the top, we get a very stable ocean and that leads to impacts like ocean deoxygenation and other sorts of changes in ocean chemistry which will not be good for fisheries or basically life on earth,” Ms. McInnes said.

“We are not likely to cross that threshold this century which is why I haven’t been really talking about it but it is one of the potential big changes in the climate system that could occur if we carry on emitting greenhouse gases unabated.”

The report has been sent to governments for review and comment until the ninth of August, before the final copy is presented at the 51st Session of the I.P.C.C from the 20 – 23 of September, where the IPCC will consider the Summary for Policymakers.

In the January review, 34 governments and 473 experts submitted 16,142 comments on the report’s second draft.

The IPCC’s last Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was released last October and revealed the extent of change required to limit the earth’s warming below 1.5 degrees.

It stated that the next twelve years would be crucial to managing global temperature increases in order to mitigate catastrophic sea level rise, drought, heat waves and more.

But when it was presented to its commissioning body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the members struggled to unanimously accept the report, debating over the language and eventually putting off the decision.

Finally in Germany in June, during the member’s intersession conference, the report was debated without end, and the members did not come to a meaningful conclusion on how to use it, leaving it with little influence over future climate action negotiations in Chile later this year. 

“I think there is a real challenge that people seem to think you can debate whether or not you are going to accept the science or not,” Ms. McInnes said, asked whether the Special Report on Oceans could meet its predecessors fate.

“It is worrying that portions of the community discount science and think it is okay to dismiss science and evidence.”

But the reactions from global powers like Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Kuwait fighting the science are not disheartening to this scientist.

She said her organisation C.S.I.R.O are getting requests for help from private sector and industry representatives like multinational mining, metals and petroleum company BHP, who are realising the risk climate change poses to their businesses.

“When you have got industry that is championing your cause… when you see that sort of change I start to think, they have got clout,” Ms. McInnes said.

“In fact it probably makes me more determined that we have got to think about more ways to get the message across.”

She said the other important development is the rapidly dropping costs of renewable energy, which is enabling small islands and some larger developed countries to clean up their production.

As much as small island states like Samoa need to work on adapting to climate change by building resiliently or relocating from coastal areas, lowering greenhouse gas emissions is a must.

“We have got some locked in climate change anyway, there is a lot of inertia in the climate system and the climate is responding to what we have already put out there,” Ms. McInnes said.

“We can’t depend on adaptation alone, and it will always be the less advantaged countries that will be disproportionately affected.

“They won’t have the wealth to keep rebuilding roads or rebuilding infrastructure.”

In her home country of Australia, Ms. McInnes and her science colleagues face their own challenges, not only with the effects of climate change causing drought and forest fires across the country but with funding cuts to essential climate change research.

C.S.I.R.O is an independent government agency, under the Department of Industry, Science and Technology.

In February 2015, its management attempted to cut several hundred climate scientist roles.

There was a large public outcry, the move was reversed, and the government boosted C.S.I.R.O's budget from $1.35 billion to $1.47 billion by 2019-20. 

But despite this, Ms. McInnes said it is less funding than the agency had under Labour.

“It’s a little difficult for me to comment on anything to do with Australian Government policy because I work for a science organisation so we don’t typically comment, our role is to focus on the science,” Ms. McInnes said.

“Certainly our funding has come in cycles and it doesn’t take much to figure out who was in government when we had our more generous climate science funding and who was in government when it all got stopped.”

2009 saw two serious five-year climate change research programs, which cost the government AUD$328.2 million.

The results of the Pacific Climate Change Science Program (2009–11) and the Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science Adaptation Planning program (2011–14) are still being held up today as landmark science which is now being promoted to Pacific Island meteorological offices for practical use by sector.

“Generally we do what we can with what we have got and as scientists we are very committed to the science of climate change,” Ms. McInnes said

“We have got all the expertise we need to do climate change science. A lot of us are still there from P.A.C.C.S.A.P days.”

The I.P.C.C. was created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (W.M.O) and the United Nations Environment Programme (U.N.E.P) into order to give government’s scientific information for climate policies. IPCC reports are also used in international climate change negotiations.

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