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ANTARCTIC CLIMATE CHANGE CONCERNS DEEPEN

In April 2010, Steven Chown, representing the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR - together with several others), attended the Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts on climate change in the Antarctic Treaty Region. The meeting was convened by Norway and the United Kingdom to provide advice to the Antarctic Treaty about the most current science and to make recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Parties about appropriate policy responses in the region.

The science of climate change in the Antarctic has just been comprehensively reviewed by SCAR in a publication edited by John Turner and others, entitled Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment. Along with the top ten summary points from the ACCE, as it is known, and summary slides setting out the essential findings, the full document is available as a downloadable file at: http://www.scar.org/publications/occasionals/acce.html. The top ten points from the ACCE are:

  • For the past ten years the ozone hole has shielded the bulk of the Antarctic from the effects of ‘global warming’.
  • The Southern Ocean is warming — the ecosystem will change.
  • There has been rapid expansion of plant communities across the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Parts of the Antarctic are losing ice at a rapid rate.
  • Sea ice has increased around the Antarctic over the last 30 years as a result of the Ozone hole.
  • Palaeoclimate studies in Antarctica show the current shock to global climate is unusual.
  • Marine ecosystem components, such as krill and penguins, linked to the sea ice show a clear response to climate change.
  • Assuming a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations over the next century, Antarctica is expected to warm by around 3°C.
  • West Antarctica could make a major contribution to sea level rise over the next century.
  • Improved representation of polar processes is needed in models to produce better predictions.

The meeting of experts, held in Svolvaer, Norway, and chaired by Prof. David Cleary (Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Prof. Jan-Gunnar Winther (Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute), made 30 recommendations based on the science presented by SCAR and others. These will be presented to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties due to meet in Uruguay early in May 2010. In essence, the science is showing that climate change is underway and is a substantive threat not only to the goals of the Antarctic Treaty, but also to the future well-being of humankind. Moreover, the pace of change seems to be accelerating in some areas, making the need for substantive global action (such as vast reductions in carbon emissions and more attention to carbon sequestration), and appropriate local Antarctic policy responses ever more pressing.

Steven Chown (SCAR), Colin Summerhayes (SCAR) and Peter Barrett (New Zealand), attendees of the Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts.