Climate Photo of the Week
Crucial climate negotiations come to Lima as Peru's great ecosystems -- mountains, rivers, rainforests and the people they support -- show the stresses of rising temperatures.
A glacier has completely disappeared in the Peruvian Andes. Water for millions of people, agriculture and power is in shorter supply. Trees in the rainforest are migrating under stress from rising temperatures. From the craggy Andes mountains, the lush rainforests of the upper Amazon River and down to the desert Pacific coastline, Peru is experiencing active climate change. This was the backdrop to the 20th international UN Climate Convention, meeting in Peru’s capitol Lima. In very contentious and lengthy negotiations, the Convention drafted agreements and procedures for a long-sought all-nation agreement to stop the rise in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.
One of the most dramatic changes in Peru is the disappearance of Broggi Glacier in Huascaran National Park, a World Heritage site northeast of Lima. This is one of the first complete glacier losses to be photographically documented, with images from 1932, 1999 and 2014 showing how it had shrunk to a small icefield by the turn of the century and melted away totally in the few years since then. Many other glaciers in Peru, home to 70 percent of all tropical glaciers, are also shrinking, cutting off up to sixty percent of the water flowing into some rivers. This is a direct result of the average temperature increase of more than 1.8 degrees F (.75.C) since 1950. Peru's people, irrigated farms and hydroelectric generation are heavily dependent on glacier runoff and the aquifers replenished by the melt water.
The diverse rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon basin to the east of the Andes, an area larger than France, are one of the deepest reservoirs of sequestered carbon on our planet, according to a new Carnegie Institute study. This provides new value to forest protection and international negotiation over Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), a prime topic at the Lima climate negotiations. At the same time, measurements of thousands of trees in Peru's Manu National Park show that some species are moving upslope to cooler habitats at an average rate of 2.5 to 3.5 m (up to 11 feet) per year -- seeds being successful upslope while old trees die out below. Lead scientists Miles Silman and Kenneth Feeley have estimated that the rate of movement needed to match the rampant warming, however, is about 6 meters a year. If world temperatures rise to 4 decrees C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, which is the trajectory we are on if little action is taken to stop fossil fuel emissions, the forests and the highlands of Peru will experience a temperature rise in less than a century that is 10 to 40 times faster than that which they adapted to over thousands of years as the Ice Age ended.
Faced with these realities playing out worldwide, as starkly reported by this year's Fifth IPCC assessment, negotiators in Lima took steps toward an international agreement to limit greenhouse gases — for the first time committing all nations to plan reductions in their emissions. National plans will be announced during the coming year and a final new agreement under the Climate Convention will be negotiated for signing at a Paris meeting a year from now. The Lima talks broke down early over how strict limits to global warming emissions would be reported and verified, and over support for those nations and people already affected by rapid changes. Many of these details remain to be worked out. The limits expected in national reduction plans are not going to be enough to stop increasingly high temperatures and climate disruptions, most negotiators said. But they would set the stage for an agreement by all 195 Convention signatories at the 2015 meeting, which would be the first time all treaty parties try to follow the words of the Climate Convention: “to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
It is now too late, say most scientists, to follow the next sentence of the Convention: "Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Any agreement and limits to carbon pollution would not take effect until after 2020, and many nations in the Lima talks wanted an agreement to begin much sooner. But there is hope, determination, and pathways for action which can certainly slow the accelerating rush toward a disastrous century — if the world’s nations decide to act more decisively. The new promises by the U.S., China and the E.U. to slow and cut their pollution are an example of what we might expect to see from all countries in the coming year.
More on Peru's environment as it reacts to climate change, from World View of Global Warming's 2014 coverage, here.
Historic, surprise agreement to cut carbon pollution confirms intent and ability of U.S. and China to switch toward renewables and away from coal.
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A new version of Gary Braasch's color print exhibition "Climate Change in Our World," curated and mounted for display throughout Europe, opened 16 September at the Ecological Education Centre, Munich Germany. Curated and organized by Maiken Winter, CEO of the NGO WissenLeben, the exhibit of large prints is supported and funded by the U.S. Consulate General in Munich, KIS GmbH software, TUM University School of Education, Meteodata and the insurance company Gothaer. We are grateful also to the printer, ALOE GmbH and for the collaboration of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich.
Images and captions are available here.
15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2014
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