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15 Dec 2010 04:12:53

COP16—stay below 2 degrees



The UN's climate summit came to an end a couple of days ago. Held this year in Cancun, Mexico, there was a general feeling of significant progress in the fight against climate change and global warming.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Christiana Figueres commented, "Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause." This sounds exquisitely honourable and decisive, but what exactly is the agreed consensus?

Delegates at the summit entered an accord that all nations should aim to stay below a 2 degree centigrade temperature rise. This commitment includes a timetabled agreement to ensure that countries stay on target.

The UK's climate, with its temperamental weather patterns, would seem to swing between much greater temperature changes than a modest 2 degrees centigrade. However, average temperature patterns over the longer-term remain remarkably static.

In a global context, this is even more significant. Average annual temperatures over the entire planet should remain constant, and certainly well within a 2 degree boundary. Although weather patterns and actual climatic events differ geographically year on year, overall temperatures remain constant.

Although a commitment to remain below a 2 degree centigrade temperature increase may seem to be on the laughable side of modest, it is actually crucial. A global 2 degree average temperature rise would be catastrophic in the long term. 2 degrees allows for the most 'play' without causing the most damage. An average global temperature increase of 2 degrees would add significant melt to polar ice-caps, resulting in rising sea levels. Weather systems are driven in part by oceanic water currents such as the North Atlantic Drift. These ocean currents may be affected, weakened, strengthened or diverted as a result of a rise in sea levels, bringing about a change in climate patterns, thus affecting agriculture on a global scale.

An average global decrease of 2 degrees may have a very straight forward effect. It may trigger a mini ice age, such as the one experienced during the mid-nineteenth century. Again, climatic conditions would be altered and global agriculture affected.

Climatic change and global warming may seem all very well for us in our moderate climate. A couple of degrees warmer and we may be growing grape vines instead of wheat in southern England. That's, of course, if southern England hasn't vanished under rising sea levels. And what about the vineyards of France? They may become the Sahara of tomorrow.


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