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 March 17, 2009
Rising Sea Levels 'Buy High - Sell Low'

 GLOBE-Net - The International Scientific Congress on Climate Change, a gathering of climate change experts, completed its three day event last week and issued dire warnings about the state of the world.

Organized by International Alliance of Research Universities, the meeting at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the group’s goal was to prepare a paper to present to policy makers in December at the next gathering of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Featuring many of the larger names in the global warming movement including Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, the scientists issued a desperate plea for immediate action on climate change.  Dire predictions of rising sea levels, social unrest, and war were intended to spur the globe’s governments into action as the group said ’inaction is inexcusable.’

Perhaps the most dire predictions coming from the scientists and climate experts assembled in Denmark was the fact that about 600 million people (nearly 10 percent of the world’s population), now living  in low-lying areas are at risk of flooding as sea levels rise due to climate change.

Even in the lower ranges of current predictions, it looks increasingly likely that sea level rise will be at least 50 cm (19.6 inches) by 2100, scientists told the Congress, and the upper range of sea level rise could be at least one meter (39 inches) by the end of this century.

Hundreds of millions of people would have to move, probably billions. What would be the implication of that? Extended conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades.
- Lord Nicholas Stern on the effects of global warming
Speaking at the opening session of the Congress, Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, warned that current conditions are far worse than estimates from the IPCC’s 2007 report.  He said, "The reason is that emissions are growing faster than we thought, the absorption capacity of the planet is less than we thought, the probability of high temperatures is likely higher than we thought, and some of the effects are coming faster than we thought."

At a session on sea level rises, Dr. John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Hobart, Tasmania told participants, "The most recent satellite and ground based observations show that sea level rise is continuing to rise at three millimeters per year or more since 1993, a rate well above the 20th century average."

"The oceans are continuing to warm and expand, the melting of mountain glacier has increased and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to sea level rise," said Church.

"The ice loss in Greenland has accelerated over the last decade. The upper range of sea level rise by 2100 might be above one meter or more on a global average, with large regional differences depending where the source of ice loss occurs," said Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder and co-chair of the congress session on sea level rise.

The IPCC notes that current and future climate change would be expected to have a number of impacts, particularly on coastal systems. Such impacts may include:

  • increased coastal erosion,
  • higher storm-surge flooding,
  • inhibition of primary production processes,
  • more extensive coastal inundation,
  • changes in surface water quality and groundwater characteristics,
  • increased loss of property and coastal habitats,
  • increased flood risk and potential loss of life,
  • loss of non-monetary cultural resources and values,
  • impacts on agriculture and aquaculture through decline in soil and water quality, and
  • loss of tourism, recreation, and transportation functions.

Many of these impacts will be highly detrimental, particularly for the three-quarters of the world’s poor who depend on agriculture systems or who live in low lying coastal regions such as Bangladesh.

"Measurements around the world show that sea level has risen almost 20 centimeters (7.87 inches) since 1880," explained Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The rate of sea level rise is closely linked to temperature - sea level rises faster the warmer it gets, Rahmstorf explained.

"Sea level is currently rising at a rate that is above any of the model projections of 18 to 59 cm," said Church. "Unless we undertake urgent and significant mitigation actions, the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century committing the world to a sea level rise of meters."