UN to make world’s melting ice a priority as loss poses global threat

Antarctica. The UN WMO has said that dealing with melting ice is a top priority
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The United Nations’ (UN) weather agency announced on 30 May that it was making the cryosphere – meaning iced areas of the world – a new top priority. It said the melting of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost posed a global threat.

Member states at the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are concerned about the impacts of melting ice on sea levels, natural disasters, ecosystems and economies. WMO chief Petteri Taalas said:

The cryosphere issue is a hot topic not just for the Arctic and Antarctic, but it is a global issue

What happens in the polar regions doesn’t stay there

WMO countries meeting in Geneva called for increased funding for more coordinated observations and predictions. They also want better data exchange, research, and services.

Nations far from the polar regions, such as in the Caribbean and Africa, voiced concerns that changes in the cryosphere would affect the whole planet. Addressing reporters, WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis warned:

What happens in polar regions and high mountain regions doesn’t stay in those regions.

More than a billion people rely on water from snow and glaciers melt which is carried by the major rivers of the world. When those glaciers retreat… you need to think what’s going to happen to the water security of those people.

Read on...

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Besides implementing the 2015 Paris climate accords and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the WMO said better monitoring was needed to track the scale and speed of change. Nullis said:

You cannot manage what you’re not measuring.

Permafrost is a ‘sleeping giant’

Melting ice in glaciers, and the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, account for about 50% of sea level rise. Meanwhile, this is accelerating. The WMO says it will have growing impacts on small island developing states and densely-populated coastal areas.

For example, the Greenland Ice Sheet ended with a negative total mass balance for the 26th year in a row. Meanwhile, sea ice in Antarctica dropped to 1.92m km² in February. This is the lowest level on record and almost 1m km² below the 1991-2020 mean.

Meanwhile, Nullis said experts consider the Arctic permafrost a “sleeping giant” of greenhouse gases. This is because it stores twice as much carbon as is in the atmosphere today.

The world’s top meteorologists are meeting in Geneva for the WMO’s congress. It’s the quadrennial meeting of member states that sets the UN agency’s direction and priorities for the next four years. Member states are discussing plans to make sure that every country is covered by advance early warning systems for meteorological disasters within five years.

The congress also approved a new Global Greenhouse Gas Watch monitoring initiative. This will fill critical information gaps and provide an integrated framework for space- and surface-based observations. Taalas highlighted that:

Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels — in fact higher than at any time over the last 800,000 years.

With melting ice at record low levels, and sea levels rising accordingly, urgent action is needed. We can no longer afford complacency or climate inaction from world leaders.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Mauri23mauri / Wikimedia, cropped to 1210×1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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