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Are accelerating impacts at risk of outpacing action?

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Sir David King

Sir David King writes and speaks regularly on climate change and is also the founder and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair in Cambridge and the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG). He also held the post of Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government among others.

With feedbacks from thawing permafrost and other sources on the rise, Sir David King discusses how close are we to the point where these sources of greenhouse gases outpace our own efforts to reduce atmospheric concentrations?

Absolutely! Not exactly every year. We will have ups and downs due to variability in the climate system. We had a fairly quiet year in 2020. 2019 was the year with many extreme weather events. I think what we are expecting is that these events can only get more challenging to humanity going forward in time. 

Scientists mismanaged the modelling of climate change events

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I think the most important thing is that we have not managed this. The climate scientists on the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) team are busy writing the IPCC reports. So these are people fully embedded in the IPCC system, and they are saying, ‘We have mismanaged the modelling of climate change events. What is happening today was predicted to happen in about 70 years’ time!’  

Right so, the big feedback occurring up in the Arctic circle region largely, the development of areas of the Arctic sea exposed to the polar of summer, was not accounted for in the modelling. And, so the situation now is a lot worse than it was previously imagined. 

Reduce, Remove, Repair

Our mantra is, we must have deep and rapid emissions reduction, because we are emitting 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases, all together. This includes carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, into the atmosphere each year. 

We have got to bring that down as close to zero as possible and, as quickly as possible. But, we also need a second action, which is to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We are already at an unstable point for the climate systems of the world. 

When it comes to refreezing the Arctic, if we don’t manage this, we are cooked! I don’t see how we are going to get away with this massive change to the global weather system. 

Indigenous peoples are suffering now

One member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group is Dr Tero Mustonen, a representative of the Sámi people up in Finland. When I spoke to him 6/7 weeks ago he said the temperature up in the Arctic where he is was -30ºC. When I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago it was +31ºC.

What this does is completely removes the long span of time that the Sámi people have lived under the ice conditions and they have learned how to make a living there. They cannot survive under these conditions and yet their survival is critical to our survival because of the knowledge they possess.

Refreeze the Arctic

In order to repair the Arctic climate, we need to try and cover the whole area for 3 months in the summer with bright white clouds that will reflect the sunlight back out to space. This means the ice grown during the previous winter does not melt and then every year we hope to grow yet another layer during the winter.

We are estimating we would need around 1000 vessels in the ocean working with data from the Met Office to give us the information we need to turn the cloud cover, no matter how black they may be into white reflective clouds.

Greenland ice sheet sitting in warm air

Sitting up there in the Arctic circle region is Greenland. Greenland is sitting in this warm air and it is now losing ice more and more rapidly, year on year, and of course, when all of Greenland ice is melted, we can expect that the average global sea-level rise will be 7.5 meters. 

Now, that may take a long time, but is it a long time in terms of our civilisation? Is it a long time in terms of what the impact of the mere half a meter sea level rise will do to global cities like Calcutta, Jakarta, and London? 

We are not prepared, we need to buy time

We are not prepared for what we are currently seeing and we need to take all of these actions. We need to buy time and buying time means, we need to learn how to keep ice cover over the Arctic sea during the polar summer. 

About the author: Sir David King writes and speaks regularly on climate change and is also the founder and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair in Cambridge and the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG). He also held the post of Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government among others.

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