[Coral-List] Coral reefs in the UN Convention on Climate Change

Esther Peters esther.peters at verizon.net
Sun Jan 13 16:34:02 EST 2008


I didn't see other comments on your post of over a week ago (perhaps it 
was just too depressing for most to read), but I wanted to thank you for 
sending this information, and in particular, the link to the New York 
Times comment on the aftermath of Bali:


Reading those 100 commentaries gives one an excellent education on what 
is happening in the world!  I am glad the coral-list is continuing this 
discussion and for all who are contributing insights.

Esther Peters

Thomas Goreau wrote:
> To those seriously concerned about climate change and the future of  
> coral reefs:
> Climate change has been a minor subject on the coral list server  
> until recently, when a flurry of postings, focusing largely on the  
> merits of different cars rather than impacts on corals, appeared in  
> response to a recent Science article. According to press reports,  
> this article makes predictions, based on models, that climate change  
> might begin to affect reefs in 50-70 years.
> This is overly optimistic! In fact we could lose most of what is left  
> in the next extreme hot year that exceeds 1998, and this could come  
> at any time. Statistically, based on the Global Coral Reef Alliance  
> database of global coral reef satellite sea surface temperatures  
> since 1982, it is due this year. But we can't be exactly certain  
> because of the noise in the climate system (I published many papers  
> on this with Ray Hayes since 1990, none cited in the Science paper).  
> The real news is that we have ALREADY passed the tipping point. And  
> that what emerged from Bali was cynical abandonment of coral reefs  
> and countries that depend on them. The oil and coal burners chose to  
> sacrifice reefs because they don't want to be inconvenienced by  
> changing their polluting ways, and they don't care what happens to  
> coral reefs, island nations, low lying coasts, or even the future of  
> their own children. But they can't say that they weren't warned what  
> was happening.
> These opinions are based on empirical data, not on models (like the  
> Science paper) that are only general qualitative descriptions of  
> reality. If this seems like just another outrageous personal opinion,  
> bear in mind that I am the only coral reef scientist with degrees in  
> atmospheric physics and chemistry from MIT, Caltech, and Harvard. As  
> a teenager I wrote computer programs that correctly predicted zonal  
> wind speeds on Saturn decades before space probes confirmed them and  
> was asked to do my PhD writing general circulation models to predict  
> the climatic effects of CO2 increase. I refused to get back to coral  
> reefs and warm water. I set up the first labs in the Amazon to  
> measure greenhouse gases at high precision, made the first  
> measurements of tropical jungle deforestation effects on atmospheric  
> chemistry, and in the 1980s published half a dozen papers on  
> stabilization of atmospheric CO2. When these were ignored, I went  
> back to restoring coral reefs, the most financially unrewarding  
> activity that I know.
> Paleoclimatic data clearly shows that the IPCC projections for future  
> climate change have seriously underestimated the sensitivity of  
> temperature and sea level to CO2. The last time in earth history when  
> global temperatures were 1 degree C above today's, sea levels were 7  
> meters higher than now, and hippopotamuses and crocodiles flourished  
> in London, England. Because CO2 was then one third lower than today's  
> value, the conditions then greatly UNDERESTIMATE what will happen  
> when temperature and sea level eventually equilibrate with TODAY'S  
> level of CO2, even if we never burn another gram of coal or oil or  
> natural gas starting immediately. I showed this in briefings to  
> delegates at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, predicting  
> that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (and the later  
> Kyoto Protocol to FCCC) was so weak that it was guaranteed to kill  
> coral reefs. I warned that we would lose most corals to heat shock in  
> the next decades if negotiators failed to stop global warming then  
> and there. I showed that the IPCC had systematically underestimated  
> the impacts for two very simple reasons: 1) the models they use fail  
> to include the vast bulk of the positive feedback mechanisms that the  
> empirical data proves exists in the Earth Climate System, and 2) the  
> time horizon for their predictions was 1 to 2 orders of magnitude  
> shorter than the response time of the system, so they only covered  
> the initial effects, and missed the bulk of the total response.
> As Senior Scientific Affairs Officer for global climate change and  
> biodiversity at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology  
> for Development, I had a lot of input into the draft of the Framework  
> Convention on Climate Change. At that point it was already clear that  
> coral reefs were the most temperature sensitive ecosystem, and we had  
> already developed the Goreau-Hayes HotSpot method for predicting the  
> location, timing, and intensity of bleaching from satellite data  
> alone before it could be seen in the field. Unfortunately this was  
> widely denied and ridiculed by our colleagues, who later copied our  
> data-based conclusions word for word as "common knowledge" without  
> bothering to cite the sources (there is a word for this that I'm too  
> polite to use here). I personally inserted the words "coral reefs"  
> every place in the original draft UN Framework Convention on Climate  
> Change where they belonged, insisted explicitly on COMPLETE  
> accounting of all greenhouse gas sources and sinks, and added that  
> one of the goals of the convention was to protect Earth's most  
> temperature-sensitive ecosystems. What the UN sent out to governments  
> was vastly better than what they got back! Governments made  
> scientific nonsense of the treaty by confusing net with gross fluxes,  
> rewarding bogus carbon sinks while ignoring the real ones, failing to  
> identify the most climatically sensitive ecosystems and requiring  
> that they be monitored for signs of temperature stress, and failing  
> to establlish trigger mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions  
> if such stress was in fact shown. Minutes after the Convention was  
> passed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, I passed out leaflets describing it  
> as a death sentence for coral reefs.
> I was the only coral reef researcher at the UN Convention on Climate  
> Change in Bali, on the delegation of Jamaica, on the delegation of  
> the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (an Inter-Governmental  
> Organization  representing almost all Caribbean States), as  
> Coordinator of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable  
> Development Partnership in New Technologies for Small Island  
> Developing States, as President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance,  
> and as Science Advisor to Yayasan Karang Lestari (Foundation for  
> Protected Corals, an Indonesian Non Governmental Organization that  
> runs the world's largest coral reef and fisheries habitat restoration  
> projects).
> My briefings to the 41 member states of the Association of Small  
> Island States (the island nations of the Pacific, Caribbean, and  
> Indian Ocean) and to the Indonesian Government (the host country and  
> home to the largest and richest coral reefs in the world), also  
> passed out to all of the nearly 200 governments present, pointed out  
> that: 1) the impacts of climate change had been seriously and  
> systematically underestimated, and the threat was much worse and more  
> imminent than recognized, with coral reefs and island nations being  
> the first and worst victims 2) that we could lose most remaining  
> corals in the next extreme hot year, 3) that the EU proposal to allow  
> CO2 to rise to 450 ppm and temperature to rise by 2 degrees C  
> (blocked by the US, Canada, Japan, the Arab oil producing states,  
> China, India, and Russia for their own reasons) was unacceptable to  
> small island developing states because it meant sacrificing coral  
> reefs, fisheries, and shore protection against rising sea level, 4)  
> that what was needed was to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 by AT LEAST one  
> third BELOW today's levels, and 5) that the technologies to do so  
> were proven and in hand, but were not being funded or even discussed.  
> These technologies will be covered in detail in a book I am editing  
> on Underutilized Technologies for Sustainable Development and  
> Reversing Global Warming, which will be published in May 2008 at the  
> United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.
> There is precious little time now left to act, thanks to decades of  
> denial and obfuscation by governments and by many coral reef  
> professionals, long after the heat shock cause of mass coral reef  
> bleaching was thoroughly established by 1990. What Bali gave us is  
> another two wasted years of talking while temperatures continue to  
> rise without control, and corals and people die from extreme  
> temperature events. That is why further delay is a capital crime  
> against the environment. We must ensure that what climate treaties  
> emerge two years from now deal with the real problems, not avoiding  
> them, and promote the real solutions, not fake ones. While this may  
> seem merely academic to those from rich countries, it is a matter of  
> life and death for the island nations, especially the low lying ones,  
> and for coral reefs.
> For more information on the problems and the solutions, please see:
> 1) The first New York Times comment on the aftermath of Bali
> http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/voices-on-bali-and-beyond/
> 2) The briefing to island nation delegations
> http://www.globalcoral.org/Global%20Warming%20Coral%20Reefs%20and% 
> 20Tropical%20Islands.1.pdf
> The latter link may not work in all browsers. If clicking it says  
> that the page can't be found, just copy and paste it into your  
> browser window and it should work.
> Best wishes,
> Tom
> Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
> President
> Global Coral Reef Alliance
> 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
> 617-864-4226
> goreau at bestweb.net
> http://www.globalcoral.org
> _______________________________________________
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list

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