Copenhagen Accord Loopholes and Risks to the “Rainforests of the Sea”

Bleached Coral

The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts on people and communities in the Caribbean, the United States, Australia and throughout the world. As the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion globally each year.

By The Institute of Physics.

A global temperature increase of up to 4.2 º C and the end of coral reefs could become reality by 2100 if national targets are not revised in the Copenhagen Accord, the international pledge which was agreed at last year’s Copenhagen’s COP15 climate change conference.

Just ahead of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts on 4 October in Tianjin, China, a new report published Sept. 29 in IOP Publishing’s Environmental Research Letters describes how, due to lack of global action to date, only a small chance remains for keeping the global temperature increase down to 2 º C as set as a target in the Accord.

Looking at individual countries’ agreed targets for emission levels, the report shows that many developed countries such as the USA and the European Union have set their aims very low, aiming at reaching emission levels just a few percent lower than 1990 levels by 2020. Only Japan and Norway are aiming to drastically reduce their emission to 25% and 30 to 40% below 1990 levels respectively.

Presenting their results in Environmental Research Letters, a group of international researchers from seven European research centres, has also found that even if nations would agree to a 50% reduction of emission levels by 2050, a target that strong international agreements would greatly facilitate, there would still only be a less than 50% chance to keep global warming below 2 º C.

Rising global temperature levels would not be the only consequence of failing to raise the ambition level of future global emission reductions. Increasing ocean acidification, a direct result of growing atmospheric CO2 levels, could lead to a rapid decline of coral reefs and the marine ecosystem in the 21st century.

As the researchers write, urgent action is necessary, “It is clear from this analysis that higher ambitions for 2020 are necessary to keep the options for 2 º C and 1.5 º C open without relying on potentially infeasible reduction rates after 2020.

“In addition, the absence of a mid-century emission goal, towards which Parties as a whole can work and which serve as a yardstick of whether interim reductions by 2020 and 2030 are on the right track, is a critical deficit in the overall ambition level of the Copenhagen Accord.”

Professor Dan Kammen, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Research Letters said, “The researchers provide an important lens on the ecological impacts and both social and ecological costs of inaction on climate protection.”

Original Article


Coral Bleaching Likely in Caribbean This Year: NOAA

Noaa Coral Stress
Coral Reef Watch Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook for Sept. – Dec. 2010. Image: NOAA

Excerpt from NOAA, in ScienceDaily.

According to the NOAA Coral Reef Watch monitoring system, coral bleaching is likely in the Caribbean in 2010. With temperatures above-average all year, NOAA’s models show a strong potential for bleaching in the southern and southeastern Caribbean through October that could be as severe as in 2005 when over 80 percent of corals bleached and over 40 percent died at many sites across the Caribbean. Scientists are already reporting coral bleaching at several Caribbean sites and severe bleaching has been reported from other parts of the world.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch (CRW) satellite coral bleaching monitoring shows sea surface temperatures continue to remain above-average throughout the wider Caribbean region. Large areas of the southeastern Caribbean Sea are experiencing thermal stress capable of causing coral bleaching. The western Gulf of Mexico and the southern portion of the Bahamas have also experienced significant bleaching thermal stress. The CRW Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Outlook indicates that the high stress should continue to develop in the southern and southeast Caribbean until mid-October. Prolonged coral bleaching, can lead to coral death and the subsequent loss of coral reef habitats for a range of marine life.

“The early warning predictions of NOAA’s CRW program are vital to assist coral reef managers in making early preparations for coral bleaching events,” says Billy Causey, southeast regional director for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “While managers can’t do anything immediately to prevent coral bleaching, these early warnings give them time to monitor and track the stressful event, thus learning more about both direct and secondary impacts of bleaching on coral reefs around the world.”

The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts on people and communities in the Caribbean, the United States, Australia and throughout the world. As the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion globally each year.

“High temperatures cause corals to force out the symbiotic algae that provide them with food. This makes the corals appear white or ‘bleached’ and can increase outbreaks of infectious disease,” said Mark Eakin, Ph.D., coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch. “Temperatures are high in the Caribbean, and we expect this to continue. This season has the potential to be one of the worst bleaching seasons for some reefs.”

“A NOAA survey cruise just returned from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary where we saw serious bleaching,” said Emma Hickerson, sanctuary research coordinator for the site, located off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. “Several species were bleached and we are concerned we could lose much of the fire corals this year.”
Even though a variety of stresses, namely thermal stresses, continue to rise in the Caribbean basin, temperatures are expected to begin cooling in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. In addition, recent hurricanes and tropical storms that passed near the U.S. Virgin Islands have cooled the waters there. NOAA researchers have shown that tropical weather systems can cool the high temperatures that cause bleaching, and NOAA forecasts that this Atlantic hurricane season will probably be more active than usual.

In 2005, the year of the worst bleaching on record in the Caribbean, no tropical storms passed close enough to cool the Virgin Islands, resulting in 90 percent of the area corals being bleached and 60 percent dying. Overall the 2005 bleaching event was the result of the largest, most intense thermal stress recorded in the Caribbean during the 25-year NOAA satellite record.

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