French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to allocate €1 billion towards research aimed at understanding and addressing the issue of melting ice caps.
France plans to allocate €1 billion (£880 million) towards polar research by 2030, in light of growing scientific worries about the decline of global ice caps and glaciers.
A new ship dedicated to polar science will lead the effort, and France is urging for a halt in the utilization of the ocean floor in polar areas. The UK, Canada, Brazil, and 19 other countries have already agreed to this moratorium.
At a meeting of leaders and scientists in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the cryosphere (the Earth’s ice) is undergoing a transformation that poses a threat not only for the future, but is already having an impact. This transformation is putting millions of people at risk and will eventually affect billions of inhabitants on our planet, causing both direct and indirect consequences.
Scientists are worried about the state of the Earth’s polar regions and glaciers, as heatwaves in these areas, which were observed for the first time in the previous year, seem to be becoming a common event.
This year is already the hottest on record and probably the hottest in 100,000 years, with ocean temperatures so far above normal as to be, in the words of one scientist, “gobsmackingly bananas”.
The ice caps on Earth reflect a significant amount of sunlight back into space, known as the “albedo effect.” However, as the ice melts and turns into dark sea, this dark surface absorbs more heat, potentially causing a tipping point for the climate. This could lead to a rapid increase in temperature. John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was not present at the Paris summit, but he did send a video message in which he cautioned about the consequences of these tipping points. He emphasized the importance of recognizing these points of no return.
According to certain researchers, extreme actions may be necessary to prevent the most dire consequences. One of these scientists is Sir David King, previously the chief scientist in the UK and currently leading the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University. He is studying methods to restore the frozen state of the Arctic ocean.
On Friday, Macron organized a summit with leaders from countries with polar regions or glaciers, along with prominent scientists.
Experts on polar and glacier conditions revealed that the Arctic is experiencing a temperature increase four times faster than the rest of the world. Additionally, it was estimated that half of the world’s 200,000 glaciers will vanish by the end of this century and the rate of sea level rise has doubled in the past two decades.
Pam Pearson, the creator and leader of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, a research organization, emphasized the pressing nature of the situation: “Many politicians believe that the ice is distant and not a concern. However, the ice does not discriminate. It will continue to melt until carbon dioxide levels cease to rise and begin to decrease. Despite the warnings from scientists, these levels are still increasing at the same alarming rate as they were two decades ago. This is a state of madness that must be recognized.”
Macron, seated opposite her, looked grave, as Pearson, who spent 20 years as a US diplomat working on conflict and geopolitical concerns, continued: “I know that climate change is seen as a soft issue [compared with wars and national security]… but we can’t negotiate with the melting point of ice.”
France, with its Alpine regions containing glaciers and a presence in Antarctica, has been at the forefront of advocating for a consensus at the upcoming UN Cop28 climate conference in Dubai, beginning later this month. In addition, President Macron organized a summit on climate finance in June, where he and Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley urged for significant investments in developing nations.
According to Petteri Taalas, the leader of the World Meteorological Organization, glaciers are melting worldwide. This could lead to permanent disappearance, causing over 1 billion individuals who rely on them for water and agriculture to face more frequent and severe shortages. In addition to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, there are immediate actions that scientists suggest could be implemented to decrease or delay the potential collapse of glaciers or reaching a critical point at the poles.
Soot, also referred to as black carbon, poses a significant issue in the process of melting ice. It is a byproduct of combustion that discolors the ice and has a darkening effect, resulting in increased heat absorption. Aerial images have revealed extensive streaks of soot spanning miles on Arctic ice. Researchers suggest that curbing air pollution by ceasing the burning of coal would have a direct impact on reducing soot and could potentially delay or prevent a significant amount of ice melting. Another area of concern is methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its warming capabilities but degrades at a faster rate in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that decreasing levels of methane, soot, and other short-lived climate pollutants could slow the rate of global warming by 0.24C by 2050.
It is anticipated that methane will be a key topic of discussion at the upcoming Cop28 UN climate conference. Certain specialists are advocating for the United Arab Emirates, a leading oil and gas producer and the host nation, to facilitate negotiations with other major oil-producing countries and corporations in order to decrease the emission of methane from fossil fuel activities.