Bringing the Ocean to Society
6 Mar 2017
The ticking time bomb of climate change
New European Marine Board Science Commentary questions the over-emphasis in global policy discussions on 21st Century impacts of climate change

Global policy discussions and agreements on climate change have a tendency to focus on the impacts that will happen during this century. The European Marine Board has published a Science Commentary entitled, ‘The ticking time bomb of climate change and sea-level rise,’ which questions this overemphasis on climate change as a 21st century phenomenon.

The short policy paper is based largely on an article published in Nature Climate Change in February 2016 by a group of scientists led by Peter U. Clark of Oregon State University, USA. The authors argue that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activity will remain in the atmosphere and continue to affect the Earth’s climate for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Many of the resulting long-term impacts are now unavoidable. Sea level, in particular, exhibits a much slower response time than rises in air temperature. If we look 10,000 years into the future, it is proposed that even a modest emissions scenario will result in a global mean sea-level of rise of 28 m, causing inundation of many of the world’s most densely populated coastal cities and regions and displacing billions of people. 

Advances in ocean and climate modelling make it possible to look much further into the future and the picture that emerges for future generations is one of catastrophic climate change. This longer-term perspective tells us that we urgently need to move towards complete decarbonisation of the world’s energy systems. It places a much greater onus on policy makers to react to the threat of climate change, starting with meeting the ambitious targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Put another way, the decisions we make in the next 10 years could profoundly affect the next 10,000.

You can find out more on Marine Board website: www.marineboard.eu

For more information, please contact the European Marine Board Executive Director, Niall McDonough: nmcdonough@marineboard.eu | Tel +32 (0) 59 34 01 53.