Climate Change

COP27: 18 countries join group on cryosphere loss, see it as major contributor to sea-level rise

Melting glaciers, ice sheets, permafrost will impact polar, mountain countries & low-lying countries alike, delcaration says

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Wednesday 23 November 2022
COP27: 18 countries join group on cryosphere loss, see it as major contributor to sea-level rise Photo: iStock

The melting of the cryosphere — areas on the planet with frozen water — due to climate change, is a global threat whose impact will not be restricted to mountain and polar countries, according to the newly formed ‘Ambition on Melting Ice on Sea-level Rise and Mountain Water Resources’ group.

The group comprising 18 governments brings special attention to the role of cryosphere loss in global sea-level rise — one of the most visible and immediate impacts of climate change. Elevated sea-levels can erase entire geographies off the world map, endanger marine and coastal ecosystems and cause immense economic losses. 

Melting cryosphere and thermal expansion of sea-water due to global warming were always seen as the major contributors to sea-level rise by policymakers. 

The declaration of the group trains focus on the role of cryosphere loss in particular in causing this crisis that threatens coastal communities, island nations and low-lying regions with obliteration. 

The countries that signed the declaration November 16, 2022 at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded in Egypt include those in the mountains as well as low-lying areas.

They aim to promote awareness on the effect of cryosphere loss among global leaders and citizens. The declaration read:

We wish to make it clear: Protecting the cryosphere through vigorous climate action is not a matter for mountain and polar nations alone: It is a matter of urgent global concern, because the greatest impacts on human communities lie well outside these regions.

Melting of glaciers, ice sheets, river and lake ice as well as permafrost accelerated over the last couple of years, propelled by global warming. This year was annus horribilis for many frozen regions of the world, with September breaking multiple records. 

Switzerland lost 6 per cent of the glacier ice volume from 2021-2022, according to the Provisional State of the Global Climate in 2022 report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

In the Swiss Alps, “for the first time in history, no snow outlasted the summer season even at the very highest measurement sites and thus no accumulation of fresh ice occurred”.

The Greenland ice sheet lost mass in 2022 for the 26th year in a row, the report added. In September, it rained on the ice sheet instead of snowing for the very first time. 

On February 25, 2022, the volume of Antarctic sea ice was at the lowest on record, WMO noted. 

Read more: Receding cryosphere: What latest WMO report warns us about

Arctic sea-ice extent was below the long-term average for most of the year, the report showed. “The September extent was 1.54 million  squarekm below the long-term mean extent, making it tied for the 11th lowest monthly minimum ice extent in the satellite record.”

This is despite 2022 being the third year in a row the Earth is experiencing La Nina, the phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation global climate pattern that is associated with cooling of sea surfaces.

As global temperatures continue to rise, the impact of the melting cryosphere will become more severe, the declaration stated. 

“Changes in the cryosphere will worsen with each additional increment of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere,” it added, citing the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

The impact will be multitudinal and far-reaching, representatives of the group noted during a meeting on the agenda at COP27. In polar fisheries, in addition to warming these include rapid acidification of polar oceans, which scientists say will reach a critical threshold at 450ppm — a level we are on track to reach in just 12 years.” 

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is the best solution to avert this crisis, the signatories noted. But the global temperature is already 1.15°C above pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels. 

Urgently and rapidly reducing global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from every sector is the only way to arrest warming, they noted. 

They called for global targets to decrease emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from 2019 levels, through carbon-neutral investments and economic development. 

The founding governments of the group include Chile (co-chair), Iceland (co-chair), Peru, Czech Republic, Nepal, Finland, Senegal, Kyrgyz Republic, Samoa, Georgia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Monaco, Vanuatu, Sweden, Tanzania, Liberia, Norway and Mexico. 

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