Climate change is becoming a more pressing issue with governments around the world, many of whom have implemented incentives and carbon trade schemes in an effort to curb carbon emissions. But it’s too late to address the impacts of global warming by reducing emissions alone; we need climate change mitigation strategies that address these impacts.
Scientists Dr Jasper Knight – a geoscientist from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa who is researching Earth surface system responses to climate change over the past 15,000 years, and Dr Stephan Harrison from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, say it is too late to address the negative impacts of global warming by reducing emissions alone. Policymakers need to start developing adaption strategies that tackle and mitigate the negative effects of global warming and climate change.
“At present, governments’ attempts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions through carbon cap-and-trade schemes and to promote renewable and sustainable energy sources are probably too late to arrest the inevitable trend of global warming,” according to a paper published by the researchers in Nature Climate Change (14 October 2012).
Greater Emphasis on Climate Change Mitigation Strategies Needed
The scientists argue that governments put too much emphasis on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and not enough attention is given to mitigating the effects of global warming through monitoring, modelling, and managing the negative impacts of climate change on ecosystem dynamics – including the effects of climate change on rivers, glaciers, mountains, and coastal ecosystems. “This is a critical omission, as Earth surface systems provide water and soil resources, sustain ecosystem services and strongly influence biogeochemical climate feedbacks in ways that are as yet uncertain,” according to the scientists.
Scientists Press For Climate Change Adaption Policies
The researchers want to encourage policymakers to turn their attention to climate change adaption policies that mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change on Earth surface systems, particularly on the issue of soil stability and sediment movement due to soil erosion, river down-cutting and coastal erosion as soil movement plays a key role in maintaining biodiversity, sustainability and food security. By monitoring and projecting the effects of global warming on soil movement, such as soil loss due to erosion, we can gain a better understanding of geochemical cycles and other environmental issues, such as nutrient and carbon flow, nutrient enrichment and algal blooms in lakes, dispersal of pathogens and pollutants, siltation of rivers and wetlands, as well as other environmental problems. Using an Earth-system approach will allow policymakers to get a clearer understanding of the big picture, which will help facilitate environmental planning to address potential problem areas.
We currently have a limited understanding of the sensitivity of the Earth’s surface systems to climate change say the scientists. By monitoring and measuring the sensitivity of Earth’s geomorphological systems we will be able to determine which ecosystems are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which will allow governments, institutions and managers to focus on these more sensitive areas to mitigate the risks.
“This is particularly the case in coastal environments, where rocky and sandy coastlines will yield very different responses to climate forcing, and where coastal-zone management plans are usually based on past rather than future climatic patterns,” they argue.
The role of Earth surface systems in responding to and influencing climate forcing are covered in more detail in a special report on extreme events and disasters issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently. “However, monitoring of the response of these systems to climate forcing requires decadal-scale data sets of instrumented basins and under different climatic regimes worldwide. This will require a considerable international science effort as well as commitment from national governments,” the authors stress.
Jasper Knight & Stephan Harrison. The impacts of climate change on terrestrial Earth surface systems. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1660