It’s raining lightly as I climb on the Santa Barbara airporter bus to LAX. After two days of meetings at UC Santa Barbara discussing coral reef research with a prestigious set of colleagues, I am on my way to Copenhagen to observe and participate in what many commentators have called the most important and most complex international meetings ever. It certainly feels like there could not be more at stake. The rapid growth in awareness of our climate predicament began in 2006 with Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and continued with the 2007 assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a painstakingly detailed series of document describing the scientific evidence for Earth’s changing climate. Since then, the very most recent data published largely in scientific journals have taken even the scientists that published them by surprise: compared to predictions from just a few years prior, glaciers are melting faster, arctic summer ice is thinner, the stranglehold of regional drought is stronger, oceans are acidifying more rapidly. And most consequential of all, greenhouse gas emissions have been accelerating faster that the projections used in the 2007 report, so that the impacts projected are likely an understatement. While the downturn in the global economy has overshadowed the latest climate science in both the media and public perception, the trajectory of the global climate has continued to rapidly curve up and outside of any conditions human societies have ever experienced in their over 10,000 year history. No, there certainly could not be more at stake.
I’ll be just one of a small city of attendees descending upon Copenhagen. At least 5000 members of the press are expected, so you are likely to hear a LOT about the COP15 climate meetings in Copenhagen over the course of the next week. Actually you probably already are, since the meetings have been ongoing for a week now, and I will be arriving only for their second half.
The media and pundits and bloggers will be presenting many views of the intense negotiations taking place among 192 countries. A few sources of breaking COP15 news that I can heartily recommend are the Climate Thinkers Blog (http://en.cop15.dk/blogs/climate+thinkers+blog), BBC’s EarthWatch blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/), and the New York Times Dot Earth Blog (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/cop15/). There is no shortage of media outlets to learn about which country is prepared to offer what emissions reductions target, which country or group of countries is either holding up or advancing the negotiations, or what the world’s most developed countries who have mostly unwittingly created this problem are prepared to offer the worlds developing countries who are most likely to suffer huge impacts. Complex negotiations indeed.
But I am a biodiversity scientist, and I will be bringing you a particular perspective in my postings. While we often hear about climate change impacts to public health, human infrastructure, food security, even national security, we hear much less about climate impacts to biodiversity and ecosystems. This may stem from a general lack of appreciation for the role biodiversity plays as the foundation for our economic and ecological health. This lack of focus on climate change impacts to our own life support system will undermine our very efforts to prevent and adapt to climate change. Biological diversity offers some of our most valuable strategies in the arsenal of approaches for confronting a rapidly changing world. So I will be sharing with you my observations of the extent to which biodiversity, explicitly or implicitly, is on the agenda during the second week of COP15.