Vatican-Commissioned Report Calls Attention to Glaciers

South Cascade Glacier

A group of the world’s leading climate and glacier scientists have issued a report which was commissioned by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, citing the scientific issues causing glaciers to melt and the moral imperative they believe society has to properly address climate change.

The authors list numerous examples of glaciers around the world which are in decline and are detrimentally affecting the local inhabitants, either as a result of increased flooding or reduced flow of water.

The authors note that “the threat to the ways of life of people dependent upon glaciers and snow packs for water supplies compels immediate action to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to what changes are happening now and are projected to happen in the future.”

“We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us,” the authors write in a declaration prefacing the report. “The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.”

“The widespread loss of snow and ice in the mountain glaciers is one of the most visible changes attributable to global climate change. The disintegration of many small glaciers in the Himalayas is most disturbing to me since this region serves as the water tower of Asia and since both the greenhouse gases and air pollutants like soot and ozone contribute to the melting,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, who has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 2004.

Ramanathan also noted that, while they usually like to refrain from proposing action, the circumstances warranted advancing certain suggestions from the working group which had met at the Vatican from April 2 to April 4, 2011, there under the invitation of Chancellor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo of the pontifical academy.

Recommendations included the immediate reduction of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions; reduction of concentrations of warming air pollutants such as soot, ozone, methane and hydroflurocarbons by up to 50 percent; and preparation to adapt to climate changes that society will not be able to mitigate.

“The recent changes observed in glacial behavior are due to a complex mix of caus­al factors that include greenhouse gas forcing together with large scale emissions of dark soot particles and dust in ‘brown clouds’, and the associated changes in regional atmospheric energy and moisture content, all of which result in significant warming at higher altitudes, not least in the Himalayas,” the authors write.

“Changes of mountain glaciers all around the world are rapid and impacts are expected to be detrimental, particularly in the high mountains of South America and Asia,” said Kaser, of the Institute for Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck.  “Yet, our understanding about glacier changes in these regions is still limited and ambitious and joint efforts are required to respond to these problems. With its report, the pontifical academy contributes considerably to raising awareness.”

“Glaciers are one of our most visible evidences of global climate change,” added Thompson. “They integrate many climate variables in the Earth system. Their loss is readily apparent and they have no political agenda. Glaciers remind us of the stunning beauty of nature and in turn the urgency of doing everything in our power to protect it.”

The authors conclude: “We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communi­ties and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life.”

Source: University of California, San Diego

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