Vol 4 N° 1 [January–March 2006]



p 2 - Watching the oceans for signs of climate change

p 10 - Science prizes awarded at Science Forum
p 10 - Telemedicine gives medical training new edge
p 11 - Declaration adopted on Bioethics and Human Rights
p 12 - Physicists commit to sustainable development
p 12 - First step towards environmental institute

p 13 Sabrina Krief on why Great Apes still have a lot to teach us

p 16 - Taking the temperature of mountains
p 20 - Arsenic filter stalks silent killer in Bangladesh

p 23 - Governing Bodies
p 24 - Diary
p 24 - New releases

Quick lin to Vol. 4 n° 1 (PDF document);
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We are all polar bears

On the first day of a UN conference in Montréal last December to begin preparing the post-Kyoto period after 2012, host country Canada described greenhouse gas emissions as being the greatest threat facing the world today. 'Let us set our sights on a more effective, more inclusive long-term approach to climate change', Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion urged delegates. With three of the world's four biggest CO2 emitters not bound by the Kyoto Protocol - the USA because it never ratified, China and India because they are developing countries - the post-Kyoto period will indeed be critical.

James Hansen, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned at an American Geophysical Union conference the same month that even perfect adherence to Kyoto by all countries would not prevent dramatic climate change as levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise. As for opting for 'business as usual', that scenario would lead to such dramatic climate change, he said, as to 'constitute a different planet'.

There is now a wide body of scientific evidence that human activity is changing the climate. The signs are perhaps most visible in the Arctic, where sea ice cover this past summer was the smallest ever measured. Scientists predict a mostly ice-free summer by 2080 if present trends continue unchecked. Without ice, polar bears will be unable to reach the seals that constitute their staple diet.

But polar bears are only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. Melting permafrost is also causing homes in Arctic regions to subside. In mountain regions around the world, supplies of usable freshwater are slowly but surely diminishing as glaciers retreat, a trend which is set to cause water shortages for tens of millions of Asians and Latin Americans dependent on this resource. As the Greenland and Arctic ice sheets melt, sea level could rise by up to 1 m by 2100, flooding low-lying areas worldwide. And what effect will the additional freshwater have on ocean circulation patterns? There are already signs that a section of the ocean conveyor belt transporting heat northward in the North Atlantic has slowed down. If the North Atlantic cools, so too will temperatures in Western Europe.

The Kyoto Protocol and its successor are an insurance policy against runaway climate change. In this issue, we look at UNESCO's contribution to research on climate change via the Global Ocean Observing System and the Global Change in Mountain Regions (GLOCHAMORE) project, against the backdrop of the Montréal conference.

The better our scientific understanding, the better equipped we shall be to cope with our changing climate.

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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