Geosciences’ Brigham-Grette Speaks at UN Climate Change Event in Germany

Glacial geologist Julie Brigham-Grette, chair of geosciences and chair of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board, was an invited speaker in late June at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Bonn, Germany. Her presentation at the event was organized by the International Climate and Cryosphere Institute based in Burlington, Vermont and Stockholm, Sweden. She spoke at an event related to the conference and participated in a press conference discussing future changes in ice sheets, sea level rise and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. 

She says her talk presented the science necessary for policymakers to understand the urgency of being more ambitious about driving down fossil fuel emissions worldwide. “My presentation used published research that demonstrates how slowing the temperature rise of the planet is morally and financially sound,” she notes.

“I highlighted the consequences of further delays in reducing our carbon emissions. It is most important that countries unite around a goal to keep the planet from exceeding an overall temperature increase above 1.5 degrees Centigrade. We have already warmed the planet by 1 degree C over the past century.”   

Brigham-Grette, whose research expertise is in the evolution of Arctic marine and terrestrial paleoclimate over the past few million years, believes that “we must frame the rapid rates of climate change in the context of intergenerational justice. When my grandmother was born in 1898, the atmospheric CO2 was at 295 parts per million (ppm). When I was born in 1955, it was 313 and today it has reached 414 ppm; this in only 120 years since my grandmother was born.”

She adds, “If we don’t change CO2 emisisons worldwide, we could be at 600-700 ppm by 2100, in just one person’s lifetime. So by the time young climate activists like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg reaches age 97, we will have driven the planet toward temperatures in excess of 4-5 degrees, with grave consequences for large ice sheets and mountain glaciers that provide water to remote mountain communities in the Andes and elsewhere.”

“If we don’t listen to the united message coming from science, the consequences to society will be costly into the future. The federal government needs to stop reaching for short-term goals set by the fossil fuel industry and wake up instead to the longer-term costly consequences that climate warming is projected to have on many societies around the world.”

Other topics in the “Looking Beyond 2100: Cryosphere and Inter-generational Justice” session included “Long-term Global Feedbacks from Ice Sheets and Permafrost: Looking Towards the SROCC and Chile’s COP-25 Presidency,” plus emerging new evidence of abrupt permafrost thaw that could double the long-term climate forcing estimates coming from melting frozen ground.