A changing climate

By Joelle Robichaud

Recent University of Calgary research suggests global warming can be dealt with, we simply have to do more.

A study by Dr. Damon Matthews, a post-doctoral researcher in the department of geography, indicates humanity is not reducing gas emissions enough to stabilize climate change on Earth. The Kyoto Accord’s reform is a good start, but according to Matthews this is not enough to improve climate change.

“Kyoto was designed as a first step,” he said. “It must be followed by a stronger agreement.”

Matthews’ study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is based on the carbon cycle and carbon sinks. Carbon sinks, such as plants and oceans, store carbon by absorbing it from the atmosphere. When a sink depletes, carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Matthews is one of the first researchers to examine the carbon cycle in comparison to climate change. His findings suggest climate warming can increase the release from carbon sinks, which in turn can increase warming.

“Natural carbon sinks work with climate change,” said Matthews. “The climate continues to get warmer, and this is bad for plants. If carbon sinks get weaker, there will be more atmospheric carbon present.”

Matthews’ findings come as representatives from over 180 countries are meeting in Montreal for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference runs until Dec., 9 and delegates are looking to find a successor to the 1997 Kyoto treaty. Although Kyoto signatories pledged to reduce emissions to below 1990 levels, the treaty expires in 2012 and doesn’t bind developing countries.

Matthews’ conclusions suggest planned reductions will barely keep pace with changes in the carbon cycle, and further decreases will be needed to actually address climate change.

“Kyoto is not enough by itself,” stressed Matthews. “It only covers 35 per cent of all emissions. Industrialized countries need to curb emissions first, but we must ultimately get to China and India.”

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