United Nations (UPI) Mar 05, 2007
Despite a recent plunge into the deep freeze, much of the U.S. East Coast and Midwest have been going through an extraordinarily warm winter with temperatures running 10 to 20 degrees higher than normal in many places. This unusually warm weather, coupled with severe droughts and downpours worldwide, demonstrate how climate change may be one of the greatest environmental threats for humanity.
A report released Tuesday by the U.N. Foundation and Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, said exceeding 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial global temperature levels in the year 1750 would "sharply increase the risk of intolerable impacts" on the present-day environment. Researches expect continuing increases of 0.2 to 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade with potential abrupt peaks and valleys in weather patterns.
Significant harm could result.
Even small increases in global temperatures could have impacts including a rise in sea level, more frequent heat waves, droughts, extreme weather occurrences like torrential rains and floods, increased tropical diseases in now-temperate regions, and intensified hurricanes. It could lead to a significant reduction in agricultural output, especially in poor countries.
"Humanity must act collectively and urgently to change course through leadership at all levels of society," said the report, "Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable," released at U.N. World Headquarters in New York. "There is no more time for delay."
Avoiding going over the 2-2.5 degrees Celsius limit requires the stabilization of atmospheric concentrations, according to the study. This requires global carbon dioxide emissions to peak no later than 2015-2020 at not much above their current level and decline by 2100 to approximately a third of the 2100 readings.
The technology is available to reduce the emissions, said the report, but policy makers must act immediately by improving efficiency in the transportation sector, improving design of commercial and residential buildings, and expanding the use of bio-fuels by use of incentives, the report said.
If no action is taken, an increase of refugees from flooding or famine, violent conflicts and international instability could result, which could lead to more security threats worldwide.
In addition, the study said, poor nations and poor individuals who are affected by this climate change have fewer resources available to manage major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will hit the poor the hardest partly because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world.
The scientists suggested a new framework to address the problems.
The report calls for a new global policy framework through an international agreement to a target of no more than the 2-2.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase. Their proposal also urges establishing a price on carbon emissions in all countries and to create mechanisms to pay for low-emitting technologies for low-come countries.
As to whether the United States would climb aboard these initiatives, the chances look slim under the Bush administration who has repeatedly rebuffed global solutions, such as the Kyoto Protocol. The administration has also rejected the idea of an international agreement after Kyoto expires in 2012.
On a more promising note, the Democratic leadership in Congress has made global warming a priority, holding hearings on the topic. In the past few weeks the climate problem has been highlighted in Congress with the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which brings together 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries. They predicted average world temperature will rise by approximately 3 degrees by the end of the century. They also confirmed, with 90 percent certainty, humans are to blame for the increase in temperature.
"This report defines the seriousness and urgency that must characterize global efforts to respond to the unfolding and far-reaching challenge of climate change," said Timothy Wirth of the U.N. Foundation report.
Said John Holdren, a Harvard University professor of environmental policy, "It is still possible to avoid an unmanageable degree of climate change, but the time for action is now."
UN Chief Decries Global Warming
Since a damning United Nations report warned last month that global fossil fuel-related pollution would raise temperatures this century, melt polar ice and worsen floods, droughts and hurricanes, Ban had been urged by environmentalists to lead a drive for world action to roll back global warming.
In a speech to international high school students here, he said Thursday that "the danger posed by war to all of humanity -- and to our planet -- is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming."
And he pledged to raise the issue at a summit of the Group of Eight (G8) group of major industrialized nations in Germany in June, saying failure to take decisive measures to combat climate change would place an appalling burden on succeeding generations.
"That would be an unconscionable legacy; one which we must all join hands to avert," he said. "As it stands, the damage already inflicted on our ecosystem will take decades, perhaps centuries, to reverse -- if we act now."
Referring to the G8 summit in Germany, Ban stressed that the task of tackling climate change was beyond the capacity of any one nation.
"These issues transcend borders," he said. "Only concerted and coordinated international action, supported and sustained by individual initiative, will be sufficient."
During an African tour in late January, Ban already underscored the UN's leading role in tackling climate change which he described as "a scientifically proven fact" and called for concrete measures to combat it.
In Nairobi, he met with UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief Achim Steiner, who lobbied for a summit on climate change later this year.
Environmentalists hope to hold the meeting between the G8 summit and the next meeting in Bali of signatories to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming in December.
In his speech to the students, Ban reiterated that action on climate change would be one of his top priorities and welcomed a growing awareness of the issue in industrialized countries.
"In increasing numbers, decision makers are recognizing that the cost of inaction or delayed action will far exceed the short-term investments needed to address this challenge," he noted.
And alluding to the Oscar award for former US vice president Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" late last month, Ban said it "suggests that, even amongst the broader public, climate change is no longer an 'inconvenient' issue, it is an inescapable reality."
"Now, each one of us also needs to commit to the search for solutions. We have to change the way we live, and rethink the way we travel and transact business," he added.
In the United States, which is responsible for 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, the Democratic-led Congress is preparing to draft legislation to combat climate change.
Democratic lawmakers have also accused Republican President George W. Bush's administration of muzzling government-employed climatologists.
Bush has continued to favor an approach based on voluntary measures, believing that imposing reductions could have disastrous economic consequences.
But alarm about the perils of global warming has been growing among US scientists, business people and some individual states.
California, the most populous and most economically influential US state, recently decided to impose a carbon-dioxide emissions reduction.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Banning New Coal Power Plants Will Slow Warming
Washington (AFP) Feb 27, 2007
A moratorium on coal-fired power plants is key to cutting carbon dioxide emissions that promote global warming, NASA's top climatologist said Monday. "There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the (carbon dioxide emissions) is available," said James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
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