Global Warming Shock Wave Awakens World Leaders

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2007 (ENS) - This morning in Paris, hundreds of scientists from around the world released a report showing that global warming is accelerating, that human activity is responsible for this warming, and that it is likely irreversible for centuries, even if greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized.

The report, entitled "The Physical Science Basis: a Summary for Policymakers," was adopted in a line-by line review by the governments of 113 countries, including the United States,

The new report says that warming during the last 100 years was 0.74 C (1.3 F), with most of the warming occurring during the past 50 years. The warming for the next 20 years is projected to be 0.2C (0.3F) per decade.


Flooded homes in a subdivision in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish following Hurricane Katrina. September 19, 2005. (Photo by Andrea Booher courtesy FEMA)
Mid-range scenarios predict severe droughts and floods, more intense hurricanes and cyclones, pressure on fresh water and food supplies, increased spread of diseases, and rising sea levels that could displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Reaction to the first report in six years from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has ranged across the spectrum.

Dr. Sharon Hays, leader of the U.S. delegation at the Paris meeting and chief science official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the IPCC report "reflects the sizeable and robust body of knowledge regarding the physical science of climate change, including the finding that the Earth is warming and that human activities have very likely caused most of the warming of the last 50 years."

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the United States embraces the findings of the IPCC report. "We agree with it, and the science behind it is something that our country has played a very important role in," he told journalists today in Washington.

The Bush administration continues to rely on technology to counter global warming rather than the limits on emissions adopted by other industrialized nations under the Kyoto Protocol. Bodman said the United States has invested nearly $29 billion since 2001 in climate-related science and technology programs.

"We estimate that the U.S. has invested more in climate change science than the rest of the world combined," Bodman said.


Abandoned agricultural field in the drought-stricken Fremont Valley, California. (Photo courtesy USGS)
In Congress, Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat said, "This U.N. report is only the latest in a series of signals that increase the urgency of our efforts to deal with global warming," Bingaman said. "Today I am again urging the President to show leadership and work with Congress to implement a mandatory, market-based cap and trade program to address this challenge."

Bingaman said he and Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, are developing bipartisan consensus on legislation that Congress can pass this year. "The consequences so clearly spelled out in this report, and many others, compel us to act now," he said.

Environmental groups generally welcomed the IPCC's information in hopes that it may prompt swift action to limit global warming.

"This new IPCC report makes it clear that global warming is here now, and we must take swift and effective action to stave off the most severe consequences," said Dr. Dan Lashof, science director at NRDCs Climate Center. "At this point, some warming is unavoidable, but there is a world of difference between one degree and seven degrees."

"The good news is that the political climate in Washington is changing as well," Lashof said. "Congress needs to enact comprehensive emission limits that will steadily reduce global warming pollution. We have an opportunity to fix this problem, but only if we act before its too late."

On Tuesday, 44 Greenpeace activists scaled the Eiffel Tower in Paris to hang banners proclaiming, "It's Not Too Late."


Greenpeace activists hung banners proclaiming hope from the Eiffel Tower. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"The more we know, the worse it is," said Greenpeace climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmoore. "We're in Paris to urge the governments of the world to act, while there's still time. To date, the world's governments have done far too little to face up to the reality of climate change and to coambat it."

Conservative U.S. think tanks brought out an arsenal of arguments to counter the IPCC findings. The Center for Science and Public Policy produced a report claiming that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster in European countries which are bound by the Kyoto Protocol than in the United States, which has rejected the international treaty under the Bush administration.

National Center for Policy Analysis Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett said the new IPCC "shows less expected warming and lower estimated sea level rise than previous reports."

"We can expect this news to be lost among dramatic claims of impending disaster by politicians and environmental lobbyists alike," said the conservative, whose main point is that the United States must not join the Kyoto Protocol.

"You'd never know it from watching the news, but every time the IPCC releases a new report, future warming is reduced and the impacts are less severe and more distant," Burnett said.


The low-lying country of Bangladesh is subject to monsoon flooding that may become worse as the planet warms. (Photo courtesy WFP)
But at the Center for Global Development in Washington, which works to reduce global poverty and inequality, senior fellow David Wheeler warned that a recent World Bank study of sea level rise to which he contributed, found that "even a one meter rise will force 60 million people to relocate."

"We confront a stark reality here," Wheeler said. "Millions of poor people will be displaced by sea-level rise that has been caused by the affluent West. When this happens, current international turbulence may seem placid by comparison."

Corporate Reaction

The DuPont corporation, one of the 10 companies in the newly formed U.S. Climate Action Partnership, called again today on the federal government to enact climate change legislation to create a national cap on carbon dioxide emissions and a market in carbon credits.

DuPont Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Linda Fisher said, "Climate change is a serious global issue that must be addressed through concerted global action. We believe that the science on climate change is sufficiently strong and the risks serious enough to merit a timely action."

"We believe that voluntary measures, while constructive, are not sufficient to address an issue of this magnitude by themselves," Fisher said. "The challenge is global and requires broad and coordinated action across all sectors of the economy."

Dupont sees economic opportunity in the need to combat climate change. The company manufactures materials for photovoltaic solar panels and fuel cells and a new breathable roofing membrane that creates an energy saving seal around a home.

The world's largest and most profitable petroleum giant, ExxonMobil, acknowledged today, "Many global ecosystems, especially the polar areas, are showing signs of warming. CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions have increased during this same time period - and emissions from fossil fuels and land use changes are one source of these emissions."

ExxonMobil said, "Because the risks to society and ecosystems could prove to be significant, it is prudent now to develop and implement strategies that address the risks, keeping in mind the central importance of energy to the economies of the world."

The company said it is working to curb global warming through "partnerships with auto and engine makers on programs that could significantly reduce vehicle emissions, conducting internal research on potential for hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, investing in energy efficiency in our facilities, and working with organizations such as the European Union and Stanford University on groundbreaking research to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

International Reaction

Newly appointed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said today that climate change will be one of his "top priorities" over the next five years of his term.

"The report highlights the scientific consensus regarding the quickening and threatening pace of human-induced climate change," said Ban. "The global response therefore needs to move much more rapidly as well, and with more determination."

"Protecting the global environment is largely beyond the capacity of individual countries," Ban said in a video message to the Conference for Global Ecological Governance in Paris. "The natural arena for such action is the United Nations."


Drought struck Kenya in April 2006, affecting 3.5 million people, including these children at the Wajir District Hospital. (Photo by Peter Smerdon courtesy WFP)
Ban said the world is witnessing an "assault on the global environment" that risks undermining the many advances human society has made in recent decades. "It is undercutting our fight against poverty. It could even come to jeopardize international peace and security," he said.

Last month, Ban called for a special summit of heads of state to address global warming.

"We need clear objectives and strong ecological governance at the global level, a concept that continues to elude us," UN General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa told conference delegates.

She asserted that the General Assembly is the best forum for the international community to work to combat climate change.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas called for "an urgent start to international negotiations on a comprehensive new global climate change agreement."

"I am deeply concerned at the accelerating pace and the increasing extent of climate change," Commissioner Dimas said.

"To stabilize global emissions of greenhouse gases," he said, "the next step must be for developed countries to cut their emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as the Commission proposed last month."

"We are on the historic threshhold of the irreversible," warned French President Jacques Chirac, who convened a meeting today to plan for a new international body to protect the global climate.

"In the face of this urgency, it is no longer the time for half-measures. It is time for a revolution," Chirac said as he opened the conference.

"While climate changes run like a rabbit, world-wide politics move like a snail: either we accelerate or we risk a disaster," said Italy's environment minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio.

The Italian minister called for urgent action to impose a global tax on carbon emissions and create a United Nations organization to deal with climate change.

Canadian Environment Minister John Baird said today that the government accepts the IPCC's findings, and he called on Canadians "to get ready for some tough decisions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's new minister of environment and water resources, said the science in the IPCC report "is important, but it's not new."


A bushfire races through forested land on the Australian island state of Tasmania. 2004. (Photo courtesy Emergency Management Australia)
We know our Australian climate is volatile we have always been the land of droughts and flooding rains. But while it isnt possible to say that any particular drought, or flood, is caused by global warming, the overall warming trend means that we must assume that, at least in Southern Australia, we will be living in drier and hotter times," said Turnbull.

South Africa's Environmental Affairs Minister Arthinus van Schalkwyk said failure to act would be "indefensible."

In particular, van Schalkwyk said in a statement, "the new IPCC report is a wake-up call to the worlds largest emitter, the United States.

"We applaud the unilateral climate actions taken by the State of California and others and strongly encourage the federal government of the USA to hear the growing groundswell of opinion in that country, and act on their moral obligation to join the global effort under the Kyoto Protocol and future negotiations to combat climate change," he said.


Some of Indonesia's thousands of low-lying islands (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar says that his country could lose about 2,000 islands by 2030 due to climate change.

"It is very, very serious," Witoelar told reporters Monday at a press conference attended by Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Witoelar said the science presented by the IPCC shows that sea levels are expected to rise about 89 centimeters, or 35 inches, by 2030, which means that about 2,000 mostly uninhabited islands would be inundated.

Today, de Boer called for "speedy and decisive international action" to combat global warming.

"The findings, which governments have agreed upon, leave no doubt as to the dangers mankind is facing and must be acted upon without delay," said de Boer. "Any notion that we do not know enough to move decisively against climate change has been clearly dispelled."

To view the IPCC report, click here.

To read the Environment News Service article on the IPCC's findings, "Evidence of Human-Caused Global Warming Unequivocal," click here.