UN Given Roadmap to Meet Climate Challenge

NEW YORK, New York, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - In order to avoid climate change becoming "a catastrophe," the world must ramp up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prepare to deal with more weather-related disasters and to help climate change refugees, an international panel of experts told the United Nations today.

The panel's 166-page report outlines a strategy for preventing unmanageable climate changes and adapting to unavoidable ones, urging the international community to commit to the goal of trying to hold global temperature increases to 2.5 degrees Celsius.

"Doing so would require very rapid success in reducing emissions of methane and black soot worldwide, and it would require that global carbon dioxide emissions level off by 2015 or 2020 at not much above their current amount, before beginning a decline to no more than a third of that level by 2100," the report said. "But the challenge of halting climate change is one to which civilization must rise."


Severe drought is only one likely consequence of climate change. (Photo courtesy UN)

Failure to meet that target, the report said, will likely bring "intolerable impacts on human-welling being," by causing adverse impacts to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, the availability of fresh water, the geography of disease and the livability of human settlements.

The Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, consisting of 18 experts from 11 nations, was asked to make its recommendations by the United Nations.

The report, prepared for the upcoming meeting of the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development, took two years to compile and was sponsored by the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society and the United Nations Foundation, a private group founded by U.S. cable television mogul Ted Turner.

It comes in the wake of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest assessment of the science of climate change, which concluded that human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels, is almost certainly changing the climate. If unabated, greenhouse gas emissions could push average global temperatures more than 6 degrees Celsius higher by century's end, the IPCC said, rising sea levels, increasing heat waves, droughts and severe weather events.

"It is still possible to avoid an unmanageable degree of climate change, but the time for action is now," said report coauthor John Holdren, director of the Woods Hole Research Center and chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study urges the international community to implement a new global policy framework to cut emissions, with a mechanism that establishes a price for carbon - either a tax or a cap-and-trade program.

Policies to encourage energy efficiency and carbon-free energy are needed, according to the report, which called on the world to increase public and private energy technology research three- or four-fold to more than $45 billion a year.

Research on carbon sequestration and clean coal technology is critical, the panel said, and the world should cease deploying coal-fired power plants absent those capable of "cost-effective and environmentally sound retrofits for capture and sequestration of their carbon emissions."

The study recommends the United Nations and governments worldwide accelerate implementation of "win-win solutions" that can moderate climate change while also moving the world toward a more sustainable future energy path and making progress on the UN's Millennium Development Goals to alleviate global poverty and increase environmental sustainability.


The report recommends the United Nations push governments to act to mitigate and adapt to climate change. (Photo courtesy UN )

Such measures include improving transportation through increased efficiency standards and incentives for alternative-fuel cars, as well as greener commercial and residential buildings and an expansion of the use of biofuels.

The UN and other international institutions must also help the world's poorer nations and most vulnerable communities prepare for climate change, the report said. In addition, the global community should discourage development on coastal land that is less than one meter above present high tide, as well as within high-risk areas such as floodplains, and ensure that the effects of climate change are considered in the design of protected areas and efforts to maintain biodiversity.

"The world is experiencing climate disruption now and future increases in droughts, floods and sea-level rise will cause enormous human suffering and economic losses," said coauthor Rosina Bierbaum, former acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "We can manage water better, bolster disaster preparedness, increase surveillance for emerging diseases . . . and enhance local capacity to cope with a suite of expected changes."

The full report can be found here.