By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2008 (ENS) - The head of the United Nations scientific climate panel spoke with U.S. lawmakers Wednesday, encouraging them lead the world in cooling the overheated planet. "We really don't have a moment to lose," said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.
The massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid serious disruptions to Earth's climate system are impossible without U.S. leadership, Dr. Pachauri told members of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
"It is essential for the U.S. to take action," said Pachauri, who also spoke at a public briefing Wednesday afternoon convened by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The United States is responsible for some 22 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions. Although China recently emerged as the leading emitter, U.S. emissions are four times greater than China's on a per capita basis.
Despite broad criticism from across the world, President George W. Bush and his administration have rejected mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. And many U.S. lawmakers remain reluctant to commit their nation to deep cuts without similar obligations from China, India and other developing nations.
The IPCC chairman said that view is misplaced.
"The rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership … [but] the perception round the world is that the U.S. has not been very active in this area," Pachauri said, adding that strong action would "undoubtedly reestablish confidence in U.S. leadership on critical global issues."
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and journalists listen to a question from the House Select Committee. (Photo courtesy House Select Committee
The IPCC includes some 2,500 scientists from across the United States and around the world. The panel does no original research but rather assesses the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.
A native of India, Dr. Pachauri is an economist and engineer who has served on the Board of Directors of the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., a Fortune 500 company, and on the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India. He has taught at several American universitites, including the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Pachauri told lawmakers that greenhouse gas emissions must peak in 2015 - and drop 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 - if the world is to keep global average temperatures from rising above 2.4 degrees Celsius.
Without such restraint, the world faces a variety of potential troubling humanitarian and environmental problems. Pachauri cited concern over rising sea levels, the increased frequency of drought, heat waves and severe storms, as well as threats to agriculture and adverse impacts on the environment.
Committee chair Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the work of the IPCC "highlights our moral obligation to reduce global warming pollution and prepare for those impacts that have become unavoidable."
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts (Photo courtesy House Select Committee)
It is time for U.S. lawmakers to ensure the nation is a "leader, not a laggard" in the fight against global warming, Markey said.
But it is unclear how serious U.S. lawmakers are about tackling global warming - only five of the nine Democrats on the panel attended the hearing and none of the committee's six Republicans were present.
A Republican spokesperson for the committee did not return calls for comment.
The IPCC chief addressed lawmakers as both the House and Senate are trying to craft a new U.S. plan to deal with climate change. The House has yet to consider legislation, but the Senate is set to begin debate this spring on a measure that would enforce mandatory limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The Senate plan would cut emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 70 percent by mid-century. It faces broad resistance from Republicans and proponents admit it will be an uphill struggle to reach the 60 votes needed for approval in the the Senate that would withstand a presidential veto.
The prospects for climate legislation are even murkier on the House side. Leading Democrats, notably Michigan Representative John Dingell, have openly voiced doubts about passing mandatory limits on greenhouse gases and echoed concerns about the costs to the U.S. economy.
A white paper released Thursday by Dingell, chair of the House Energy Committee, and Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, chair of a key House energy subcommittee, highlighted concerns about the growing emissions from developing countries.
China, India and other developing nations are on track to contribute more than 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the paper notes, and efforts by the United States will have little impact on the overall problem.
At Wednesday's hearing, Pachauri said U.S. lawmakers should consider the global nature of climate change.
"The issue of deciding where the world should stabilize emissions … really involves a value judgment," Pachauri said. "And I think one issue that is often ignored is the equity dimension of this problem."
Ask the president of the Maldives Islands if he is concerned, Pachauri suggested, and "he will tell you they are already in peril from climate change."
It is the world's poor who are "most vulnerable" to the adverse impacts of climate change, Pachauri said, noting that the IPCC estimates some 1.5 billion people in the developing world are likely to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change by 2020.
The panel also estimates agricultural yields will drop by some 50 percent in some African countries, by 30 percent by 2050 in Asia and by 30 percent in Latin America before 2080.
"This clearly has major implications for food security worldwide," said Pachauri.
Furthermore, climate change could wreck havoc with ecosystems, he added, and threatens 20 to 30 percent of the planet's plant and animal species.
"Once this kind of damage takes place, we really have no way of turning back," Pachauri said, noting that humans will be impacted by the loss of biodiversity.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.