COPENHAGEN—The world’s top scientists have warned that climate change is accelerating beyond the worst predictions and urged governments to “vigorously” implement the economic and low carbon technologies tools available in fight against global warming.
Saying there’s no excuse for inaction, more than 2,000 climate scientists agreed that “weak and ineffective” governments must stand up to big business and “vested interests” in order to address the alarming climate impact.
Their tough message came at the end of a three-day conference last week aimed at updating the findings of a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change before UN talks in December on a new global climate treaty.
“I think it’s very important that we understand the magnitude of the risk we are running,” said British economist Lord Nicholas Stern. “Low-carbon technology, growth and opportunity is much better for all countries. If we think further the kind of growth fast it can generate for us, we could see the action is attractive and the inaction extremely inexcusable and resources in the next few years will be cheaper.”
Lord Stern said politicians continued to underestimate the impact of climate change and that scientists needed to redouble their efforts to get them to understand.
“Much of Southern Europe would look like the Sahara. Many of the major rivers of the world, serving billions of people, would dry up in the dry seasons or reroute. Billions of people would have to relocate as a result,” he said. “What would be the implication of that? Extended conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world, for many decades.”
Author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change published in 2006, Lord Stern said the cost of inaction would be “50 percent more or higher” than his previous highest estimate—meaning it could cost a third of the world’s wealth.
The Stern Review had said the costs of acting to counter climate change, by stabilizing emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, might be about 1 percent of annual global GDP by 2050. But the cost of doing nothing was found to be far greater—risking up to 20 percent of the world’s wealth.
“Increases in average temperatures of six degrees by the end of the century were an increasing possibility and would produce conditions not seen on Earth for more than 30?million years,” he said.
Climate marshall plan
Even very stringent reductions of emissions can create a macroeconomic benefit, if governments go about it the right way, according to a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge.
“Where many current calculations get it wrong is in the assumption that more stringent measures will necessarily raise the overall cost, especially when there is substantial unemployment and underuse of capacity as there is today,” explained Terry Barker, director of Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research (4CMR) at the University of Cambridge.
There is some evidence that harder greenhouse-gas targets and regulation may actually increase benefits through improved innovation and distribution of low-carbon technologies, and increased revenues from taxes or permits, Barker added. “These revenues can be spent to further support new technology and to lower other indirect taxes, ensuring the fiscal neutrality of these measures,” he added.
“The current global financial crisis must be seen as a timely stimulus to tackling climate change, not a hindrance. If all G-20 countries adopted a Green New Deal similar to that proposed by US President Barack Obama, the world economy could be greatly strengthened, especially the sectors producing low-carbon technologies,” he adds. “But global coordination is critical. Any single country’s New Deal may fail if its extra demand for goods and services are met with imports. If we act together, everyone’s exports will increase and we can recover employment much quicker.”
The prospect of extra growth for the economy from mitigating climate change also raises the possibility of generating funds for helping developing countries adapt to the changes that are now inevitable.
International action much-needed now
At last week’s meeting scientists emphasized that developed economies will have to agree to major cuts in emissions, developing economies will have to limit future emissions and developed economies will have to use their superior resources to help finance the adoption of low- emissions technologies in developing economies.
Katherine Richardson, a professor from the University of Copenhagen, said: “We need the politicians to realize what a risk they are taking on behalf of their constituents, the world and, even more important, future generations.”
She added: “All of the signals from the Earth system and the climate system show us that we are on a path that will have enormous and unacceptable consequences.”
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said with the increasing temperatures, all countries, especially the world’s poorest and vulnerable nations, will experience problems with water availability, human health and food security, among others.
Denmark’s Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard, on the other hand, urged President Obama to ram through global-warming laws prior to Copenhagen.
“Obama looks like he is doing just what he was asked to do. We need the US to listen to science and deliver real reductions also in the short- and medium-term range,” Hedegaard said.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will host the COP delegates at the negotiations in Copenhagen in December, agreed with Stern. Developed countries should provide funds to developing countries to help them transform to a low-carbon economy, as well as help those countries with adaptation and the dissemination of technology, he said.
“Developed countries must lead the way. They carry a special historical responsibility,” the Prime Minister said. “But as we all know, even if all industrialized countries cut their emissions to zero, we will not meet the target in 2050. Developing countries and the emerging countries will have to take actions, as well.”
The full conclusion of the three-day meeting this week will be published in full in June 2009. The congress was conceived as an update of the science of global warming ahead of the UN summit in December. The most recent IPCC report published in 2007 is now three to four years out of date.