IPCC underscores need for actions against global warming

by Danielle Knight

Washington, 23 Jan 2001 (IPS) -- New scientific calculations that predict a potentially devastating global warming in the coming century underlines the urgent need to resume stalled international talks on reducing heat- trapping greenhouse gas emissions, warn environmental advocates.

On Monday at a conference in Shanghai, a panel of hundreds of scientists from more than 100 countries unanimously approved a report that presents new and stronger evidence that most of the temperature increase observed over the last 50 years is attributable to air pollution caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas.

The Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius over the coming century, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, causing brutal droughts, floods and violent storms across the planet.

“The scientific consensus presented in this comprehensive report about human-induced climate change should sound alarm bells in every national capital and in every local community,” says Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, which co-sponsored the report.

The new calculations are derived from updated computer models based on weather records from the last 150 years. The new report differs from an earlier 1995 assessment by the same panel that said it was still unknown how much of an impact humans were having on climate change. The previous analysis also said that globally averaged surface temperature was projected to increase by 1 to 3.5 degrees Celsius, which is less of an increase than the new assessment.

It is very likely, says the report, that the 1990s were the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year since 1861.

New analyses of data from tree rings and ice cores, which give scientists an indication of climate conditions hundreds of years ago, indicate that the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years, says the report.

“The kinds of climate catastrophes predicted in the report are truly frightening,” says Phillip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, an advocacy group here.

Sea levels are projected to rise 0.09 to 0.88 metres from 1990 to 2100.  Floods could displace tens of millions of people in low-lying areas - including most of Bangladesh and parts of Indonesia. Droughts are expected to parch farmlands and aggravate world hunger.

The report says that in the mid- and high-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, it is very likely that snow cover has decreased about 10% since the 1960s.

Conservative pro-industry groups are trying to discredit the summary of the scientific report as a “political spin”.

“The summary’s scary predictions of much faster warming are based on discredited global climate computer models,” says Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute here.

However, environmental organisations here argue that the compelling evidence presented by the scientific panel should force politicians to move quickly to mitigate the impacts of climate change before it is too late.

Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think-tank, is urging President George W. Bush to rapidly move for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement which requires industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

“As the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the United States has an historic opportunity and a moral responsibility to jump-start the stalled negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol,” says Lash.

Talks on the treaty collapsed in November when industrialised nations could not agree on how much credit should be given for using forests and agricultural land to absorb carbon, the main greenhouse gas. New talks are scheduled for May in Germany.

It remains uncertain how the new Bush administration will approach the global warming issue. In the past, President Bush, who has strong ties to the oil industry, has attacked the Protocol and has questioned the science of global warming.

But at a news conference this year he acknowledged that there is sufficient scientific evidence to merit legislation requiring reductions in US global warming emissions.

Clapp with the National Environmental Trust says that he doubts that a Bush administration would walk away from the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. If he walked away from the talks “the US would have significantly reduced leverage to influence the technical rules for the emissions reduction mechanisms outlined in the treaty - a situation major US businesses are likely to find distasteful and ultimately costly,” he says. – SUNS4822