U.N. Global Warming Report Sternly Warns Against Inaction
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007; A03
Global warming is destroying species, raising sea levels and threatening millions of poor people, the United Nations'
top scientific panel will say today in a report that U.N. officials
hope will help mobilize the world into taking tougher actions on
The report argues that only firm action,
including putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, will avoid more
catastrophic events. Those actions will take a small part of the
world's economic growth but will be substantially less than the costs
of doing nothing, the report will say.
The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be key ammunition as world leaders meet in Bali next month to try to draft a global plan to deal with Earth's rising temperatures after the Kyoto Protocol
expires in 2012. The United Nations and many countries favor strong
mandatory reductions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming;
the Bush administration wants voluntary measures and wants developing
countries to share the burden of cuts.
The most stringent efforts
to stabilize greenhouse gases would cost the world's economies 0.12
percent of their average annual growth to 2050, the report estimates.
is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result
in near-term co-benefits, for example improved health due to reduced
air pollution, that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation
costs," the report says, summarizing research over five years by more
than 2,000 of the top climate change scientists.
The near-final draft, approved yesterday by representatives of more than 140 governments meeting in Valencia, Spain,
says that global warming is "unequivocal" and that humans' actions are
heading toward "abrupt or irreversible climate changes and impacts."
panel warns that the first to suffer from global warming will be the
poor, who will face faltering water supplies, damage to crops, new
diseases and encroaching oceans.
"Those in the weakest economic
or political position are frequently the most susceptible to climate
change," the panel wrote. "In all regions," it added, those most at
risk are "the poor, young children, the elderly and the ill."
The report by the prestigious panel, which last month shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore,
largely summarizes findings released by the IPCC in reports earlier
this year. Some scientists have criticized the findings as being overly
cautious in the face of an avalanche of evidence of accelerating
environmental changes, while a small minority argue it is needlessly
"This will be viewed by all as a definitive report. It is the blueprint for the Bali talks," said Sen. John F. Kerry
(D-Mass.), who will be at the Indonesian U.N. meeting beginning Dec. 3
as part of a U.S. senatorial delegation. "While the administration
remains reluctant to embrace mandatory [emission quotas], there is a
growing consensus in America" favoring those controls, he said in an
interview this week.
James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview last night
that the IPCC report "lays out a wide variety of mandatory and
non-mandatory controls that deal with carbon emissions. These tools
have varying effectiveness that varies from country to country. We have
been careful not to prefer one tool over another, but to ensure that we
are using the right tool."
The U.N. panel embraced the arguments of British economist Nicholas Stern, who concluded last year that the cost of taking tough measures to curb pollution will be repaid in the long run.
are putting very heavily on the table the issue of assistance to
developing countries," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National
Environmental Trust, which has closely followed the proceedings. "They
see as inevitable huge human consequences that will cause enormous
death, suffering and economic loss unless the world begins to act now
to invest in protecting the most vulnerable."
Even if governments
took severe measures today to curb greenhouse gases, the effects of
what mankind has done will remain, the IPCC report says. Glaciers and
ice caps are melting at a rapid rate; animals and plants are shifting
their range to accommodate warmer air and water; and planting seasons
are changing, it notes.
Among the other conclusions: Average
temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the last half of the 20th
century were probably the highest in 1,300 years. Arctic ice and
mountain glaciers have shrunk. The seas are swelling in the heat, and
droughts and heat waves have probably increased. The amount of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere contributing to global warming is the highest
in at least 650,000 years.
IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri has
urged the delegates to the Bali conference to study the IPCC report
before they begin work. He said the panel has been able to "mobilize
the best scientific talent that is available throughout the world on
various aspects of climate change."
The IPCC, formed by the
United Nations in 1988 to determine the state of the climate change,
has issued four main sets of reports. The first and second reports, in
1990 and 1995, laid the groundwork for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The
third report, in 2001, and the fourth report released in sections this
year, were increasingly strident in warning that man is rushing toward
a dramatic alteration of the world's environment by heating up the
Despite the sweep of science and scientists utilized
by the IPCC, its reports have been rejected by some who argue that the
world has gone through natural shifts in temperature before, and who
say society and industry should not be put to the difficult task of
curbing emissions. President Bush, until recently, questioned the validity of global warming.
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