Associated Press – 2005-01-24 22:46:50
Global Warming Approaching Critical Point
Associated Press / CNN
LONDON, England (January 24, w005) — Global warming is approaching the critical point of no return, after which widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea-levels would be irreversible, an international climate change task force warned Monday. The report, “Meeting the Climate Challenge,” called on the leading industrial nations known as the G-8 to cut carbon emissions, double their research spending on green technology and work with India and China to build on the Kyoto Protocol.
“An ecological time-bomb is ticking away,” said Stephen Byers, who co-chaired the task force with US Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, and is a close confidant of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “World leaders need to recognize that climate change is the single most important long term issue that the planet faces.” The independent report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, the Center for American Progress in the United States and the Australia Institute, is timed to coincide with Blair’s commitment to advance international climate change policy during Britain’s presidency of the G-8.
Byers said it was vital Blair secured US cooperation in tackling climate change. US President George W. Bush has rejected the Kyoto accord, arguing that the carbon emission cuts it demands would damage the US economy. “What we have got to do then is get the Americans as part of the G-8 to engage in international concerted effort to tackle global warming,” said Byers. “If they refuse to do that, then other countries will be reluctant to take any steps.”
According to the report, urgent action is needed to stop the global average temperature rising by 2 degrees Celsius above the level in 1750 — the approximate start of the Industrial Revolution when mankind first started significantly polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Beyond a 2 degrees rise, “the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly” the report said, adding there would be a risk of “abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change.”
‘Climatic Tipping Points’
It warned of “climatic tipping points” such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.
No accurate temperature readings were available for 1750, the report said, but since 1860, global average temperature had risen by 0.8 percent to 15 degrees Celsius. The two degrees rise could be avoided by keeping the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm). Current concentrations of 379 ppm “are likely to rise above 400 ppm in coming decades and could rise far higher under a business-as-usual scenario,” the report warned.
The task force urges all G-8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and to shift agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels. The report recommends wider international use of emission trading schemes which are already in use in the European Union, under which unused carbon dioxide quotas are sold. The profit motive is expected to drive investment in new technology to cut emissions further.
The task force of senior politicians, scientists and business figures was established in March 2004. Its chief scientific adviser is Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The British government welcomed the report, which mirrors many of the suggestions already floated by Blair in the build up to Britain’s G-8 presidency. Blair has acknowledged the importance of US cooperation, but conceded Washington is unlikely to sign up to Kyoto. Instead he is pursuing international commitment to developing new environmentally friendly technology.
Countdown to Global Catastrophe
Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor / The Independent
LONDON (January 24, 2005 ) — The global warming danger threshold for the world is clearly marked for the first time in an international report to be published tomorrow – and the bad news is, the world has nearly reached it already.
The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics from around the world – and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached.
The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed to coincide with Tony Blair’s promised efforts to advance climate change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries and the European Union.
And it breaks new ground by putting a figure — for the first time in such a high-level document – on the danger point of global warming, that is, the temperature rise beyond which the world would be irretrievably committed to disastrous changes. These could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests – with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as “runaway” global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream.
The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial revolution, when human activities – mainly the production of waste gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun’s heat in the atmosphere—- first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline — so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.
More ominously still, it assesses the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after which the two-degree rise will become inevitable, and says it will be 400 parts per million by volume (ppm) of CO2.
The current level is 379ppm, and rising by more than 2ppm annually – so it is likely that the vital 400ppm threshold will be crossed in just 10 years’ time, or even less (although the two-degree temperature rise might take longer to come into effect).
‘An Ecological Timebomb Ticking Away’
“There is an ecological timebomb ticking away,” said Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary, who co-chaired the task force that produced the report with the US Republican senator Olympia Snowe. It was assembled by the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK, the Centre for American Progress in the US, and The Australia Institute.The group’s chief scientific adviser is Dr Rakendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The report urges all the G8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to double their research spending on low-carbon energy technologies by 2010. It also calls on the G8 to form a climate group with leading developing nations such as India and China, which have big and growing CO2 emissions.
“What this underscores is that it’s what we invest in now and in the next 20 years that will deliver a stable climate, not what we do in the middle of the century or later,” said Tom Burke, a former government adviser on green issues who now advises business.
The report starkly spells out the likely consequences of exceeding the threshold. “Beyond the 2 degrees C level, the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly,” it says.
“It is likely, for example, that average-temperature increases larger than this will entail substantial agricultural losses, greatly increased numbers of people at risk of water shortages, and widespread adverse health impacts. [They] could also imperil a very high proportion of the world’s coral reefs and cause irreversible damage to important terrestrial ecosystems, including the Amazon rainforest.”
It goes on: “Above the 2 degrees level, the risks of abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change also increase. The possibilities include reaching climatic tipping points leading, for example, to the loss of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (which, between them, could raise sea level more than 10 metres over the space of a few centuries), the shutdown of the thermohaline ocean circulation (and, with it, the Gulf Stream), and the transformation of the planet’s forests and soils from a net sink of carbon to a net source of carbon.”
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