Steve Connor, Science Editor / The (London) Independent – 2005-06-08 23:36:28
(June 8. 2005) — An unprecedented joint statement issued by the leading scientific academies of the world has called on the G8 governments to take urgent action to avert a global catastrophe caused by climate change.
The national academies of science for all the G8 countries, along with those of Brazil, India and China, have warned that governments must no longer procrastinate on what is widely seen as the greatest danger facing humanity.
The statement, which has taken months to finalise, is all the more important as it is signed by Bruce Alberts, president of the US National Academy of Sciences, which has warned George Bush about the dangers of ignoring the threat posed by global warming.
It was released on the day that Tony Blair met Mr Bush in Washington, where the American President was expected to reaffirm his opposition to joining the Kyoto treat to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Over dinner at the White House last night, Mr Blair appeared to make little progress on one of his main priorities for Britain’s year chairing the G8 — a new international effort to combat climate change. The Prime Minister is trying to draw the US, China and India into the discussion, but there is little sign that the Bush administration will accept the growing scientific evidence about the problem.
Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of sciences, lambasted President Bush yesterday for ignoring his own scientists by withdrawing from the Kyoto treaty. “The current US policy on climate change is misguided. The Bush administration has consistently refused to accept advice of the US National Academy of Sciences … Getting the US on board is critical because of the sheer amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for,” Lord May said.
Between 1990 and 2002, the carbon dioxide emissions of the US increased by 13 per cent, which on their own were greater than the combined cut in emissions that will be achieved if all Kyoto countries hit their targets, he said.
“President Bush has an opportunity at Gleneagles to signal that his administration will no longer ignore the scientific evidence and act to cut emissions,” Lord May said. “The G8 summit is an unprecedented moment in human history. Our leaders face a stark choice – act now to tackle climate change or let future generations face the price of their inaction.
“Never before have we faced such a global threat. And if we do not begin effective action now it will be much harder to stop the runaway train as it continues to gather momentum,” he added.
The joint statement by the national science academies of the 11 countries does not mention Kyoto but it does refer repeatedly to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change that spawned the 1995 protocol to limit future greenhouse gas emissions, which the US has signed up to.
Climate change is real, global warming is occurring and there is strong evidence that man-made greenhouse gases are implicated in a potentially catastrophic increase in global temperatures, the statement says. “It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities. This warming has already led to changes in the Earth’s climate.”
Human activities are causing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise to a point not reached for at least 420,000 years. Meanwhile average global temperatures rose by 0.6C in the 20th century and are projected to increase by between 1.4C and 5.8C by 2100.
“The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement says.
In a veiled reference to President Bush’s reluctance to accept climate change by claiming that the science is unclear, the academies emphasise that action is needed now to reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases.
“A lack of full scientific certainty about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for delaying an immediate response that will, at a reasonable cost, prevent dangerous anthropogenic [man-made] interference with the climate system,” the statement says.
“We urge all nations… to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change, adapt to its impacts and ensure that the issue is included in all relevant national and international strategies.”
The national academies warn that even if greenhouse gas emissions can be stabilised at existing levels, the climate would continue to change as it slowly responds to the extra carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere. “Further changes in climate are therefore unavoidable. Nations must prepare for them,” the statement says.
CO2 on the Increase
1958: A US scientist, Charles Keeling, begins measuring the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) on an extinct volcano in Hawaii. It stands at 315 parts per million (ppm).
1968: The US spacecraft ‘Apollo 8’ takes the first pictures of Earth from a distance, beautiful but fragile – which help start modern environmentalism. The C02 level has reached 323ppm.
1972: The UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm – the moment when the world first recognises environmental threats to the Earth as a whole. CO2 now at 327ppm.
1988: The world wakes up to the danger of climate change, with an outspoken warning from scientists, and a speech by Margaret Thatcher. CO2 level stands at 351ppm.
1992: The Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro sees more than 100 countries sign the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the first global warming treaty. CO2 now at 356ppm.
1995: The Kyoto protocol to the UN’s climate treaty is signed in Japan, binding countries, including the US, to make cuts in their CO2 emissions. The CO2 level has now reached 360ppm.
2000: Obvious that the 1990s were the hottest decade in the global temperature record, with 1998 the hottest year in the northern hemisphere for 1,000 years. CO2 is 369ppm.
2001: George Bush withdraws the US, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, from Kyoto, alleging it will damage America’s economy – jeopardising the whole process. CO2 level now at 371ppm.
2003: First two weeks of August are the hottest period ever recorded in western Europe: 35,000 people die. New record high temperature for Britain. CO2 now at 375ppm.
2004: After much dithering, Russia ratifies Kyoto, enabling the protocol to enter into force despite the desertion of the United States. But that doesn’t stop the CO2 level rising to 377ppm.
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