The United Nation's top climate change official warns the world would be “in deep trouble” if a Bali meeting next month on reducing global emissions failed.
The December 3-14 meeting in Bali, gathering members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is tasked with setting down a path for negotiating pollution cuts to be implemented after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol pledges run out.
“I think if things go wrong in Bali we are in deep trouble,” Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCC, told a press conference here.
He stressed that the international community was fighting against time in a bid to stem global warming.
Key report contains chilling warnings
To be unveiled Saturday in the presence of UN chief Ban Ki-moon, a key report summarizes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) massive assessment of global warming, its impacts and the tools for tackling it.
The synthesis will serve as a guide for policymakers for years to come, starting with a critical UN meeting in Bali next month.
A section on “key vulnerabilities” under review Thursday placed the spotlight on species extinctions, extreme weather events such as cyclones, and rising sea levels that threaten to submerge small island nations and displace hundreds of millions of people in low-lying delta regions.
“This is the 'big picture' section which asks: 'Why are we concerned?'”, said one participant.
A new treaty to reduce emissions would need to be completed by 2009 or 2010 at the very latest, so that all signatories can ratify it in time.
US: not enough evidence
Some nations, including the United States, objected to a reference in the draft document to “abrupt and irreversible climate changes and impacts” as insufficiently supported by the evidence.
Others, especially in Europe, lobbied to maintain this language, arguing that the scientific data backed it.
Some European scientists pointed to recent studies showing an alarming acceleration of warming — glacier loss in Greenland, melting Arctic ice, a slowing of Earth's ability to absorb CO2 — that were published too recently to be taken into account by the lengthy IPCC process.
New evidence, for example, shows that sea level rises are likely to be twice as high by century's end as the 18-59 centimetres forecast by the IPCC.
The IPCC predicted earlier this year that by 2100, global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 C and 6.4 C compared to 1980-99 levels.
But even more modest rises within this range could cause catastrophic consequences, and urgent measures are needed to curb the the man-made gases that cause the greenhouse effect, the IPCC said in its voluminous reports.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) produced mainly by the burning of oil, gas and coal fuels accounts for more than 80 percent of those emissions.
Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes
Measures to be vetted in Bali, many of them politically difficult, range from carbon taxes to expanded cap-and-trade schemes and stimuli for investment in renewable resources in the pursuit of revolutionary change.
“'Business-as-usual' caused the problem. The challenge now is to see if business-as-different' is able to fix it,” said one delegate.
The largest developing economies, India and China, have stated clearly that they are not prepared to commit to fixed reductions in their emissions of greenhouse gases, even though they have joined the ranks of the world's major emitters.
Nor is the United States likely to change its position and join the Kyoto Protocol, under which rich nations pledged to make binding cuts in their emissions.
China to became biggest world polluter
China is poised to surpass the United States as the top CO2 polluter, though on a per capita basis Americans still emit twice as much as Europeans, and four times as much as the Chinese.
The US-based Centre for Global Development, which works to reduce global poverty, says carbon dioxide emissions by Chinese power plants are expected to surpass US utilities' emissions of the main greenhouse gas by 2017.