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News in Brief, BB200705

Controversial climate report: urgent action is necessary to mitigate the dramatic effects of global warming


On 6 April 2007, after difficult and prolonged discussions, scientific experts and government delegates adopted the second report, issued by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the consequences of global warming on populations and ecosystems worldwide.

The IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities, constitutes the second of three volumes of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. It describes current scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change on natural, managed and human systems, the capacity of these systems to adapt and their vulnerability.

A controversial report

The IPCC Working Group II report was agreed after almost a week of negotiations, at the end of a tense overnight session. Several scientists expressed their anger at some of the changes demanded by political delegates and threatened to cease working with the IPCC. Political delegates from the United States, China and Saudi Arabia were offended by some of the harsh wording contained in the original draft report and managed to rewrite some of its content.

Scientific experts claim governments attempted to weaken the report, in order to avoid taking strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC report will be presented to the G8 summit of the world’s richest nations in June 2007 and to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of 2007 in Bali, when the European Union is expected to renew appeals to the United States to join international efforts to control fossil fuel emissions.

Climate change: estimated impacts and vulnerabilities

Even in its amended, compromised version, the fundamental statements of the dramatic consequences of climate change can be maintained. Key findings of the new IPCC report highlight that the impacts of man-induced climate change pose an increasing threat to the natural world and modern society.

According to the report, observed and projected impacts of climate change include various changes to the natural environment, flooding, as well as food and water shortages. The report states that 20-30% of plant and animal species are likely to face extinction if temperature rises exceed 1.5-2.5°C. It indicates that hundreds of millions of people will be exposed to water stress, with many millions more likely to be exposed to flooding every year. Access to food in many African countries is also predicted to be severely compromised.

The report shows that the effects of climate change are already being felt worldwide. However, poor tropical countries, which hold the least blame for the fossil-fuel pollution driving global warming, will be worst hit. In Europe, most regions will be adversely affected by the future impacts of climate change, and will be challenging for many economic sectors. Climate change is expected increase health risks, as well as the existing differences in natural resources.

The report states that adaptation will be necessary to cope with the unavoidable warming, but that many impacts can still be avoided, reduced or delayed by mitigation. The IPCC scientists predict that unless immediate action is taken to reduce emissions, it is highly likely that the effects of climate change will be even greater and more harmful.

In light of the new United Nations climate report, EWEA urges the international community to take immediate action and to put in place strong greenhouse abatement policies. Limiting carbon from fossil fuels, combined with the large scale use of renewable energy sources are major solutions that should be at the heart of climate change policies. The use of renewable energies, such as wind, can play a central role in reversing the build-up of greenhouse gases and in avoiding the most catastrophic impacts.

Next steps

The IPCC report was the second in a series of three reports to be issued this year. The first, issued on 2 February 2007, in Paris, assessed the scientific aspects of climate change and concluded with near certainty (more than 90%) that human activities, such as fossil fuel burning, have been the cause of global warming over the last 50 years (See Brussels Briefing, March 2007). A third report, of which EWEA is an official reviewer, on the mitigation of climate change is to be discussed in Bangkok and released on 4 May 2007. The final synthesis report will be presented on 16 November 2007 in Valencia, Spain.