U.N. scientists to lay out ways
to head off worst of climate change, at least cost
Apr 23, 2007 - Michael Casey -The
After two reports predicting a warmer
Earth where life is fundamentally changed, a U.N.-sponsored
scientific panel next month will issue a third study
describing how a united world can avert the worst,
by embracing technologies ranging from nuclear power
to manure controls.
Under a best-case scenario for heading
off severe damage, the global economy might lose as
little as 3 percentage points of growth by 2030 in
deploying technologies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,
says the panel's draft report, obtained by The Associated
But it won't be easy.
"Governments, businesses and individuals
all need to be pulling in the same direction," said
British researcher Rachel Warren, one of the report's
For one thing, the governments of such
major emitters as the United States, China and India
will have to join the Kyoto Protocol countries of
Europe and Japan in imposing cutbacks in carbon dioxide
and other heat-trapping gases emitted by industry,
power plants and other sources.
The Bush administration rejected the
protocol's mandatory cuts, contending they would slow
U.S. economic growth too much. China and other poorer
developing countries were exempted from the 1997 pact,
but most expected growth in greenhouse emissions will
come from the developing world.
The draft report from the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose final version
is to be issued in Bangkok on May 4, says emissions
can be cut below current levels if the world shifts
away from carbon-heavy fuels like coal, embraces energy
efficiency and significantly reduces deforestation.
"The opportunities, the technology are
there and now it's a case of encouraging the increased
use of these technologies," said International Energy
Agency analyst Ralph Sims, another of the 33 scientists
who drafted the report.
Two previous IPCC reports this year
painted a dire picture of a future in which unabated
greenhouse emissions could drive global temperatures
up as much as 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit)
by 2100. Even a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit)
rise could subject up to 2 billion people to water
shortages by 2050 and threaten extinction for 20 percent
to 30 percent of the world's species, the IPCC said.
The third report makes clear the world
must quickly embrace a basket of technological options
- both already available and developing - just to
keep the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6
The draft notes that significant cuts
could come from making buildings more energy-efficient,
especially in the developing world, through better
insulation, lighting and other steps, and by converting
from coal to natural gas, nuclear power and renewable
energy such as wind, solar and biofuels.
Less significant but also important
would be steps to make motor vehicles more fuel-efficient,
reduce deforestation, and plant more trees as a carbon
"sink," absorbing carbon dioxide. Even capturing methane
emitted by livestock and its manure would help, the
Over the next century, it says, such
technology as hydrogen-powered fuel cells, advanced
hybrid and electric vehicles with better batteries,
and carbon sequestration - whereby carbon emissions
are stored underground - will become more commercially
It says taking "optimal" mitigation
measures might by 2030 stabilize greenhouse-gas concentrations
in the atmosphere at 445 to 534 parts per million,
up from an estimated 430 ppm today.
It indicates that stabilizing concentrations
relatively quickly at 450 ppm - an unlikely scenario
- might keep the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius
(3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial temperatures,
a level scientists think might avert severe damage.
Achieving the 445-534 ppm range might
cost under 3 percent of global gross domestic product
(GDP) over two decades, the draft says.
That compares favorably to global economic
growth that every year has averaged almost 3 percent
since 2000. The damage from unabated climate change,
meanwhile, might eventually cost the global economy
between 5 and 20 percent of GDP every year, according
to a British government report last year.
The IPCC draft notes, however, that
its cost estimate is based on a "relatively small"
number of studies and would require all nations to
join in those best-case mitigation efforts, and that
"barriers to implementation of mitigation options
The report says governments could lower
economic costs if low-carbon technologies are promoted
via carbon taxes or "cap-and-trade" systems like Europe's,
whereby industry is allocated emissions quotas, which
can then be traded among more efficient and less efficient
Turning the report into reality, authors
acknowledge, will require a significant shift in political
will among some large economies. The last IPCC assessment,
in 2001, also called for introduction of many of the
same technologies, but they so far haven't been widely
"I've been involved in this game for
35 years. We're not progressing as quickly as we could
or should," Sims said. The draft notes, in fact, that
current government funding for most energy research
programs is about half what it was in 1980.