UN Panel: Still Time to Avert Worst Of Climate Change, but World Must Act

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By Eric J. Lyman  

April 14 --The worst global effects from climate change can still be averted but only if countries act quickly, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC's summary report on greenhouse gas emissions, released April 13 in Berlin, painted multiple pathways for action on the national and international levels that would help keep the worldwide temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The report from the United Nations panel also predicted a relatively low price tag for transforming the world to a low-carbon economy, saying it would shave just 0.06 percent off expected worldwide economic growth rates. And that is without factoring in benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report from the IPCC’s Working Group III was perhaps the most hopeful of the three Working Group reports that will combine to form the IPCC’s synthesis report to be released in October.

But officials cautioned that action to reduce emissions must start quickly in order to be effective, and that it must include efforts from all corners of the globe.

“The high-speed mitigation train must leave the station soon,” IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri said. “It is essential that all of global society be on board.”

Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power

The 33-page summary reflects the work of 1,250 experts from 194 national governments and is by far the most comprehensive document of its kind. It isn't intended to recommend specific policy initiatives but rather to provide a scientific basis for policy makers in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiation process.

Still, the Working Group III report included some important declarations: In order to keep warming within 2 degrees Celsius, the report said the world’s economies would have to make a dramatic transformation to an energy supply dominated by low-emissions energy sources such as renewables and, in some cases, nuclear power. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, still largely unproved on a large scale, would be used to sequester emissions from fossil fuel use.

The report was released amid controversy, in part because significant swaths of text shown in earlier drafts were left out of the final summary for policy makers. Among the eliminated text was information about the parts of the world where emissions are growing fastest and how to divvy up the historical responsibilities for existing emissions.

That information remains in the full report, to be released April 15. But at more than 1,000 pages and with nearly 40,000 comments, the longer report may not be used as often by climate negotiators as the summary released April 13.

Author: 'Watered-Down Version.'

“The [summary] report is accurate and comprehensive, but it is also a watered-down version of what it could have been,” one of the report’s 235 authors told Bloomberg BNA, asking not to be further identified.

Another delegate told Bloomberg BNA that some of the strongest warnings in the report had been “censored.”

Pachauri, during the April 13 presentation, brushed aside the charges that key elements had been left out of the summary.

“The entire IPCC process and the approval of the [summary] document was based on debate,” he said. “Naturally, when you have different points of view, there are disagreements.”

Some negotiators said efforts to calculate the costs of inaction from climate change were stopped because of the difficulty of assessing the costs of displaced populations and lives lost. But some said the lack of such information makes cost-benefit analysis more difficult.

And environmental groups criticized inclusion of mostly unproven technologies included in the report. But Ramon Pichs-Madruga, a Working Group III co-chairman, said it was correct to include such information.

“We are not recommending those technologies; we are just using available data to try to determine what the impact of using them would be,” Pichs-Madruga said in an interview. “It would be wrong to only focus on some of the possibilities.”

Continued Warnings

Environmental groups mostly focused on the warnings in the report, saying the details shouldn't distract from the overarching message.

Lidy Nacpil from the Philippines chapter of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice said the report “re-emphasized the urgency of undertaking drastic actions for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mattias Söderberg, ACT climate change advisory group co-chairman, said he hoped the IPCC reports would results in redoubled efforts by negotiators in the UNFCCC process, which restarts in June and seeks to agree to a global climate deal by the end of 2015.

With this report, “governments have now listened to scientists,” Söderberg said. “They still have time to reconsider their positions before continuing the agreement negotiations.”

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the report a “wake-up call,” while Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s top climate change official, echoed the report’s main theme in warning that inaction would be costly.

“The more you wait, the more it will cost, the more difficult it will become,” Hedegaard said.

Working Group III’s full report is the final piece of a puzzle that will be combined and boiled down to become the “Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report,” which will be released in October.

The results of Working Group I (on the physical science of climate change) were released last year, while Working Group II (on the impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability from climate change) was released March 31 .


To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

The IPCC summary for policy makers of the Working Group III report is available at http://bit.ly/Rf1eI6.

The full report will be available April 15 at http://mitigation2014.org/.

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