Climate Change: The Worst Can Still Be Avoided

MADRID - Climate change is not inexorable, if measures are adopted immediately, said scientists and government officials as the 27th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began Monday in Spain.

The meeting in the Mediterranean city of Valencia, which will ended last Saturday, has drawn hundreds of experts from some 130 countries. Participants were welcomed by an enormous 400 square metre banner hung up on the outside of the building by international environmental watchdog Greenpeace, reading "Warning: Save the Climate Now."

Javier González, with the Spanish NGO Ecologistas en Acción, said that there is not much to study and discuss, because it is already clear what must be done: "the only solution is to reduce consumption of energy and other resources that are consumed at obscene levels."

"Some segments of society in the countries of the developing South and practically everyone in the industrialised North consume unnecessary things: excessive packaging and advertising mailers for products, excessive gasoline in countries where cars habitually carry just one person, the lights on day and night unnecessarily, homes with several TV sets, etc, etc," he said.

"In Europe we are used to seeing people throw practically new home appliances in the garbage because as soon as something goes wrong, they are not fixed but are instead simply replaced, just as it is hard to find cars over six or seven years old on the road," said the activist.

In Valencia, the IPCC, which won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for its work on global warming, will be putting the final touches to the 'Synthesis Report' that is to serve as a guide for climate change policy-making in the next few years.

The international panel was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It is made up of scientists from academic institutions all over the world, as well as government experts, who "assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation."

In its latest report, the panel stated that global warming is "unequivocal," and asserted "with near certainty -- more than 90 percent confidence -- that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming in the past half century."

Raquel Montón, Greenpeace climate change campaign coordinator for Spain, said the 'Synthesis Report' "sums up the problems, causes and solutions, and is a compelling demonstration for governments, companies and individuals of the need to take urgent action on climate change -- and of the fact that it is possible to do so."

At the opening session of the meeting, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said "someone once told me that we must take better care of the earth because it is where we all live; it is what we share; it is our home."

That "someone," she said, was neither an environmental activist, world-renowned writer nor cosmopolitan thinker worried about the future of the planet, but "an indigenous woman from a village in Guatemala."

"A woman who like so many other millions of people lives in a remote, isolated village, attached to her land and her ancestral traditions. She probably had never heard anyone talk about big macroeconomic figures, the major issues of international politics, or so many other things that go beyond the narrow limits separating her village from the rest of the world."

But she "understood very well the significance of global warming, pollution and environmental degradation and the effects these things have on all of us. This woman, in that distant corner of the world, knew very well what earth means -- both Earth with an upper-case 'E' and earth with a lower-case 'e' -- because every day it provides her and her community with just about everything they need."

The problem being discussed in Valencia is a global one because "nether pollution of the seas, nor greenhouse gases, nor the rise in temperatures or the sea level stop at the borders of any country," she said, stressing that this is why "it is absolutely necessary for us to work together, more united than ever."

Fernández de la Vega concluded by pledging "the Spanish government's total commitment to this task that brings us together, to the fight against climate change."

Early this year, the Spanish government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero approved a national strategy for climate change and clean energy, which outlined 198 measures and actions to be taken at different levels, including international cooperation, research, the fomenting of more responsible consumption patterns, more efficient building methods and alternative energy sources, and the design of climate change adaptation strategies.

"The Spanish government must encourage and promote the strongest possible commitment to reducing emissions, in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and develop a 100 percent renewable system as a contribution to the global development of renewable energy sources, as advised by the IPCC," said Montón.

The report will be a key input for the Dec. 3-14 13th United Nations Climate Change Conference and 3rd Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Bali, Indonesia.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005, requires leading industrialised nations to reduce their combined emissions of greenhouse gases to five percent below 1990 levels, by 2012. In Bali, the governments will launch post-Kyoto negotiations.

The IPCC, which will pick up its Nobel Prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo, has found that human beings have substantially altered the earth's atmosphere. Concentrations of carbon dioxide measured in 2005 exceeded the natural levels that have existed for 650,000 years, and the warmest 11 years since record-keeping began have occurred within the last 12 years.

The burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, deforestation, and livestock raising cause the emission of gases like carbon dioxide, which trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere, adding to their natural greenhouse effect. This process of global warming has triggered climate change, according to the scientific consensus represented by the IPCC.

During the 20th century, the global surface air temperature increased by an average of 0.74 degrees Celsius, while the sea level rose 17 centimetres and snow disappeared from a large part of the northern hemisphere, according to the panel. Forecasts for the 21st century predict an increase in temperature of 1.8 degrees, or as much as four degrees.


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