By Elisabeth Rosenthal and James Kanter
International Herald Tribune, November 18, 2007
VALENCIA, Spain: The blunt and alarming final report of
the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPPC), released here by UN Secretary General
Ban Ki Moon, may well underplay the problem of climate
change, many experts and even the report’s authors admit.
The report describes the evidence for human-induced
climate change as “unequivocal.” The rise in greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere thus far will result in an average
rise in sea levels of up to 4.6 feet, or 1.4 meters, it
“Slowing - and reversing - these threats is the defining
challenge of our age,” Ban said upon the report’s release
Saturday. Ban said he had just completed a whirlwind
tour of some climate change hot spots, which he called
as “frightening as a science-fiction movie.”
He described ice sheets breaking up in Antarctica, the
destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and children
in Chile having to wear protective clothing because an
ozone hole was letting in so much ultraviolet radiation.
The panel’s fourth and final report summarized and
integrated the most significant findings of three sections
of the panel’s exhaustive climate-science review, to create
an official “pocket guide” to climate change for policy
makers who must now decide how the world will respond.
The first covered climate trends; the second, the world’s
ability to adapt to a warming planet; the third, strategies
for reducing carbon emissions.
“The sense of urgency when you put these pieces together
is new and striking,” said Martin Parry, a British climate
expert who was co-chairman of the delegation that wrote
the second report.
This report’s summary was the first to acknowledge that
the melting of the Greenland ice sheet could result in a
substantive sea level rise over centuries rather than
millennia. “Many of my colleagues would consider that
kind of melt a catastrophe” so rapid that mankind would
not be able to adapt, said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate
scientist at Princeton University who contributed to the
Delegations from hundreds of nations will be meeting in
Bali, Indonesia in two weeks to start hammering out a
global climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol,
the current climate change treaty.
“It’s extremely clear and is very explicit that the cost of
inaction will be huge compared to the cost of action,” said
Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth
Institute. “We can’t afford to wait for some perfect accord
to replace Kyoto, whose first phase expires in 2012, for
some grand agreement. We can’t afford to spend years
bickering about it. We need to start acting now.”
He said that delegates in Bali should take action
immediately by public financing for demonstration projects
on new technologies like “carbon capture,” a “promising
but not proved” system that pumps emissions underground
instead of releasing them into the sky. He said the energy
ministers should start a global fund to help poor countries
avoid deforestation, which causes emissions to increase
because growing plants absorb carbon in the atmosphere.
Although the scientific data is not new, this was the first
time it had been looked at together in its entirety, leading
the scientists to new emphasis and more sweeping
“And the new science is saying: ‘You thought it was bad?
No it’s worse.’ ”
The IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, an engineer and
economist from India, acknowledged the new trajectory.
“If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late,” Pachauri
said. “What we do in the next two to three years will
determine our future.”