Friday, 13 March 2009

Fate of the rainforest is 'irreversible'

A third of the Amazonian 'carbon sink' is doomed whether or not emissions are cut, Copenhagen conference is told
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Thursday, 12 March 2009

The impact of climate change on the Amazon rainforest could be much worse than previously predicted, new research suggests.
Even if emissions were reduced and governments managed to limit temperature rises to 2C – the current aim of international climate policy – between 20 and 40 per cent of the forest could die because of warming, a British scientist told a conference on climate change in Copenhagen yesterday.
Dr Chris Jones, of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, said the Amazon may become "committed" to substantial change by rising temperatures long before any such change is apparent elsewhere.

The effect would be caused by the inertia of the Amazon's ecosystem – a phenomenon by which changes take a long time to work through the system to their fullest. This is already known to occur in the oceans, which is why sea level rise is expected to continue for centuries after any stabilisation of global warming.
The discovery that ecosystems can also be committed to large-scale changes means the danger to the natural world from the warming atmosphere may have been underestimated.
A 40 per cent loss of the Amazon rainforest, as well as being a disaster for wildlife and the people of the region, would make climate change worse because it would damage the region's ability to act as a carbon "sink", soaking up the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
The loss would be in addition to the losses presently caused by deforestation.
Dr Jones said: "Ecosystems do exhibit significant commitment to further change even after you've stabilised the climate. The Amazon forest will be committed to large-scale loss long before any is observable in the real world, so some kind of monitoring system to detect the first signs of Amazon dieback might actually be too late. We need to understand the processes responsible before that."
The computer model used to forecast forest losses showed that commitment to change came in at a temperature rise of about 1 C above the level existing before the industrial revolution in the 18th century.
Currently, global temperatures are about 0.75C above the pre-industrial level. However, scientists believe that large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted in recent years have caused further warming of about 0.6C – meaning that the world is likely to warm at least 1.3C, even if all carbon emissions were stopped immediately.
Asked if this meant Amazon dieback had already started, Dr Jones responded that it probably had. At 1.3C, the commitment to change is not great, but by C it rapidly leaps up to 20 and then 40 per cent loss of forest. At 3C – where the computer simulation shows no dieback might yet be visible – the commitment is a 70 per cent loss of the forest.
Dr Jones said these changes could be reversible only over very long time scales – perhaps hundreds of years. "On any kind of pragmatic time scale, I think we should see loss of the Amazon forest as irreversible," he added.
Despite the long-term term threat of Amazon forest dieback, Vicky Pope, the Hadley Centre's head of climate advice, said it was still important to try to continue to stop deforestation because it was leading to as much emissions being pumped into the atmosphere as the world's transport sector.

IBM Dives Into Water Venture

Touting 'Smarter Planet,' Big Blue Pushes Technology to Manage Resources

International Business Machines Corp. is embarking on a new business venture in which it will help manage water resources, an attempt by the technology giant to further expand its footprint outside traditional computer services.
The new business, which is part of IBM's Big Green Innovations initiative to find markets in carbon management, alternative energy and water management, will design and install systems of sensors and back-end software to monitor water pipes, reservoirs, rivers and harbors, according to Sharon Nunes, who heads the Big Green venture.
IBM has been touting its ability to help create a "smarter planet" by designing systems to monitor physical world activities such as electricity flows and traffic patterns. "There's a lot of stress on water systems around the world. With a limited supply, you'd better be able to manage it," said Ms. Nunes. She estimates that information technology for water management could become a $20 billion market.
Ms. Nunes said stimulus spending in the U.S. and China is likely to help build the market for water management. She estimated that in the U.S. between $15 billion and $20 billion of the new stimulus package is aimed at water projects.

But analysts are divided on whether there is actually a big business for IBM to capture. Stephen Stokes, an analyst at AMR Research of Boston, said he thinks the effort will be lucrative in areas like electrical grid monitoring, but pointed out that with water, "no matter how much metering you do, you can't stop the rain. Many vagaries are outside their control."
Michael LoCasio, of Boston technology research firm Lux Research, who also was briefed on the plans, said there are lots of ways computers could help monitor water, such as installing so-called smart meters to limit lawn-watering to night-time hours, or using sensors to detect leaks in pipes.
Ms. Nunes noted that water management is a big element of a €70 million ($90 million) project IBM announced last month to install smart meters and control water usage for Ennemalta Corp. and Water Services Corp., the utilities on the water-short island of Malta. IBM is also working with researchers in Ireland to monitor water quality in Galway Bay.
In a related development, IBM researchers said they have created a new desalination-membrane technology that goes beyond current systems and removes arsenic and boron salts from contaminated ground water, making it safe for humans. Desalination membranes filter out salts, allowing clean water to pass through.
Robert Allen, a chemist at IBM's Almaden, Calif., lab said that his team found a way to put a polymer designed for immersive lithography -- a technique for making semiconductors -- into membranes that reject the toxic salts. He said arsenic contamination is a problem in some water supplies in Texas, Turkey, Bangladesh and China. IBM expects to license the technology rather than make desalination plants itself.
Write to William M. Bulkeley at

Replace Kyoto protocol with global carbon tax, says Yale economist

The Kyoto protocol is reckless gamble that penalises participating countries, Copenhagen climate change congress told

Oliver Tickell, Thursday 12 March 2009

The world should dump the "inefficient and ineffective" Kyoto protocol and replace it with a global carbon tax, leading economist William Nordhaus said yesterday.
"To bet the world's climate system on the Kyoto approach is a reckless gamble", he told the climate change congress in Copenhagen. "Taxation is a proven instrument. Taxes may be unpopular, but they work. The Kyoto model is largely untested and the experience we have tells us it will not meet our objective — to stablise the world climate system."
This week's meeting of more than 2,000 scientists and policy-makers is intended to lay the groundwork for a major UN summit in Copenhagen in December that hopes to negotiate a new climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto protocol.
Nordhaus, professor of economics at Yale university, critricised the Kyoto system in trenchant terms. "The developed countries that have emissions reductions targets account for only half of the world's carbon emissions. Our models show that a 50% non-participation results in a 250% increase in the cost to those who are participating, and this is a huge penalty we can no longer afford."
He also attacked the Kyoto protocol's clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialised countries that are not meeting their Kyoto targets to comply by 'buying in' carbon credits from projects in developing countries. "The CDM produces highly opaque instruments which are the climate equivalent of mortgage-backed securities and structured credit derivatives," he said.
He proposed that a carbon tax, levied on fossil fuels and transport, would be simple and effective. "It would create a reliable carbon price which would create the incentive we need to shift towards a low-carbon economy. Initially a carbon tax would affect producers, but as the price signal was passed through the economy it would drive the transformation to low-carbon technologies and efficient use of energy at every level."
Nordhaus insisted that his tax plan was achievable. "Many countries are very scared of signing up to emissions reductions commitents under the Kyoto protocol because they don't know if they can achieve them and are concerned as to the consequences if they don't. My suggestion is that they should be allowed, as an alternative to emissions targets, to commit to imposing a carbon tax at a minimum level. As a small country I would find this carbon tax model very attractive."
Cambridge economist Professor Michael Grubb agreed that "there is no doubt that governments will respond far better to climate change if they believe that there will be a substantial carbon tax in the future that everyone will have to pay". Jacqueline McGlade, director of the European Environment Agency, based in Copenhagen, also backed Nordhaus's plan. "His idea is very sensible. We need to move the burden of taxation away from labour to resources — and tax not just on carbon but other resources such as water to tackle the far wider environmental and resource problems we face."
Dan Kammen, professor of economics at Berkeley, said the world needs more than a carbon tax to tackle climate change.. "A uniform carbon tax may be very nice in theory, but we are not going to make climate policy on theory alone. Any carbon tax would need to be supplemented by policy, legislation, regulation and efficiency standards."
For example, Kammen said, huge investment is needed to rebuild electricity grids to accommodate a higher proportion of renewables and a carbon price could not achieve that in the necessary time frame. "How many of us would have a cellphone if we had to pay for 20 years of minutes upfront? We need financing to enable people to build clean energy into their homes on terms which makes it available to owners, landlords, renters and low-income groups."

Exchange and trader seek gains on carbon volatility

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: March 12 2009 23:36

Turmoil in the carbon markets threw up two contrasting sets of company results on Thursday, one from trading exchange business Climate Exchange, the other from EcoSecurities, a carbon trader.
Turnover at EcoSecurities, which invests in projects that generate carbon credits under the Kyoto protocol, rose almost tenfold from €7.2m to €69.5m (£64.4m) in the year to December 31. This helped narrow the pre-tax loss from €43.3m to €31.2m.

Prices for carbon credits have dropped sharply in recent months, from a high of nearly €20 last year to about €7-€8 at present.
The credits, awarded to carbon-cutting projects in developing countries, trade at a discount to carbon permits under the European Union’s emissions trading scheme, which have plunged from a peak of about €30 last summer to about €12. The falls are a result of the global slowdown, which has reduced greenhouse gas output and thus the need for companies to buy permits.
The falls devalue the amount EcoSecurities can expect to be paid for some of its portfolio of credits, but it has reduced the risk by contracting forward sales of about 34m of its credits, out of a portfolio of 140m.
Bruce Usher, who is due to step down as chief executive, said EcoSecurities’s pipeline of credit-generating projects was slowed by the uncertainty over the future of the Kyoto protocol, whose current provisions expire in 2012. A new chief executive has not yet been appointed.
Climate Exchange, by contrast, is buoyed by volatility in the market, as it operates an exchange where the permits are traded.
“When prices go up or down we get big volumes,” said Neil Eckert, chief executive. However, he did not “expect to see an end to price volatility, or stabilisation or stagnation of the carbon price”.
Turnover at Climate Exchange rose 65 per cent from £13.8m to £22.8m in the year to December 31, as volumes more than doubled. The pre-tax loss narrowed from £8.3m to £2.5m.
Mr Eckert said the outlook was brightened by the announcement by President Obama that he would seek to implement a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, similar to that of the EU, before 2012. Mr Eckert said this would treble the carbon market in size. Climate Exchange operates two US subsidiaries.
Shares in EcoSecurities rose 1½p to 19p. Climate Exchange added 5½p to 815p.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Renewable energy firms hit by solar subsidies freeze

Government accused of undermining its own environment strategy as money sits idle in low carbon buildings programme budget

Terry Macalister, Thursday 12 March 2009

Renewable energy companies have accused the government of undermining its own "green" industrial strategy by ending subsidies for solar energy under the low carbon buildings programme (LCBP).
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) said it was "astonishing" and worrying that solar grants had been frozen since 26 February although there was still money in the building programme's budget.
"This latest disaster in the low carbon buildings programme is completely at odds with the green new deal we hear so much about," said Philip Wolfe, the director general of the REA.
"We are talking about relatively small sums to support UK manufacturing, technological innovation and local jobs. This is an industry with a very bright future and a key contributor to the low-carbon future we are aiming for," he added.
Last December an extra £7m was allocated to fund solar projects under the LCBP to tide it over until the programme closed but this cash was used up by the end of last month.
The REA claims a further £12m-£15m still remains in the wider programme budget and predicts that £8m of that will remain unspent by the end of the programme at the current rate of take-up. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said the programme will not be extended and any funds left over will be sent back to the Treasury, according to Wolfe.
The government department, which only days ago launched a new green industrial strategy with great ministerial fanfare, denied last night that any definite decision had been made about the cash that was still available inside the LCBP budget.
"We recognise that the popularity of the low carbon buildings programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications," said a spokesperson. "We are discussing with industry what options are open to us to address this. From 1 April people who install small-scale energy equipment like solar panels or wind turbines will be able to claim double the financial support through the renewables obligation and from April next year we will introduce a new system of guaranteed cash payments."
The REA said it had warned the DECC of the funding gap in early February.
"The end of the LCBP will leave many REA members in limbo with no funding as the recession bites. It is imperative that the tariffs are implemented as soon as possible and that the renewable electricity and heat tariffs are introduced together by 2010 at the latest. Otherwise the industry is looking at a serious funding gap and contraction as some firms are unable to stay afloat," it added.

U.S. cities adopt a European approach to solar power

By Kate Galbraith
Published: March 13, 2009

Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright, white blades of windmills are a frequent sight in the skies above Spain.
If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financial technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.
Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy. In Germany, for example, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system might get paid four times more to produce electricity than the rate paid to a coal-fired power plant.
This month, Gainesville, Florida, became the first U.S. city to introduce higher payments for solar power, which is otherwise too expensive for many families or businesses to install. City leaders unanimously approved the policy after studying Germany's solar-power expansion.
Hawaii, where high electricity prices have stirred special interest in alternative forms of power like solar, hopes to have a similar policy in place before the end of the year. The mayor of Los Angeles wants to introduce higher payments for solar power. The California state government is also considering a stronger policy, and bills have also been introduced in other states, including Washington and Oregon.

"I'm seeing it with my own eyes: It's really having a good effect on our local economy, particularly in these hard times," said Ed Regan, the assistant general manager for strategic planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities. He said he received calls from other cities and states since announcing the policy.
The surge of interest in the payment system is a recognition that despite generous state and federal incentives, the United States still lags far behind Europe in solar power. Germany, where higher payments for renewable power (sometimes called "feed-in tariffs") have been in place since 1991, has about five times as many photovoltaic panels installed as the United States, although they still account for only 0.5 percent of electricity in that country.
In the United States, said Wilson Rickerson, a Boston-based energy consultant, "a lot of people simultaneously reached the conclusion — who's moving fastest internationally? And that's definitely been Germany and Spain."
The policy affords a different way of paying for solar power systems.
If the United States were to fully switch over to such a payment system on a national scale, something that even solar advocates say is unlikely, the burden of subsidizing solar power would switch away from taxpayers, who fund a national tax credit, to electricity ratepayers.
In Gainesville, the new policy has already sparked a rush to put up panels. John Stanton, a retired civil servant living with his wife in Gainesville, put 24 solar panels on his roof in late January, as city leaders sped the policy toward approval. Gainesville's municipal utility now pays Stanton and other homeowners and businesses who generate solar power more than twice the standard electricity rate, and guarantees that rate for 20 years.
"It was the thing that sort of put us over the top," said Stanton, who gained an appreciation of European energy policies after living in Italy for more than a decade.
Wind power and other sources of renewable energy are generally included in the European payment systems, but solar — as one of the costliest renewables — has benefited the most. Payment rates for wind are substantially lower than for solar, according to Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association.
In the United States, solar panels remain almost prohibitively expensive — a big reason why they account for far less than 1 percent of electricity generation. Generating power from the sun can cost several times as much as from coal, the largest and cheapest source of electricity in the United States.
If the utility commits to paying a higher rate for solar power over a period of years, it can offer those with solar panels or wind turbines a steady return — a particularly appealing prospect amid the economic turmoil.
"If you put your money in, you know you're going to get it back," Rickerson said.
From the utility's perspective, since it does not own the system, it avoids the cost and hassle of maintaining the panels.
But paying more for solar power also has a direct impact on ratepayers. Homeowners' electricity bills will rise 74 cents a month in the case of Gainesville, or about half a percentage point of the average homeowner's monthly bill.
"Seventy cents, what's that? A Coke?" said Regan of the Gainesville utility.
Opponents like Marcel Hawiger, a staff attorney for the Utility Reform Network in California, say that the policy, by raising electricity rates, would hit the poor the hardest, because a relatively high percentage of their income goes to utility bills.
"Why should we use regressive taxation to support the most expensive form of renewable energy?" Hawiger asked.
The programs have sometimes proved so popular that costs can spiral out of control. Last fall, blockbuster solar growth forced Spain to cap the amount of solar installations it would subsidize because it was paying too much. Ontario, which has had a feed-in tariff since 2006, also suspended its program last year after being oversubscribed, but wants to restart the policy.
Even in Gainesville, homeowners wanting to put solar panels on their roof are now out of luck — the city reached its cap on solar payments for this year and next only a few days after introducing the policy.
Julie Blunden, a vice president of SunPower, a manufacturer of solar-power systems for homes and businesses, said he feared that caps like those in Gainesville and Spain could lead to a boom-and-bust cycle for solar. Payment policies must be well designed, she said. By itself, the payment system "does not define guaranteed success, nor is it a panacea."
France — which is behind Spain and Germany in solar installations — recently announced that it was raising the amount it would pay out for renewable energy.
Details of the policy vary substantially from country to country, but the amount of the payments is usually structured to decline over time, reflecting the notion that solar panels should become gradually cheaper as companies make more of them. In Gainesville, a homeowner installing a solar array in 2016 will get about a third less than a homeowner whose system starts producing power this year.
While Gainesville is the first city in the United States to make such payments, a handful of utilities around the country are already carrying out similar programs voluntarily, albeit on a tiny scale.
"In our part of the hemisphere, solar power is so expensive. Without incentives, a lot of people wouldn't participate in the program," said Steve Kraus, media relations manager for Madison Gas Electric in Madison, Wisconsin, whose solar payment plan covers just 60 producers. The program is paid for by ratepayers who voluntarily pay more through the utility's "green power" program.
A national feed-in tariff has a few advocates like U.S. Representative Jay Inslee, Democrat of Washington, but it is unlikely to pass, even the solar industry concedes. Indeed, the industry's next planned fight is for a national "renewable portfolio standard," requiring the country to get a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources.
"I just don't think it's politically possible in the U.S.," said Mike Splinter, chief executive of Applied Materials, a solar and semiconductor manufacturer, of a feed-in tariff. "Getting a national renewable portfolio standard is going to be difficult enough."
James Kanter contributed reporting.

Global warming has reached a 'defining moment,' Prince Charles warns

The Prince of Wales has warned that nations are "at a defining moment in the world's history" over climate change.

By Andrew Alderson in Rio de JaneiroLast Updated: 8:13AM GMT 13 Mar 2009

He delivered his most impassioned and urgent plea yet on the need for the world to unite to tackle global warming.
In a keynote speech in Brazil, the heir to the throne delivered a stark warning that if nations fail to tackle deforestation and other problems over the next eight years then irreversible harm will be done to the environment.

Prince Charles told 200 business leaders in Rio de Janeiro that the world has “less than 100 months” to save the planet.
"As the world's economy heads further into recession, it would be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture; to commit the sin, as we say in England and if you will pardon the terrible pun, of 'not seeing the wood for the trees'. For we are, I fear, at a defining moment in the world's history.
"We are facing a series of challenges so immense that we can, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling they are all too forbidding to confront."
In his speech, Prince Charles quoted Chico Mendes, the great Brazilian environmentalist, who said we are all "fighting for humanity."
The Prince said that he and his wife were about to visit the Galapagos Islands. "That place, in particular, reminds me of the urgent need to find ways simultaneously to pursue economic benefits while at the same time protecting the balance of nature that in the end is the security for all economic activity.
"This is, I believe, the central challenge of the 21st century, and one that your great country is showing such commendable leadership in meeting."
He warned the need for action was urgent. "The best projections tell us that we have less than 100 months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change."
The Prince said there is not necessarily a clash between the interests of big business and the environment. He argued that being green can be good for businesses and create jobs.
He ended his speech by saying: "For, in making progress here (in Brazil), you are providing immense and invaluable contributions to humanity as a whole. Therefore I can only pray with all my heart that the international collaborations you are engaged with in protecting your forests, and in promoting sustainable development meet with unqualified success.
"If we can redouble our efforts to unite the world in meeting perhaps its greatest and most critical challenge, then we may yet be able to prevail and thereby to avoid bequeathing a poisoned chalice to our children and grandchildren. But we only have 100 months to act."
The Prince's speech was timely coming only a day after scientists at the Met Office warned that climate change could kill the Amazon rainforest even if deforestation and emissions are curbed.
A climate change summit in Copenhagen was told that even small rises in temperature could destroy large swathes of the jungle. Changing rainfall patterns already under way could leave up to three quarters of the forest dry and withered by the middle of the next century.
On Saturday, the Prince will travel deep into the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, where he will meet local communities and political leaders.
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are on a ten-day, three-country official tour of South America. They have already visited Chile and, after Brazil, they will fly on to Ecuador.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) wants to make more use of Prince Charles’s experience, expertise and contacts to promote Britain’s interests abroad, particularly helping to combat climate change.
Some Government officials believes that he had been an under-used “asset” in the past and that he should be “deployed” more in a role of “soft diplomacy”.
The FCO is convinced that the Prince’s passion to protect the environment is greatly respected abroad and that, as he inevitable moves closer to becoming king, he can play an increasingly important role for Britain on the foreign stage.

Six ways to save the world: scientists compile list of climate change clinchers

Scientists at this week's conference in Copenhagen summarise findings for policy makers to discuss at UN summit in December, Thursday 12 March 2009

Scientists at the international congress in Copenhagen have prepared a summary statement of their findings for policy makers. This was handed today to the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in December he will formally hand this statement over to officials and heads of state at the conference. The full conclusions from the 2,500 scientific delegates from 80 countries that have attended the three-day meeting this week will be published in full in June 2009. The congress was conceived as an update of the science of global warming ahead of the UN summit in December. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in 2007 is now three to four years out of date.
The scientists' six key messages are:
1) Climatic trends
Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario projections (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
2) Social disruption
The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on "dangerous climate change". Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for countries to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.
3) Long-term strategy
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid "dangerous climate change" regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.
4) Equity dimensions
Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.
5) Inaction is inexcusable
There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches — economic, technological, behavioural, management — to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.
6) Meeting the challenge
To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

World leaders told to act on climate before it's too late

The Times
March 13, 2009

Recent observations of climatic trends showed that the worst-case trajectories highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 were being followed or exceeded on a range of measurements

Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter, in Copenhagen

The world is on the brink of dangerous climate change and immediate action is needed to avert it, scientists said yesterday, issuing one of the bleakest assessments yet of the state of the planet.
A strongly worded communiqué marking the end of a specially convened conference in Copenhagen concluded that climate change and its impacts match or exceed the worst fears expressed by the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change two years ago.
The statement, issued on behalf of 2,500 scientists from 80 countries, will be passed to world leaders in the coming months. Their summary of what global warming is doing to the planet warned policymakers: “There is no excuse for inaction.”

The demands and alerts contained in the statement were described as a defining moment in scientists’ relations with political leaders, represening a shift away from their traditional role of merely offering advice to telling politicians to act.
Professor Katherine Richardson, of the University of Copenhagen, who organised the conference, said: “We need the politicians to realise what a risk they are taking on behalf of their constituents, the world and, even more importantly, future generations.
“All of the signals from the Earth system and the climate system show us that we are on a path that will have enormous and unacceptable consequences.”
Findings from this week’s conference, designed to identify changes in scientific understanding of climate change, will be presented to world leaders and policymakers who will converge on the Danish capital in December to try to agree an international deal on bringing greenhouse gas emissions under control.
Recent observations of climatic trends, the new statement said, showed that the worst-case trajectories highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 were being followed or exceeded on a range of measurements.
“There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts,” it said.
Scientists called for rapid, sustained and effective mitigation programmes to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
They were particularly concerned that any significant delay in reducing emissions would lead to a range of tipping points being reached that would make it significantly more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas levels.
There was also a warning for politicians involved in negotiations over targets designed to reduce emissions. It was an implicit rebuff to Silvio Berlusconi and other European leaders who attempted last year to reduce the EU commitment to cutting emissions.
Despite the gloom, the scientists said that the tools to beat climate change already existed and if vigorously and widely implemented they would enable governments to bring about low-carbon economies across the world.

Nicholas Stern: politicians have no idea of the impact of climate change

The Times
March 13, 2009
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter

Politicians had yet to grasp how devastating climate change would be to society in this century, a leading economist said yesterday.
Wars, famines, floods and hurricanes would wreak havoc unless greenhouse gas emissions were controlled, Professor Nicholas Stern told scientists at the conference.
Another speaker warned that Britain could expect severe droughts and that much of southern Europe would be turned into semi-desert, capable of supporting only a fraction of its current population.
Lord Stern, who wrote the highly influential Stern report, which in 2006 alerted the world to the financial costs of climate change, said that not only was the threat underplayed by politicians but that they did not even understand the extent of the problem.

“Do the politicians understand just how difficult it could be, just how devastating four, five, six degrees centigrade would be? I think, not yet,” he said.
It was beholden on scientists to tell politicians and the public “very clearly and strongly” how severe the risks were. Only by ramming home the message in every country would world leaders appreciate the urgency of the problem. “We have to tell people, you have to tell people, very clearly and strongly just how difficult four, five, six, seven degrees centigrade are because we face very severe risks of going there,” he said.
He predicted that a four or five- degree rise over the next 100 years would result in collapses in crop yields, rivers drying and perhaps billions of people being forced to leave their homes.
“What would be the implication of that?” he asked. “Extended social conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades. This is the kind of implication that follows from temperature increases of that magnitude.”
His theme was expanded upon by Rachel Warren, of the University of East Anglia and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who predicted that from 2050 to 2100 there would be more than 30 droughts in England and Wales, all lasting more than a year.
Despite the bleak forecasts, Lord Stern remained optimistic that world leaders could reach a deal on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases when they met in Copenhagen in December. “We can get there. I’m more optimistic than I was two years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. We all know it’s going to be tough, but we can get there,” he said.
He was confident that politicians were beginning to head “in the right direction”, despite their failure to appreciate fully the difficulties posed by global warming.
He admitted that the Stern review, which said that the financial cost of climate change could reach 20 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of the century, had underestimated the problem.
“I think that the damages were underestimated by the Stern review and the costs of inaction were even bigger than we argued then,” he said, noting that scientific understanding of greenhouse-gas emission rates and the Earth’s ability to absorb them had advanced.
“The temperatures that could now arise from these greenhouse gases, some of them have higher probabilities than we might have thought.”
He estimated that the costs to society of climate change were now likely to be as much as 50 per cent higher than his 2006 calculation.