The final IPCC report has set forth what many touted to be the ‘world's first roadmap’ for tackling global warming.
Contrary to sceptics that combating climate change is too costly, the report argued that the world currently has the technology and money to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 445 parts per million by 2015 - eight years from now - to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees celsius over preindustrial levels.
In particular, the report estimated that meditative efforts to limit global warming to 2.0-2.4 degrees Celsius – generally recognised by experts as the threshold at which some of the most extreme impacts of climate change will begin – would cost less than 0.12 per cent off the world's economic growth in the years 2030 and 2050.
To put things in perspective, current global economic growth has averaged at almost 3 percent every year since 2000. The Stern Review on the economic impact of climate change, released last year, has calculated that damages from unabated climate change might eventually cost the global economy between 5 and 20 percent of GDP every year.
Elsewhere, the 1,000-page study by a UN network of 2,000 scientists also urged countries to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and vehicles, shift from fossil fuels to renewable, and reform both the forestry and farming sectors. Individuals are also called to make lifestyle changes. According to Mr Ogunlade Davidson, a co-chair of the IPCC working group. 'You can achieve a low greenhouse gas emission lifestyle and still get the same economic benefits.'
Countries on the whole – especially the top ranking countries for carbon emissions – appear to have reconciled their differences over the report. The United States was pleased the report 'highlights the importance of a portfolio of clean energy technologies consistent with our approach,' said the head of the US delegation, Harlan Watson.
China, along with India and other rapidly developing countries, had earlier attempted to raise the lowest target level of CO2 in the world's atmosphere over fears it would hinder their roaring economies, delegates said. But despite their resistance, the countries ended up compromising on all the major issues, said Michel Petit, a French delegate.
Yet, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, raised concerns about reaching the lowest emission targets proposed in the report. 'That would, of course, cause a global recession. So that is something we'd probably want to avoid,' he said. 'Our goal is reducing emissions and growing the economy.'
Mr Zhou Dadi, co-author of the report and a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top planning agency, denied China had 'opposed' the key findings. It was only working to improve the text, he said. 'The Chinese government was constructive and was contributing to making the report reflect the science,' Zhou said. 'We are not threatened by the report.'
Zhou further argued that the world's rich countries must be prepared to share energy-saving technologies, such as cleaner power stations, with poorer nations if a bid to curb global warming is to work. 'It is something the developing countries have been asking for many years, but up till now it has not happened,' he said. 'If advances in technology can be deployed more widely, then it will really help all the world.'
In the context of China, Zhou added that the challenge for the world's most populous nation, which obtains around 70 per cent of its energy from coal, would be to find viable alternative sources of energy for its rapidly expanding economy, he said. Changes would not happen overnight, he said. 'If you want China to use less coal, you have to find alternatives they can use. If the alternative is oil, there will be another one billion barrels,' Zhou said. 'Is the international market prepared for that?'
Some developing countries felt left out of the discussions, especially given the report’s predictions that they will be hit worse by global warming. "Africais a victim of climate change. It is not contributing to CO2 emissions," said Younis Al-Fenadi, the lone delegate from Libya. "The final report should include promises of assistance to Africa, money for training, planning and education."
Elsewhere, Orvin Paige of the delegation from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, said he was frustrated the discussion thus far dwelled on technical issues."I would really like the discussions to turn to what can we expect, what are the real hazards, what are the implications," Paige said. "I hope we can hear about what assistance we get that would help us. This hurricane season is something we face every year from June to December."
Apart from country responses, environmental groups also hailed the report as historic. According to WWF’s European head of climate and energy, Stephan Singer, 'It has been shown for the first time that stopping climate pollution in a very ambitious way does not cost a fortune ... There is no excuse for any government to argue that it is going to cause their economy to collapse.' Greenpeace also praised the report, saying that ‘we now have very, very clear options on how to deal with climate change.’
On the issue of using nuclear energy as a renewable energy option however, environmental groups cautioned its use, saying that other renewable sources are not given proper emphasis. (7 May 2007)
Green groups praise UN climate report (AFP/Straits Times, 4 May 2007)
Delegates reach climate change deal, urge action or deep trouble (AP/Straits Times, 4 May 2007)
Int'l delegates reach agreement on climate change (AP/Straits Times, 4 May 2007)
China fails in bid to water down language on gas-emission cuts (Reuters/AP/Straits Times, 5 May 2007)
Climate panel calls for lifestyle changes (AFP/Straits Times, 5 May 2007)
Environmentalists push for renewable energy and efficiency at climate change conference (Antara, 5 May 2007)
'Climate report should offer assistance to address global warming' (Antara, 5 May 2007)