Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Global warming debate over, time to act now

Global warming debate over, time to act now: report
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Declaring the global warming debate over, an international team of scientists urged the world's nations on Tuesday to act now to keep climate change from becoming a catastrophe.

The international community needs to take stronger steps to cut the pace of global warming, adapt to the climate changes that have already taken place and ensure development can be sustained throughout the process, the scientists said in a report released at the United Nations.

"We make the argument that it is essential that we get started now: not next year, not next decade, but now," said John Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University and member of the scientific panel that crafted the report.

This report is a logical next step after the February 2 release of a much-heralded document by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris, which stated that global warming is real and human activities caused much of it over the past half-century.

The earlier report was prohibited from making policy recommendations; the current one, funded by the non-profit U.N. Foundation and Sigma Xi scientific society, centers on just such recommendations.

And while the recommendations are global, certain specific items are sure to affect the United States, Holdren said in a telephone interview before the report's formal release.

For example, scientists said no country should build any traditional coal-burning power plants -- big emitters of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide -- unless they are designed to be able to capture and bury the carbon dioxide they emit.

The United States, which emits about 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide, relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.


One recommendation urges improved energy efficiency for vehicles, homes, commercial buildings and in industry, to save money, cut dependence on oil and reduces the balance of payments to pay for oil imports.

Biofuels, such as the ethanol advocated by the Bush administration, should increasingly replace oil in transport, the report said.

In the tropics, the international community should aim to slow and eventually reverse deforestation, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, Holdren said.

Global investment in advanced energy technology should be tripled or quadrupled, the report said. This and the other recommendations are aimed at cutting global warming but also providing economic opportunity and new jobs, he said.

The report stressed the reality of the global warming problem now, and noted the inadequate response to the stronger storms, worse droughts and heat waves and more severe wildfires that are a consequence of higher world temperatures.

"We need to make greater investment in the capacity of the world to deal with those sorts of extreme events, not only because climate is changing, making those events ever more frequent, but because the suffering already associated with our inadequate responses to those needs to be corrected," Holdren said.

The scientists considered nuclear power as a carbon-free option, but said this energy source must address the problem of disposal of radioactive waste and break the link between nuclear technology and weapons proliferation.

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late on Monday she hoped to see a "substantial package" of global warming legislation by June 1.