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Scientists Await Recommendations of Global Climate Panel

Leading environmental experts who are meeting in Bangkok this week are hammering out details of a report on ways to fight climate change. Several leading US scientists say the report, to be released Friday, will be the most comprehensive assessment to date of research on the subject. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan has details.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 by the United Nations, and draws on the work of more than 2,000 specialists to advise governments. In two reports released this year, the panel's working groups said it is very likely that humans are to blame for most of the global warming of the last half-century, and that its result could be catastrophic. The panel outlined the expected impact of hotter weather, from rising ocean levels to shifting weather patterns.

The report to be released Friday will evaluate remedies for reducing greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, which are produced by burning fossil fuels and contribute of global warming.

Three US scientists briefed reporters by telephone on the process that their colleagues are conducting this week in Thailand, as members of the panel's working group debate their recommendations line by line.

Stephen Schneider of Stanford University was the coordinating lead author for one chapter of a panel report released in 2001, and was co-author on another report released last month. He says national interest can influence the evaluation process. He says oil-producing countries and those that want to use more coal may focus on the uncertainties in the science. Island nations, on the other hand, may overstate the threat of global warming, which has a direct impact on their economies.

"And usually, both sides pick out parts that are true, but are out of balance in the full range of the literature. And then it is up to the lead authors to make a decision," he explained.

He says the international panel must evaluate the quality of research and summarize the options for policymakers.

Those options could include a carbon tax and other incentives for the use of alternative fuels, as well as measures to boost the efficiency of fossil fuels like coal. He says coal-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions, but that simple changes could enable the plants to achieve up to half of their share in reductions sought by the Kyoto climate accords. He says the changes would require no new equipment, only more efficient operations and better maintenance.

Art Rosenfeld, a climate scientist and a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, says nuclear power remains an option, but that California is focusing instead on increased efficiency through energy-saving technology.

Possible results of climate change include intensified hurricanes, droughts and flooding. More severe scenarios foresee the extinction of some species, the melting of ice sheets and disappearance of some low-lying coastal regions. The working group of the climate panel will outline various options for slowing climate change. And the US scientists say that whatever the recommendations, the costs of mitigation are likely to be lower than the costs of global warming.