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Britain's Blair Urges Action on Global Warming

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the issue of global warming must be addressed by world leaders, despite the fact there continues to be fierce debate about the scope of the problem. 

Mr. Blair told the forum there is no debate that glaciers are now in retreat, something he says has not happened in 12,000 years.  The British leader said the industrialized nations, that account for well over half of global output and half of carbon dioxide emissions, must do more to protect the environment.

At a session on risks to the world economy Thursday Harvard University environmental professor John Holdren identified global warming as a dangerous and intractable problem.

"Because the principal cause is the combustion of fossil fuels, which is responsible for something approaching 80 percent of the world's primary energy supply," he noted.  "And, of course, I do not need to explain to anybody in this room that energy is the lifeblood of our economies.  It is an indispensable ingredient of material prosperity.  It is essential to fuel economic growth.  And so we have this tremendous tension between the essential economic role of energy and its dominant role in driving the principal and most dangerous economic problem of our time."

Professor Holdren said global climate change is a reality and that the speed of warming is even more pronounced than scientists thought only three years ago.

"The Greenland ice sheet is melting much more rapidly than had been understood in 2001," he added.  "The total amount of ice in the Greenland ice sheet, if it all melted, is enough to raise the sea level six to seven meters.  It would probably take 350 years for that process of melting to be complete.  But seven meters in 350 years is one meter every 50 years, two meters in a century.  The 2001 best estimate of sea level rise in the 21st century was half a meter."

Mr. Holdren said rising sea levels could ultimately threaten coastal cities like London, New York, and Washington.  Samuel DiPiazza, the chief executive of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global accounting and consulting firm, agrees with much of Mr. Holdren's science, but says the problem is too distant to motivate timely action.

"I think John's probable frustration is the fact that it is there, it is fairly scientifically certain," he explained.  "But it is a 350-year event and people are saying I will do that next year.  So we do not see from a business perspective people backing away from the coasts by a half a kilometer because they are afraid the sea level is going to rise by a meter.  We do not see that."

British Prime Minister Blair said that while the climate change issue is contentious and divisive, it must be debated.  He promised to place the issue high on the agenda of the industrial nation summit he will host in Scotland in July.

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