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Climate Panel Recommends Global Temperature Ceiling, Carbon Tax

A panel of scientists has presented the United Nations a detailed plan for combating climate change. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports the strategy involves reaching a global agreement on a temperature ceiling.

A group of 18 scientists from 11 countries is calling on the international community to act quickly to prevent catastrophic climate change.

In a report requested by the United Nations and partially paid for by the privately funded U.N. Foundation, the panel warns that any delay could lead to a dangerous rise in sea levels, increasingly turbulent weather, droughts and disease.

The report was issued three weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global warming is real and caused in large part by human activity. But unlike the IPCC report, this latest document makes policy recommendations.

Panel member John Holdren of Harvard University says the world must be mobilized immediately to avoid catastrophe. "Climate change is real, it's already happening, it's already causing harm, it's accelerating and we need to do something about it, and we need to do something about it seriously, starting now. Our specific conclusions are that if the world were to go past the point of an increase above pre-industrial temperatures greater than 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius, we would be in a regime where the danger of intolerable and unmanageable impacts on well-being would rise very rapidly," he said.

The panel's recommendations include a series of steps to cut the rate at which temperatures are rising. Chief among them are a global agreement on an acceptable ceiling for temperature rise and finding ways of adapting to cope with the damage already done.

Holdren, however, says even these measure will achieve very little unless they are accompanied by a global tax on greenhouse gas emissions. "We don't think ultimately society will get it right in terms of the full range and scope of activities needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, until there is an additional incentive in the form of a price on greenhouse gas emissions, either through a carbon tax or a cap and trade approach," he said.

The United States is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, but is not a party to the cap and trade system contained in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration has set a target of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent by 2012, and is spending $3 billion a year on climate change research.

Peter Raven, the head of the Sigma Xi Scientific society and co-author of the latest report, says success in limiting the effects of global warming will require private sector leadership, and a combined effort by the U.S. and the international community. "The private sector is doing a very good job, and kind of leadership we're calling for from the United Nations and international organizations and the kind of leadership the United States is moving towards will both be key ingredients in that," he said.

A U.N. spokesman says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is considering calling a summit meeting on climate change later this year. Environmental activists are calling on Mr. Ban to play a leading role in the process of negotiating a successor to the Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012.