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At a special United Nations summit on climate change September 22,
world leaders acknowledged both the quickening pace of global warming
and the world community's slow response to it. In December,
international negotiators will meet in Copenhagen to decide on a new
U.N. treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change agreement
that expires in 2012. In advance
of that meeting, the United Nations Environment Program [UNEP] has released a new science report that underscores the
urgency of the situation and the need for governments to act.
UNEP report presents scientific evidence that has emerged since the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its last report in
2007. The "Climate Change Science
Compendium" affirms that climate change is accelerating faster than
previous estimates. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says evidence of human-generated warming is "unequivocal" and "just in
time for us to appreciate how the magnitude of change, the scale of
change and the pace of change are in fact occurring."
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some 400 peer-reviewed studies from scientific journals and research
institutes are woven into the report's chapters on earth systems,
ecosystems, ice, oceans and climate management. The data show that
global carbon emissions - which rose 1.1 percent from 1990 to 1999 -
climbed 3.5 percent from 2000-2007.
sea-level rise and ocean acidification will become complex problems,
Steiner says, in a world whose population is expected to grow to nine
billion people by 2050. "And herein lies another vital message in the
report," he says. "When we talk about management, essentially we need
to take the science that we now have at our disposal and think about
how we are going to manage in response to these developments."
UNEP report reflects the growing concern among scientists that warming
temperatures above two degrees Celsius could trigger increasingly rapid
climate change. The report says sea levels could rise by up to two
meters by 2100, and rise at five to ten times that rate over following
centuries. Other likely scenarios include dramatic changes to the
Indian sub-continent's monsoon, the West African and Saharan monsoons
and climate systems affecting critical ecosystems like the Amazon
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Steiner says these scientific predictions are
legitimate cause for public alarm. "If the glaciers in the Himalayas
really do melt over the next 30 or 40 years to the extent that is now
projected, it means hundreds of millions of people having to adapt to
an entirely new hydrological cycle."
But, Steiner believes the
world community has the scientific knowledge and the technical know-how
to develop strategies to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate
change. He says in the last year China has advanced "the largest green
[stimulus] package in the world." He cites Brazil's energy networks
as "the cleanest of any country on this planet." And he says Germany
"has managed to go from 2 percent renewable energy in less than 15
years to 15 percent."
The head of the U.N.'s Environment
Program says immediate and decisive action is needed to cut industrial
carbon emissions and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.
Achim Steiner says an informed public must push government leaders to
do what makes sense for the planet.