Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Challenge of Building Consensus beyond the Scientific Community

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Challenge of Building Consensus beyond the Scientific Community

Article excerpt

The imminence and severity of problems posed by the accelerating changes in the global climate are becoming increasingly evident. Heatwaves are increasing in severity, droughts and downpours are becoming more intense, the Greenland ice sheet is shrinking, sea levels are rising and the increasing acidification of the oceans is threatening to disrupt the marine food chain.

The window of opportunity for keeping atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases within an acceptable range is closing, while the costs of mitigation and adaptation are rising relentlessly. At the same time, there is also an increasing convergence of science, economics, technology and finance to guide joint international action to address climate change. A sustainable energy future is clearly both possible and affordable, but increased political will and greater collaboration between developed and developing countries are required. These steps must be built on a foundation of public understanding and support.

Scientists worldwide have spoken conclusively. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), jointly established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is one of the most sweeping and successful scientific collaborations in history. Its fourth assessment of climate change science could not be any clearer: human activities are altering the atmosphere, and the planet is warming. Unless we act now, with a great sense of urgency, there is significant risk that the Earth's environmental systems will cross a tipping point, beyond which costly and disruptive impacts all over the world will be inevitable.

According to IPCC, if current emission patterns are not altered, global temperatures are expected to rise an additional 1.8[degrees] to 4[degrees] Celsius. Such warming would prove extremely harmful, if not catastrophic, for our environment, economy and society, and would disproportionately affect the world's poor, whose livelihoods are most closely tied to agriculture and other natural resources.

Climate change is certainly the greatest environmental challenge facing humanity and may also be the greatest economic and political challenge. Forging global consensus on cooperative strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change is a formidable challenge. But the world's scientific community has spoken unambiguously. If we fail to act with urgency and forthrightness, global climate change will have dangerous effects on the world economy and security. It is now time to hear from the world's policymakers, particularly on the issue of energy.

We need to change the way we produce, use and conserve energy. We have the technology to do it. Transforming the global energy economy to harness new technologies can be the engine that drives a new era of international economic development. The benefits of seizing this enormous opportunity would be significant for all countries, especially for the poorest in the world, many of which have lacked the modern energy services they need to compete in today's economy. Making better use of available energy and increasing the use of clean, renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and biofuels, are the future. By developing those opportunities, we will create new economic growth and start to heal the planet. The scientific research society Sigma Xi cogently outlined such a road map in a 2007 report to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, titled Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable.

While all nations must help to avoid catastrophic climate change, those that have contributed most to the problem have special responsibilities. The United States, which is responsible for almost 25 per cent of global emissions, will have an influence on how the world's energy future transforms. But, to date, despite its ratification of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States Government has rejected the Convention's implementing agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and has blocked further progress on international climate negotiations. …

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