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Global warming fight is affordable, says new report

Aggressively cutting carbon emissions would cost only 3 percent of world economic growth between now and 2030, says a UN-sponsored study endorsed by 105 countries.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 4, 2007

Finally, good news about global warming: It's possible to virtually choke off emissions of greenhouse gases that scientists say are heating up the planet without also breaking the bank.

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That's the key message in a report released May 4 by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The 38-page document, summarizing a larger tome of more than 1,000 pages, focuses on ways to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, and on the economic effects that different approaches to cutting emissions could have.

Increased energy efficiency, wider use of renewable energy sources, shifts in land use and farming practices, and wider use of nuclear energy – among other measures – could substantially reduce the risk of feeling the worst effects of global warming outlined in two previous IPCC volumes released earlier this year.

To be sure, these mitigation efforts will come at a cost to economic growth. The biggest gains happen when the price of carbon hits $100 a ton, according to the authors, raising the cost of fossil fuels such as oil or coal. By some estimates, that would translate into US gasoline prices from $0.25 to $1 a gallon higher than today's.

But in the context of global economic activity, that cost is modest, according to the report. Under its most aggressive emissions-reduction scenario, still-robust economic growth rates would slow by an average of only 0.12 percent a year between now and 2030 – or by roughly 3 percent over the entire period.

This scenario would aim to hold the atmosphere's greenhouse-gas concentrations by year 2100 inside a range that would limit the long-term rise in global average temperatures to between 2 and 2.4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Higher temperature ranges would generally come at a lower economic cost, but also could raise the risk of incurring some of the more dramatic effects of climate change, such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and sea-level rise. If greenhouse-gas concentrations are allowed to double their pre-industrial-era levels by the end of this century, that most likely would lead to an average temperature increase of 3 degrees C. (5.4 degrees F.).

To keep temperature increases at a minimum countries must begin to crack down on emissions quickly, the report says. Delays would lead to countries building "more emission-intensive" factories, power plants, and other infrastructure around the world, it says.

The report comes against a backdrop of greenhouse-gas emissions – mostly carbon dioxide – that have risen some 70 percent over the past 35 years, and could rise by up to 90 percent by 2030, according to Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and one of the co-chairs for the group producing the new IPCC report.

The report lays out the potential to cut emissions in a wide variety of ways, including cleaner energy sources, tighter building standards, higher vehicle mileage standards, biofuels, and new farming techniques. These measures could substantially offset growth in carbon emissions "and even bring emissions below current levels," Dr. Metz says. "That is a significant potential."

The final wording in the IPCC summary resulted from a week of sometimes torturous talk in Bangkok among delegations from 105 countries.

From the White House's perspective, the results validate President Bush's reliance on new technologies to achieving his goal of reducing the country's carbon "intensity" by 18 percent by 2012. The Bush administration aims to limit the rate of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of growth in the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

Ways to reduce emissions

Key ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming included in a report issued May 4 by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

ENERGY: Conversion from coal to gas and renewable power sources including hydro, nuclear, solar, and wind. Technologies expected to be commercially available in the future include advanced tidal power and carbon sequestration, in which carbon dioxide is pumped underground.

TRANSPORT:More fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids and cleaner diesel vehicles. Development and more extensive use of rail and other public transport systems. In the future, more efficient aircraft and cars.

AGRICULTURE: Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage. Better rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce methane emissions. In the future, improvements of crops yields expected to be a key mitigating factor.

BUILDINGS AND INDUSTRY: More efficient lighting and electrical appliances, including heating and cooling devices. Improved insulation and active solar design for heating and cooling.

– The Associated Press