Climate summary fuels worry

With the pending release of a new global-warming report, environmentalists, politicians, and scientists wrangle in Spain for consensus.

As a major part of the United Nations' effort to study climate change and to do something about it, thousands of scientists have produced thousands of pages documenting the details and causes of global warming.

In Valencia, Spain, this week, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is trying to boil that information down to a 25-page document – a synthesis to guide government policymakers around the world. As the Associated Press reported:

"Everyone will feel its effects, [said Yvo de Boer, director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] but global warming will hit the poorest countries hardest and will 'threaten the very survival' of some people, he said. 'Failing to recognize the urgency of this message and act on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible' and a direct attack on the world's poorest people, de Boer said."

Much is at stake, including the future of national economies and migration patterns of humans and other species.

Not surprisingly, a lot of wrangling is going on in Valencia as nations push to emphasize their point of view and concerns. Agence France-Presse reported:

"Much of the discussion ... was related to sections relating to national sensitivity, sources said. Peru and Switzerland, for example, were fighting for a specific mention about the impacts of melting glaciers. The United States, meanwhile, questioned a reference that implied that powerful tropical storms would increase this century."

Environmentalists are worried that in the attempt to find consensus, country representatives will weaken the impact of the IPCC's earlier reports, which state with certainty that global warming is happening in large part due to human activities. Associated Press wrote:

"Without naming them, the WWF [World Wildlife Fund] accused governments of 'politically inspired trimming' of facts from the summaries, which it said diluted the urgency to make deep cuts in emissions."

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said UN panel scientists were determined to "adhere to standards of quality" in the final report to be issued this year. continued:

"The comment was an indirect barb at the political delegations, which environmentalists have accused of ... excluding vital information from the summaries of earlier reports.... The WWF claims that the report will also not contain worrying evidence published in the past year that the Southern Ocean has started to take up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, accelerating the pace of global warming."

Scientists are caught in the middle. "A real challenge has been to ensure that the assessments are objective and not influenced by government agendas," Martin Parry, co-chair of one of IPCC's working groups told the BBC.

John Christy, an IPCC author, who is skeptical of the more alarmist predictions about global warming, says:

"Scientists are mere mortals…. Our cousins in the ... weather prediction business learned this ... because they were held accountable for their predictions every day. Answering the question about how much warming has occurred because of increases in greenhouse gases and what we may expect in the future still holds enormous uncertainty.

There's keen interest in, and increasing urgency regarding this IPCC synthesis. The International Energy Agency reported that global energy demand is likely to grow 55 percent by 2030. The Guardian noted:

"In its annual World Energy Outlook, the energy group said world needs will rise to 17.7 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in 2030, from 11.4 billion in 2005 .... As oil prices surge to flirt with the $100 a barrel mark, the IEA also warned that price could soar to $159 in 2030 due to higher-than-expected growth."

Meanwhile, according to the UN climate-change secretariat, combined greenhouse-gas emissions from industrialized nations have declined only a smidgen since 1990.

It's an indication of how hard it will be to meet current goals, let alone more ambitious reductions now called for in the years beyond 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

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