Mitigating Measures: The Worst May Be Avoidable

The worst consequences of climate change can still be avoided -- if humanity acts quickly. The IPCC has determined that doing so would cost just 0.1 percent of world GDP. But the rise in CO2 emissions would have to stop by 2015.

The costs are not the problem -- time is. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is calling for a strict timetable to prevent the worst consequences of global warming. The IPCC issued its report "Mitigation of Climate Change" on Friday in Bangkok. The goal set by the climate experts is as follows: CO2 emissions need to be reduced by between 50 and 85 percent by 2050. That would require global CO2 emissions to begin sinking in 2015. If that's achieved, the extent of global warming can probably be limited to an average temperature increase of between one and two degrees Celsius (1.8 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. The costs would amount to 0.12 percent of the world's total GDP -- a small percentage but an enormous sum. But IPCC argues that investing in mitigation will pays off.

The first two parts of the IPCC's report show that the human contribution to global warming has become very difficult to disprove. Virtually no one doubts the reality of a man-made greenhouse effect any more. The first part of the IPCC report, issued in Paris in February, summarized the scientific foundations of climate research. The second part, published in Brussels before Easter, described the consequences of climate change -- some of which can be observed already.

Preventing the worst

The third part of the report details current knowledge about how the worst consequences can be prevented. The researchers distinguish between short-term (up until 2030) and long-term mitigating measures. The most immediate measures outlined in the report call for the use of biofuels and renewable energy sources, as well as greater energy efficiency.

In an interview with the German news agency DPA, Flensburg-based climate expert Olav Hohmeyer summarized the message of the third part of the report: "First, we don't have much time left to act. The target values for emissions reduction need to be more ambitious. Second, we have all the technologies we need in order to handle the problem in a sustainable way. Third, we have to act and must not wait another 10 years. Fourth, the possibilites for action are worth the price."

The delegates had to work through a total of 140 pages and almost 1,000 suggested changes and additions during the past week in order to produce the final version of their document. The politically important "Summary for Policymakers" is 35 pages long.

Political influence

China openly made strong efforts to influence some of the key statements. Their efforts, though, were unsuccessful or only partly successful, according to statements by delegation members who left the negotiations on Friday morning.

Still, Hohmeyer is not entirely pleased with the final version of the report's third part. In his view, the lack of sustainable solutions proposed -- such as nuclear energy or pumping CO2 into underground deposits -- has not been sufficiently taken into account.

Countries such as the United States or France view nuclear energy as a climate-friendly alternative. But the problematic environmental record of nuclear technology has left many researchers skeptical. On Thursday of this week, Germany's Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan of the Christian Democrat Party (CDU), said during a climate conference in Hamburg that nuclear technology could be a provisional resort until sufficient renewable technologies and energy efficiency have been achieved.

Schaven believes Germany should become a model country for climate protection. "We need a boost now," she says. The minister has renewed her commitment to make €255 million ($346 million) available for research on climate change during the next three years. Schavan also wants to present a national high-tech strategy for climate protection by mid-October.

Following Friday's publication of the third part of the IPCC report, the complete and final document will be issued in Valencia, Spain in November. The documents produced in 2007 constitute the fourth report issued by the IPCC to date. It will be the basis for negotiations on further policy measures after the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Those negotiations will begin in Bali at the end of this year.

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