Global warming point of no return

LONDON – Global warming is approaching the critical point of no return, after which widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea-levels would be irreversible, an international climate change task force warned Monday.

The report, ‘Meeting the Climate Challenge,’ called on the G-8 leading industrial nations to cut carbon emissions, double their research spending on green technology and work with India and China to build on the Kyoto Protocol.

‘An ecological time-bomb is ticking away,’ said Stephen Byers, who co-chaired the task force with U.S. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, and is a close confidant of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. ‘World leaders need to recognize that climate change is the single most important long term issue that the planet faces.’

The independent report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, the Center for American Progress in the United States and The Australia Institute, is timed to coincide with Blair’s commitment to advance international climate change policy during Britain’s G-8 presidency.

Byers said it was vital Blair secured U.S. cooperation in tackling climate change. U.S. President George W. Bush has rejected the Kyoto accord, arguing that the carbon emission cuts it demands would damage the U.S. economy.

‘What we have got to do then is get the Americans as part of the G-8 to engage in international concerted effort to tackle global warming,’ said Byers. ‘If they refuse to do that then other countries will be reluctant to take any steps.’

According to the report, urgent action is needed to stop the global average temperature rising by 2 degrees Celsius above the level in 1750 -the approximate start of the Industrial Revolution when mankind first started significantly polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Beyond a 2 degrees rise, ‘the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly’ the report said, adding there would be a risk of ‘abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change.’

It warned of ‘climatic tipping points’ such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.

No accurate temperature readings were available for 1750, the report said, but since 1860, global average temperature had risen by 0.8 percent to 15 degrees Celsius.

The two degrees rise could be avoided by keeping the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm). Current concentrations of 379 ppm ‘are likely to rise above 400 ppm in coming decades and could rise far higher under a business-as-usual scenario,’ the report warned.

The task force urges all G-8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and to shift agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels.

The report recommends wider international use of emission trading schemes which are already in use in the European Union, under which unused carbon dioxide quotas are sold. The profit motive is expected to drive investment in new technology to cut emissions further.

The task force of senior politicians, scientists and business figures was established in March 2004. Its chief scientific adviser is Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The British government welcomed the report, which mirrors many of the suggestions already floated by Blair in the build up to Britain’s G-8 presidency.

Blair has acknowledged the importance of U.S. cooperation, but conceded Washington is unlikely to sign up to Kyoto. Instead he is pursuing international commitment to developing new environmentally friendly technology.

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