Monday, November 28, 2005

Climate change effects can be compared to ’weapons of mass destruction’ warns Lord May

The potential effects of climate change invite comparison with 'weapons of mass destruction', according to excerpts from a speech by Lord May that are released today (Monday 28 November) to coincide with the start of a major United Nations meeting in Montreal, Canada.

The comments are taken from the Royal Society's Annual Anniversary Address, to be delivered by Lord May on 30 November. It will be Lord May's last address to the Royal Society - the UK national academy of science - as President. He will draw attention to a meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, due to start in Montreal on 28 November.

Lord May will say: "We need countries [at the Montreal meeting] to initiate a study into the consequences of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at, below, or above twice pre-industrial levels, so that the international community can assess the potential costs of their actions or lack of them. Such an analysis could focus the minds of political leaders, currently worried more about the costs to them of acting now than they are by the consequences for the planet of acting too little, too late."

This reiterates a joint call for such a study made by the national science academies of the G8 nations, along with Brazil, China and India, in June 2005.

Lord May will also draw attention to, "the increasing incidence of 'extreme events' - floods, droughts, and hurricanes - the serious consequences of which are rising to levels which invite comparison with 'weapons of mass destruction'. In particular, recent studies, made before Katrina, suggest that increasing ocean surface temperature (the source of a hurricane's energy) will have little effect on the frequency of hurricanes, but strong effects on their severity. The estimated damage inflicted by Katrina is equivalent to 1.7% of US GDP this year, and it is conceivable that the Gulf Coast of the US could be effectively uninhabitable by the end of the century."

He will warn that, "...countries must recognise the need to sever the link between economic growth and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. No country, including the UK and US, has yet managed to achieve this, mainly because growth currently means increased use of energy generated from fossil fuels. Appropriately constructed economic instruments, such as a carbon tax, could help motivate a reappraisal of this perverse message."

Lord May will also say: "The UK already seems likely to miss its target for the Kyoto Protocol, because emissions have risen for the past two years, owing to the UK not getting to grips with the difficult questions of meeting demand for electricity and transport without burning more and more fossil fuels. By the same token, emissions of greenhouse gases by the US are currently 20% higher than in 1990, compared with the target assigned to it in Kyoto of a cut of 7%. President George W. Bush's failure to follow through on the commitments his father made on behalf of the US is underlined by his failure even to mention climate change, global warming or greenhouse gases in his 2,700-word speech when welcoming the new US Energy Act in August 2005, just weeks after signing the Gleneagles G8 communique.

"In short, we have here a classic example of the problem or paradox of co-operation (also known as the Prisoner's Dilemma or occasionally the Tragedy of the Commons) referred to at the outset: the science tells us clearly that we need to act now to reduce inputs of greenhouse gases; but unless all countries act (in equitable proportions), the virtuous will be economically disadvantaged whilst all suffer the consequences of the sinners' inaction."


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