Climate Change Juggernaut on the Horizon, UN Talks Told
POZNAN, Poland - War, hunger, poverty and sickness will stalk humanity if the world fails to tackle climate change, a 12-day UN conference on global warming heard on Monday.A volley of grim warnings sounded out at the start of the marathon talks, a step to a new worldwide treaty to reduce greenhouse gases and help countries exposed to the wrath of an altered climate.
"Humankind in its activity just reached the limits of the closed system of our planet Earth," said Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki, elected to chair the December 1-12 meeting in the city of Poznan.
"Further expansion in the same style will generate global threats of really great intensity -- huge droughts and floods, cyclones with increasingly more destructive power, pandemics of tropical disease, dramatic decline of biodiversity, increasing ocean levels," said Nowicki.
"All these can cause social and even armed conflict and migration of people at an unprecedented scale."
The forum of the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) comes halfway in a two-year process, launched in Bali, Indonesia, that aims at crafting a new pact in Copenhagen in December 2009.
Nowicki's warning was underscored by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides neutral scientific opinion on global warming and its impacts.
"The impacts of climate change, if there is inaction, can be extremely serious," he said.
"We have projected that the number of people living in severely stressed river basins will increase from 1.4 to 1.6 billion in 1995 to 4.3-6.9 billion in 2050. That's almost the majority of humanity.
"Roughly 20 to 30 percent species assessed will be at increasingly high risk of extinction as global temperatures exceed two to three degrees Centigrade (3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
"Abrupt and irreversible changes are possible, such as the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic icesheets," leading to a rise in sea levels measurable in metres, or many feet, he said.
"For Greenland, the temperature threshold for breakdown is estimated at about 1.1 to 3.8 degrees Celsius (2.0-6.8 F) above today's global average level. We're very close to that."
Progress under the so-called Bali Roadmap has been bogged down over demands for concessions and the sheer complexity of a deal.
Rich countries are historically to blame for most of today's warming.
They are lobbying for emerging giant countries, led by China and India, which will be be the big polluters of tomorrow, to do more to tackle their surging emissions.
Developing countries, meanwhile, want the West to help pay for them to expand their economies in a sustainable manner and stump up cash to help vulnerable countries cope with climate change.
Hopes for a breakthrough at Poznan have also been darkened by the global economic crisis.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prime minister of Denmark, which is tasked with steering the proposed treaty to a conclusion, urged countries not to be deterred and argued that investing in green technology created growth and jobs.
"I feel confident that the financial crisis will be overcome. The recovery will come. However climate change is not going to become less of a problem in the coming years," he said.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer warned, though, that the overall needs would be high.
Last week, the UNFCCC published estimates suggesting that, a couple of decades from now, hundreds of billions of dollars would have to be mustered each year, just to reduce emissions to a stable level.
"The reality is that raising financial resources on the scale required will be challenging," de Boer said.
Delegates in Poland will be examining an 82-page document containing a vast range of proposals for action beyond 2012, when emissions-curbing pledges under the Kyoto Protocol run out.
The hope is to condense this labyrinthine document into a workable blueprint for negotiations culminating in a deal in Copenhagen.
One spur for optimism is the change of president in the United States.
Barack Obama has vowed to sweep away George W. Bush's climate policies, which have caused the United States to be isolated in the world environmental arena since 2001.
Obama has set a goal of reducing US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050, using a cap-and-trade system and a 10-year programme worth 150 billion dollars in renewable energy.