/ 2 November 2006

Creeping greenhouse gases alarm UN experts

Alarmed by the results of a new study, United Nations experts on climate change are urging the world’s industrialised nations to introduce further cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The industrial world’s emissions of greenhouse gases are growing again, they said in a report released by the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this week.

The report, Greenhouse Gas Data 2006, shows that despite efforts to cap carbon-dioxide emissions, greenhouse-gas emissions in many countries of the industrialised world continued to grow from 2000 to 2004.

Overall emissions had dropped by 3,3% in the 1990 to 2004 period, which, according to researchers, was mainly owing to a 36,8% decrease in Eastern and central European countries.

Within the same period, the greenhouse-gas emissions of the other industrialised countries that have signed the Framework Convention increased by 11%.

Describing this trend as ”worrying”, the UN’s chief climate official, Yvo de Boer, said that after achieving dramatic cuts in their emissions in the 1990s, Eastern and central European countries saw their emissions begin to rise again — by 4,1% — between 2000 and 2004.

”This means that industrialised countries will have to intensify their efforts to implement strong policies which reduce greenhouse[-gas] emissions,” he added in a statement. De Boer said reductions are urgently needed in the transport sector, where emissions grew by 23,9% from 1990 to 2004.

According to the study, the emissions in industrialised countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol were an average of 15,3% below 1990 levels in 2004, mainly due to sharp cuts by the Russian Federation of 32%.

The Kyoto agreement currently requires 35 industrialised countries and the European Community to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.

The United States, which continues to be the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, is not a party to the Kyoto treaty. Those who have signed the treaty are obligated to start taking action on their commitments by 2008.

Stressing the need for ”additional mitigation measures”, De Boer said he hopes that industrialised countries can meet their commitments by using market-based ”flexibility mechanisms”.

”The challenge is well understood,” he added. ”The Kyoto Protocol is now firmly in place and is guiding industrialised countries in identifying and implementing policy options, including the flexibility mechanisms, to meet their targets.”

One option, according to him, is the use of the clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialised countries to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries and thereby generate tradable emission credits.

”We are looking forward to emission trading between all countries with targets under the Kyoto Protocol,” said De Boer, urging the need for ”significant investment” in clean-energy technology.

Currently, more than 370 CDM projects have been registered, with a total estimated emissions-reduction potential of more than 600-million tonnes, according to UN officials, who said about 900 additional projects are in the pipeline.

De Boer said in the European Union countries, the use of emission trading ”is growing in importance”.

Global warming

Coinciding with the UN report on Monday, another major study on climate change was released in Britain. The study warns that lack of action on global warming could bring disastrous consequences for the world’s economy and its population.

Funded by the British government and authored by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank chief economist, the 700-page report titled The Economics of Climate Change calls for enhanced efforts on the part of the rich countries to combat global warming.

”Whilst there is much more we need to understand — both in science and economics — we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risk, the timetable for action and how to act effectively,” Stern said in a statement.

Spelling out the risks related to global warming, the study says that floods from rising sea levels could displace 100-million people, and cause the extinction of 40% of animal species.

It also warns that climate change could cost the global economy almost $7-trillion by 2050 — equal to a 20% fall in growth — if no action is taken on greenhouse-gas emissions.

According to Stern’s calculations, timely efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product.

Following the study’s release, the British government suggested that it is ready to play a leading role in the international efforts to deal with the threat of global warming. ”The world cannot afford to wait,” said British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a statement, emphasising the need for action on climate change beyond Kyoto.

”We can’t wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto,” he added. ”We simply don’t have the time. We accept we have to go further.”

Backing Blair’s call, former US vice president and environmental activist Al Gore agreed to work for the British government as an adviser on climate change policy.

However, the US government has indicated no change in its current policy on global warming, which is driven by the notion that the science on climate change requires further research.

Meanwhile, delegates from 190 countries will meet in Nairobi, Kenya, next Monday to take part in negotiations aimed at pushing forward the international agenda on climate change. — IPS