The United States. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are part of the so-called "Carbon Club" of oil nations who want no action
(IPS) ROME -- The earth's climate is changing and
"human activity" -- primarily the use of oil and fossil fuels --
is to blame, according to the Second Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Unsurprisingly this verdict is being resisted by big oil and coal interests as the IPPC met in Rome last week to strengthen existing agreements on the reduction of so-called "greenhouse gases."
Opposition is led by delegates from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United States. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are part of the so-called "Carbon Club" of oil nations who want no action to curb greenhouse gas emissions until there is full scientific proof that they are to blame. But NGOs say the IPCC report provides that proof.
"In 1895 the Swedish physicist Arrhenius first calculated the role that carbon dioxide plays in warming the atmosphere," said Bill Hare, climate policy director for Greenpeace.
"Now, 100 years later the world's most authoritative scientific body on climate change has concluded that the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."
"Human lives are at risk while forests and small islands may face extinction"
was set up in 1988 as an independent body by the U.N.
and the World Meteorological Organization to establish guidelines
on climate change and its first Assessment Report in 1990 led to
the U.N. Framework Agreement on Climate Change signed in 1992.
More than 2,500 climate change experts contributed to the second report now under discussion. The text was finalized at an earlier meeting of experts in Madrid. Hare said that delegates had worked for three days on the wording that would be acceptable to the oil- producing nations.
He said the key phrase was that "the balance of the evidence suggests an appreciable human influence on global climate." Some scientists had preferred a stronger version -- a "significant" human influence -- but had softened the wording to pacify Saudi and Kuwaiti representatives.
Hare says there was a close relationship between some oil countries and U.S. lobbyists but adds that in general governments had "not made less fuss than expected."
"Human lives are at risk while forests and small islands may face extinction unless we reduce emissions of carbon dioxide," says Hare. The new report warns that unless the emission of global- warming gases is reduced the world will face serious threats to human health, economies and ecosystems.
It says global warming of around one degree fahrenheit has been detected due at least in part to human-caused pollution. The scientists point to an improvement of predictive models and say evidence is too great to be denied.
Apart from the rise in temperature, this includes a dramatic warming at the Earth's poles (up 2 degrees centigrade), the break up of some of the Antarctic ice sheets, the shrinking of glaciers worldwide, record breaking heat waves killing people and livestock on four continents in 1995, the longest "El Nino" tropical weather system ever recorded, and increased tropical storm activity with 15 major hurricanes in the Atlantic, more than ever before.
This year is expected to be the hottest year ever recorded based on average global temperature.
Similar warnings were issued recently by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute which identified major trends including a rise in global temperature, growth in population and less stable economic and weather climates.
It says that a temperature rise equivalent to 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit made 1994 the fifth warmest year on record. The 10 warmest years have all been recorded since 1980.
Global warming would have continued unabated through the 1990s, according to the report, but for the 1991 eruption of the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo volcano which threw a thin layer of sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere.
Now the effects are abating and the warming trend is expected to continue. Ecological instability was reflected in a reduction of ocean fisheries, shrinking forests and a falling water table.
If the Antarctic ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would raise the level of the seas by an estimated 74 meters. Satellite images show part of the ice pack disintegrating on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Since 1959, CO2 emissions have risen almost 14 per cent.
Jan. 14 and Feb. 27 1995, an ice shelf that normally
traverses the Prince Gustav Channel broke up and the northern part
of the Larsen Ice Shelf also disintegrated. Further south a chunk
of ice the size of the state of Rhode Island broke off the Larsen
David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge says this is just the beginning. Temperatures have increased over the whole continent of Antarctica on average about one degree Celsius (C) in the past half-century, but on the Peninsula they have risen about 2.5 degrees C since record keeping began in the 1950s. He says the change could be caused by global warming but it is not possible to be sure.
The Worldwatch report says warming is mainly driven by emissions of greenhouse gases among which CO2 tops the list, ahead of other such as which includes NOx, VOCs, methane and CFCs. Fossil fuel burning industries, homes and vehicles are contributing nearly six billion tons of CO2 emissions annually.
Since 1959, when records on CO2 emissions began, the concentration has risen from 316 parts-per-million (ppm) to 359 ppm, an increase of almost 14 per cent.
The problem is getting worse. World oil production rose by one per cent in 1994 while the use of natural gas, seen as producing lower CO2 emissions, has dropped after 11 years of growth. Coal production has stabilized after declining since 1989.
The U.S. and some other industrialized countries admit that they will not be able to achieve the goal adopted at the 1992 Rio climate conference to cut CO2 and other emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000.
However Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland say they can reduce emissions below 1990 levels by 2000, and Germany claims it will have an 11 per cent drop by 2000.
Italy's Environment Minister Paolo Baratta made a special reference, when addressing the conference here this week, to the responsibility of developing regions such as India, China and the Asian Pacific area for the future.
But China exemplifies the dilemma facing many developing countries. By early next century, China will be the world's largest single producer of CO2 and is likely to come under heavy pressure to curb its dependence on its own cheap coal reserves. Yet coal is vital to China's industrial development.
On the other hand, if the oceans were to rise just one meter as a result of global warming China's coastal plain will be flooded forcing out 67 million people and destroying industrial centers such as Shanghai and Guangzhou.
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