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Sunday, November 18, 2007

United Nations says act now or expect worsening impact or warming

Top climate experts say global warming effects already being seen; US and China urged to lead

Peter Gorrie
Environment Reporter, The

Without urgent, aggressive steps to stop greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will cause devastating heat waves, floods, starvation and disease, says a report written by the world's top climate scientists and endorsed by 140 nations yesterday.

Environment Minister John Baird immediately welcomed the document, from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Canada, like the rest of the world, needs to take immediate action," he said in a written statement.

But critics said the minister and the rest of the Conservative government still pay lip service to the problem while promoting a plan that would make it worse.

"The government is acting to protect industry and its shareholders instead of the planet and future generations," said John Bennett, of Ottawa-based ClimateforChange.

Impacts have already begun, declares a 23-page summary of thousands of pages of scientific evidence.

Without action, human activity could lead to "abrupt and irreversible changes" that make Earth unrecognizable.

As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, while residents of Asia's megacities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding.

The new report is the fourth and final statement this year from the panel – the roughly 2,000 scientists who assess research on the rapid increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.

It draws conclusions from the previous three documents and sets the stage for next month's UN conference in Bali, Indonesia, where governments are supposed to resolve how to set targets for emission cuts after 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends.

Climate change imperils "the most precious treasures of our planet," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in Valencia, Spain, where, in five days of often-tense negotiations, governments haggled over the summary's wording.

Ban urged the United States and China – the two biggest greenhouse gas sources – to do more.

Panel reports, issued every five years for the past two decades, tend to be conservative.

This one, though, is stark and urgent.

"If there's no action before 2012, that's too late," said Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economist who heads the IPCC.

"What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.''

Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official, said what's new is the clarity of the scientific message, adding that, while the report isn't binding, "The politicians have no excuse not to act."

"The timing of this report couldn't be better," Baird said in his statement.

"Canada has been a leader in bringing the world together... and we will continue that work in Bali."

But critics said his plan – which rejects absolute emission caps – would let Canada's greenhouse emissions grow with the economy.

The panel says emissions must fall at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent catastrophic impacts. Canada's target is a 20 per cent cut below 2006 levels by 2020 – which if achieved would still leave us slightly above our 1990 total.

But many say the Conservatives' proposals aren't capable of hitting even that weak target.

"The government is not acting on the science," said Matthew Bramley, of the Pembina Institute.

"They're trumpeting bogus targets as if they're meaningful," said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

"I'd believe John Baird if he came out with a plan that includes things like a carbon tax and a moratorium on growth in (Alberta's) tar sands."

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