COP6 Climate Negotiations: SGR Statement

SGR Statement, 15 July 2001
 

Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) [1] believes that human activity is having a measurable and negative impact on the climate system. SGR urges all members of the COP 6 climate negotiations to recognise this and work towards ratifying a Kyoto Protocol not weakened by loopholes.

Scientific evidence is accumulating that humanity's use of fossil fuels is adding to atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases (CO2 especially) causing detectable global warming and hence changing the global climate[2,3]. The evidence shows that CO2 levels have increased by over 30% since the industrial revolution and these levels are now at the highest they have been for the past 420,000 years and quite possibly for the past 20 million years[4], whilst global temperatures have increased by 0.6°C over the last century. Projections for the next century show that human activities are likely to cause a temperature change of between two and ten times this size.

The effects of this change are likely to be very damaging. It is probable that there will be more severe weather events such as storms, floods and droughts. People living in coastal areas (which is a large fraction of the population) will be particularly vulnerable. Some diseases will extend their range, whilst natural ecosystems will also suffer.

Best scientific estimates suggest that most of the warming seen over the past fifty years is due to human activities[5]. However, uncertainty still remains. Predictions of future climate behaviour can only ever be statistical estimates based on mathematical models and past events, so there are no unambiguous assurances. Our greenhouse gas emissions have in effect been a gigantic climatic experiment over the last century - and because we cannot know the consequences of this, whatever we do now is a gamble.

There is an agreed way to deal with such a gamble; the Precautionary Principle, which in part says "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation"[6]

There are clear threats of serious and irreversible damage[7] and there is no full scientific certainty, so the Precautionary Principle is clearly applicable.

The US Government has rejected the main international agreement for dealing with this problem: The Kyoto Protocol. George Bush has said "...I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers" and "first things first, are the people who live in America. That's my priority."[8] This from the head of a country which is by a large margin[9] the biggest emitter of CO2, at 24% of the total world output with less than 5% the global population[10]. SGR unreservedly condemns this short-sighted and selfish attitude of protecting business interests above all else held by the current United States Government.

The US Government's attitude is discouraging ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by some other countries, so hindering the start of measures that may prove to be very necessary, if not simply overdue. This protectiveness of the US towards its economy stems in part from its inability to see the commercial opportunities Kyoto can bring. These may be found as 'no regrets' opportunities[11], but far more significant in the long term is the enormous potential market for alternative energy sources e.g. wind and solar. The converse of this potential profit is the cost of not adapting, incurred as the damage that climate change may inflict[12], lost goodwill leading to lost sales and outright boycotts, and loss of market share in the exponentially growing segment of green energy.

Numerous US companies leading opposition against managing or mitigating climate change have put forward schemes which are supposed to permit 'business as usual' i.e. no cuts in polluting emissions. These can inevitably be traced back to economic concerns, usually of those same companies, for whom short-term profit is of more importance than global climate stability and the possibly great risk to human health and life. An even simpler ploy is to deny or rubbish the science[13] behind the predictions.

SGR believes that the scientific findings from the IPCC[14] that have been presented to COP 6 are the result of the best scientific practice currently available and should be accepted as the basis for strong action.

SGR further believes that the most effective way of managing climate change is to cut the emissions that are causing it. Large-scale reliance on new forest growth to soak up CO2 is a risky strategy due to the possibility that the forests could start to die due to, e.g., climate change. All other proposals based on ideas of climate- or geo-engineering such as CO2 disposal at sea, reflecting away extra sunlight etc. have questionable scientific merit and will at best defer the problem to future generations, at worst may exacerbate it greatly.

SGR therefore urges all parties to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and further to place the emphasis for action on cuts in polluting emissions and to reject outright any clumsy and hubristic alternative propositions of 'global technofixing'.

Two SGR delegates will attend the conference; SGR's chairman Stuart Parkinson, and Ben Matthews.

Scientists for Global Responsibility recognises that many citizens of the US do not share their current government's irresponsible attitude towards the environment.

Abbreviations used in references:

WG1 - 'Summary for Policymakers: A Report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change', available at http://www.ipcc.ch/spm22-01.pdf

WG2 - 'Summary for Policymakers: Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability', available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/wg2SPMfinal.pdf

WG3 - 'Summary For Policymakers: Climate Change 2001: Mitigation', available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/wg3spm.pdf

Notes:

[1] Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent UK organisation of scientists committed to the ethical use of science and technology. SGR, PO Box 473, Folkestone, CT20 1GS, UK. Tel 07771 883696. Email: info@sgr.org.uk

[2] WG1

[3] Weather refers to day-to-day, week-to-week localised atmospheric changes; climate refers to the atmospheric trends over the long term (years, centuries, millennia), typically over larger areas such as entire countries.

[4] WG1

[5] WG1

[6] United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janeiro 1992), Agenda 21 Principle 15, available at http://www.igc.apc.org/habitat/agenda21/index.html

[7] WG2

[8] Both from http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/03/20010329.html

[9] China is second with 14% of global emissions (also 1997 figures) for a population of 1.25 billion (estimated July 2000 figures); approximately 20% of world population.

[10] From http://www.prb.org/pubs/wpds2001/sheet1.html, mid 2001 figures, World = 6,137 million, USA = 284.5 million. However, the CO2 percentages cited are 1997 figures taken from http://cop6.unfccc.int/pdf/presskc6e2.pdf

[11] WG3. A 'No Regrets opportunity' is essentially a measure that pays for itself even before factoring in any possible benefits it may bring from long-term climate improvement.

[12] WG2, section 3.7, Insurance and Other Financial Services

[13] WG2

[14] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an advisory body to the United Nations Environment Programme