Adapt to climate change, world leaders warned

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World leaders need to think about adapting to climate change rather than focusing only on trying to fight it, a leading economist said today.

Frances Cairncross, who chairs the Economic and Social Research Council, dismissed the Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions as "largely ineffectual".

To a large extent, global warming was an inevitable reality the world was going to have to cope with, she told the BA Festival of Science in Norwich.

"Adaptation policies have had far less attention than mitigation, and that is a mistake," she said. ".. We need to think now about policies that prepare for a hotter, drier world, especially in poorer countries. That may involve, for instance, developing new crops, constructing flood defences, setting different building regulations, or banning building close to sea level."

Ms Cairncross was addressing the meeting at the University of East Anglia in her capacity as this year's president of the BA - the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

She pointed out that greenhouse emissions would have to be slashed by 60 per cent to stop levels of global warming gases increasing.

"That's simply not going to happen," she said.

All the known sources of renewable energy combined would only shave 2 per cent off the world's electricity generating requirement, she stressed.

Coal, on the other hand, accounted for 40 per cent of all the electricity generated.

"Even if our electricity from renewables rose tenfold we would still be generating half as much electricity from that source as we do from coal," she added.

India and China, together representing a third of humanity, had not signed up to Kyoto, said Ms Cairncross, who is Rector of Exeter College Oxford. And the United States chose to ignore it.

Some places in the world, such as the Siberian steppes, might actually benefit from global warming, she said.

She told the meeting: "There are two main ways we can respond to climate change: we can adapt, or we can try to slow the process. In practice, we will do both. But adaptation to climate change has had relatively little discussion."

To ensure successful environmental policies, the current generation would have to make sacrifices for its descendants, she said.