Global warming strategy 'failing to save planet'

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The Independent Online
THE Earth Summit strategy for fighting man-made global warming is doomed to failure without further drastic action, a United Nations scientific report to be published this autumn will warn.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which groups 400 climate scientists from around the world, says that under this strategy levels of climate- changing 'greenhouse gases' in the air will continue increasing for several centuries. Today the panel's scientists meet in Geneva to put the finishing touches to their report, a draft copy of which has been seen by the Independent.

The alteration of the atmosphere, already well under way, is forecast to shift the Earth's heat balance, causing temperature rises, changes in rainfall and soil moisture content, and a worldwide rise in sea levels in the next century. More than a billion people could be affected as the Earth's population increases.

At the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit two years ago, presidents and prime ministers from more than 100 nations signed a climate protection treaty which committed rich, developed countries to stabilise their emissions of greenhouse gases at the 1990 level by 2000. The developing world, where emissions are rapidly rising, gave no such undertaking.

Yet even if all countries stabilised their emissions, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) - the chief culprit - would rise for some five centuries before stabilising at more than double today's level of 355 parts per million, the report warns.

IPCC scientists say it is necessary to cut emissions by 60 per cent to stabilise the climate, but they are bound to rise for at least the next two decades. As developing countries industrialise they will increase their burning of fossil fuels, which produce most of the man-made CO2 .

The only hope is for developed countries to promise to curb emissions into the next century. Poorer nations might then accept some ceiling on their emissions.

The Third World argues that it is entitled to increase its global warming pollution because rich countries produce far more emissons and rising consumption of fossil fuels seems unavoidable if living standards are to be raised.

Western politicians consider industry, commerce and electorates unwilling to stomach changes, such as the higher fuel prices needed to reduce the developed world's CO2 output. It took two years of difficult negotiations for rich nations to agree on even stabilising emissions by 2000.

These issues come to a head in Berlin next March at the first meeting of countries which have signed and ratified the Rio treaty. They have the chance to review progress and to amend and strengthen the treaty. The IPCC report, the latest in a series, was written to update the ministers and civil servants who will negotiate at this conference.

They may opt to put off difficult decisions by keeping the global warming threat under review for several years. Oil exporting nations, right- wing economists and energy industry lobbyists argue that climate change may be slight and gradual, and that it would be more cost-effective to adapt to these changes rather than preventing them happening in the first place.

But environmental groups say the time has come to give teeth to an ineffectual treaty in order to avoid catastrophe.