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World has 15-year window to curb emissions, experts say
Toronto Globe and Mail


May 03, 2007

A panel of scientists organized by the United Nations says the world probably has only 15 years left to stabilize the growth in greenhouse-gas emissions and, at that point, will have to cut releases in half by 2050 to avoid extremely damaging warming of the planet.

The conclusion, contained in a draft summary of a report from the group of scientists known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says big cuts in emissions could be achieved through such steps as imposing carbon taxes, improving automobile efficiency and using renewable fuels.




The draft summary is circulating among environmentalists and was obtained by the Toronto Globe and Mail.

It says fighting climate change won't cost more than 3 percent of the world's economic output, or about $2 trillion. However, it also says many actions to reduce emissions would actually save money, such as switching to efficient lights - a step recently announced by Canada - because the reduced electricity bills more than offset the cost of the new bulbs.

"There is a significant economic potential for the mitigation of greenhouse-gas emissions from all sectors over coming decades, sufficient to offset growth of global emissions or to reduce emissions below current levels," it said.

The final version of the summary is being released Friday in Bangkok, Thailand, where scientists and officials from governments around the world are spending the week conducting a line-by-line review of the findings before making them public.

Even though global warming is usually assumed to be a problem of such great complexity it has no solutions, the 24-page draft presents evidence, mostly based on economic models, showing that huge cuts in greenhouse gases are possible at costs of less than $100 a ton of emission reduction. It found the biggest reductions were to be had by improving the efficiency of buildings and implementing better agricultural practices.

The U.S. government has been trying to water down some sections of the summary, according to excerpts from its policy paper on the draft released by U.S. environmentalists. The final document could be subject to revisions if the United States and other countries objecting to its contents get their way.

The report, on the cost of mitigating climate change, is the third in a series by the panel of scientists. The first, on the science behind global warming, said in February that the evidence for human-caused warming is now "unequivocal." The second, released last month and focusing on the impacts of climate change, warned of a dire future of droughts, mass animal extinctions and killer heat waves if humans fail to deal with climate change.

The draft summary of the new report says that if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gases, annual emissions from human activity would likely rise 25 percent to 90 percent by 2030, on top of the rise of 70 percent that occurred between 1970 and 2004.

It says two-thirds to three-quarters of the increase is projected to come from developing countries, such as India and China, although their emissions per person will remain substantially lower than in advanced countries.

The latest report amounts to a blueprint for how the world could reduce emissions blamed for global warming, and also switch to less-polluting energy sources. But it also includes a discussion of futuristic schemes, such as placing mirrors in space to shade Earth and keep it from overheating.

The draft concludes that these science-fiction-like solutions to global warming "remain largely speculative" and could have unknown side effects. It focuses instead on steps that are less glamorous but more likely to yield fruit, such as improving the efficiency of refrigerators, urging better building standards and analyzing the impact of carbon taxes.


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