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France and US lead calls for urgent action on climate change

03 November, 2014

Reuters in Copenhagen

France and the United States led a chorus of alarm yesterday after a major UN report on climate change warned that the earth was on track for potentially disastrous global warming.

France, which is hosting a UN conference in December 2015 that is supposed to seal cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, said the report required “immediate, all-round mobilisation”.

“The message from this report is clear,” the foreign ministry and environment ministry said. “The 2015 Paris agreement has to provide a political response that is in line with the science.”

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the report was a fresh warning – “another canary in the coal mine”.

“Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids,” he said.

The report, published in Copenhagen, is the final chapter in an overview on global warming and its impacts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The 40-page synthesis, summing up 5,000 pages of work by 800 scientists, said global warming was now causing more heat extremes, downpours, acidifying the oceans and pushing up sea levels.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message. Leaders must act, time is not on our side,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in presenting the report, meant to guide global climate policymaking.

With fast action, climate change could be kept in check at manageable costs, he said, referring to a UN goal of limiting average temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Temperatures are already up 0.85 C.

The study, approved by more than 120 governments, will be the main handbook for negotiators of a UN deal to combat global warming due at next year’s Paris summit.

To get a good chance of staying below 2 degrees, the report’s scenarios show that world emissions would have to fall by between 40 and 70 per cent by 2050 from current levels and to “near zero or below in 2100”.

Below zero would require extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – for instance by planting forests that soak up carbon as they grow or by burying emissions from power plants that burn wood or other biomass.

To cut emissions, the report points to options including energy efficiency, renewable energies from wind to solar power, nuclear energy or coal-fired power plants where carbon dioxide is stripped from exhaust fumes and buried underground.

Without extra efforts to cut emissions, “warming by the end of the 21st century will bring high risks of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” the IPCC said.

“Irreversible” could mean, for instance, a runaway melt of Greenland’s vast ice sheets that could swamp coastal regions and cities or disruptions to monsoons vital for growing food.

“The cost of inaction will be horrendously higher than the cost of action,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said.

Environmental groups welcomed the report, including its focus on zero emissions.

“This is no longer about dividing up the pie. You need to get to zero. At some stage there is no pie left for anyone,” said Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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