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Sustainable development and further research - keys to addressing climate change

The commitment to a sustainable strategy made by the European Commission in May and the incorporation of climate change in the priorities for the next Framework programme (FP6) took on extra significance on 12 July when a report published by an international panel of scientist...

The commitment to a sustainable strategy made by the European Commission in May and the incorporation of climate change in the priorities for the next Framework programme (FP6) took on extra significance on 12 July when a report published by an international panel of scientists claimed the consequences of climate change are worse than originally expected. The United Nation's international panel on climate change (IPCC), which reports every five years, concluded that climate change is already taking place and that by the end of the century, temperatures will rise by as much as 5.8 degrees, double their original estimate made five years ago. The IPCC's latest report concludes that global temperatures are increasing at a rate unprecedented in the last 1,000 years with the highest concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere for 400,000 years. The rates of increase in CO2 being witnessed at the moment have not been seen in the last 20,000 years. Even since 1750, the level of increase has been 31 per cent. On the effect of this CO2 rise - global climate change - the report also provides stark evidence. There is a high probability (90 to 99 per cent) that the 1990s was the warmest decade and specifically 1998 the warmest year since records began in 1861. There is evidence that this is the result of human activity. The report found that natural forms of radiative forcing (which alter the balance of energy in the atmosphere) cannot explain the rise in temperature. It also found that 75 per cent of CO2 emissions from human activity come from fossil fuel burning, the rest being caused by deforestation. The report offers six different scenarios of dealing with the problem. Under all of them, there would be at least a one degree rise in temperatures over the coming century. But it also says that the only way to ameliorate the problem is for policymakers to adopt sustainable development policies. The report welcomes the advances on research and technological development in the environmental area, which it says has been developed faster than expected. It quotes hybrid engine cars and elimination of some industrial by-product gases as good examples. It recommends further research in the potential of technological and social innovations; economic, social and institutional issues; better ways of analysing mitigation options and their costs; and evaluation climate mitigation in the context of development, sustainability and equity. Responding to these recommendations, a Commission spokesperson said: 'We are continuing to look into climate change and indeed it is one of the priorities of the next Framework programme. We are committed to this very important area and it is important to continue to research and particularly to predict climate change issues.' The devastating effect on developing countries of global climate change has also been addressed, in a separate study released at the beginning of July. The world's poorest countries could lose up to a quarter of their food production due to the effect of global change on their harvests, according to the report by the international institute for applied systems analysis (IIASA). It found that the 40 countries likely to be worst hit have a combined population of two billion people. Of these, more than half derive their livelihood from agriculture. One of the largest of these countries, India, can expect to lose 125 million tonnes of grain annually, 18 per cent of its maximum harvest potential. Other by products of the climate change will be increased problems with disease, pests and drought. Ironically, many developed countries, whose industrial emissions are one of the primary causes of the change in climate, may benefit from the phenomenon. Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway and New Zealand should all benefit, largely from being able to cultivate land that had previously been frost bound. The first two are anticipated to produce and extra 130 million tonnes of cereal. However, the UK, USA, France, Australia and Ukraine are all expected to suffer falls in production, due to soil drying out. Guenther Fischer, one of the authors of the IIASA report, said: 'Developing countries have so far contributed relatively little to the causes of global warming. Yet many of them will bear the brunt of climate change through loss of food production.'

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