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UNEP calls for urgent action on climate change

Nairobi/Geneva, 22 July 1998 - Following scientific reports that 1998 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) urged policymakers today to take immediate action to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"Record warming and severe summer heat waves in the US, India, China, and elsewhere are a wake-up call," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEPs Executive Director. "We cannot afford to wait several years for the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force before making significant emissions cuts."

In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a network of over 2,000 scientists and other experts sponsored by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization, confirmed that the global climate may have already started responding to past emissions. Climate models project that the global temperature will increase by 1-3.5oC by the year 2100, causing sea levels to rise by 15-95 cm and climatic zones (including ecosystems and agricultural zones) to shift towards the poles by 150-550 km in the mid-latitude regions.

"There is still uncertainty about how the climate will change at the regional or national level, and it is still not possible to prove that individual heat waves or extreme events are caused by global warming," said Toepfer. "But, we have more than enough credible evidence to know that global climate change poses tremendous risks. We must take out insurance now against future catastrophic climate change by urgently adopting energy efficiency and other win-win measures," he said.

Win-win policies are those that make environmental and economic sense irrespective of climate change. According to the IPCC's 1995 report, policymakers can cut carbon dioxide emissions while saving money by creating an economic and regulatory framework that encourages both energy consumers and energy producers to adopt the most energy-efficient technologies available.

Solar cells - which currently produce less than 1% of global power supplies - and other renewable energy technology sources will be an essential part of the solution. Regulatory standards, tradable emissions permits, information and public awareness programmes, voluntary programmes for business, better urban transport planning, and the phase-out of counterproductive subsidies can also play a role.

Developed countries are responsible for the bulk of past and present emissions and must take the lead in limiting emissions. At the same time, cleaner energy technologies should also be promoted in developing countries through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. Under the CDM, developed countries will be able to receive credit for investments in emissions-limiting projects in developing countries.

"Clearly, this kind of incentive for making large-scale transfers to developing countries of energy-efficient and renewable-energy technologies can go a long way towards achieving both developmental and environmental objectives," said Toepfer.

The IPCC will adopt its Third Assessment Report in the year 2000. The report will be comprehensive while emphasizing new findings since the completion of the 1995 Second Assessment. It will once again cover the causes and impacts of climate change as well as the various response options. It will also expand its scope to cover not just the global scale but the regional scale as well. *******

Wednesday 22 Jul 1998
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