Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kyoto not the way to cool the world

The Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse emissions is ineffectual and the world must be more realistic about the chances of preventing climate change and prepare for the inevitability of global warming, according to the head of one of Britain's foremost scientific societies. Frances Cairncross, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and chairwoman of the Economic and Social Research Council, was addressing the Festival of Science in Norwich, east England. She told Britain's biggest general science meeting that while measures to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming were essential, they had been emphasised ahead of the equally vital need to develop ways of coping with climate change. Ms Cairncross said the Kyoto Treaty would not stop temperatures rising, as the US and large developing nations such as China and India were not involved. She said even if a global agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions was reached, a significant degree of warming was still likely.

London's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Ms Cairncross said developing drought-tolerant crops, constructing flood defences, improving building insulation or banning building close to sea level were as important as cutting emissions. She said the world needed to be more realistic about the chances of preventing climate change. "We need more sheltered public spaces. It is going to be either sunnier or rainier," Ms Cairncross said. Plants, insects and animals that needed to migrate north away from hotter climates should be provided with species corridors, among many other measures, she said. "Adaptation policies have had far less attention than mitigation and that is a mistake," Ms Cairncross told the meeting. "We need to think now about policies that prepare for a hotter, drier world."

Ms Cairncross said the Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions was having little impact. India and China - representing a third of the world's population - had not signed up and the US "does not take any notice". Developing a successful global deal would mean "persuading this generation to accept sacrifices on behalf of posterity; and persuading countries that will gain from climate change, or lose little, to take action not on behalf of their own grandchildren but of the descendants of people in other nations". "We cannot relocate the Amazon or insulate coral reefs, so we need mitigation too," she said. "But the Government could and should put in place an adaptation strategy right away."

Despite the arguments about the mix between renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels, the bottom line was that, "with present technologies, no combination of existing energy sources can conceivably bring about the reductions in energy use that we need, or at least, not without a disruption that is politically unimaginable".

Ms Cairncross's message will be controversial as many environmental groups have discouraged talk of adapting to global warming as an inevitability for fear that it will hand politicians an excuse for failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Extreme rainfall has become more frequent and intense over the past 40 years in parts of Britain, particularly in Scotland and the north of England. Scientists from Newcastle University - who analysed British weather records from 1961 to 2000 - say the findings provide further evidence of climate change. They also suggest that the five million people who live near rivers - 10 per cent of the British population - can expect to be flooded with increasing regularity in the future, which has implications for the management of flooding and water resources.


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