Climate change can be likened in its destructive scale to the effects
of using weapons of mass destruction, according to Britain's leading scientist.
Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society, will say that the devastation
caused by Hurricane Katrina is an example of the sort of extreme weather event
that climate change can trigger.
The impacts of climate change are many and serious, he contends. They include
rising sea levels, changes in the availability of drinking water, and an increase
in the risk of extreme weather such as floods, droughts and hurricanes.
Lord May, a former chief scientist for the Government, will say the seriousness
of weather extremes, exemplified by Katrina's impact on New Orleans, "invite
comparison with weapons of mass destruction".
In his final address to the Royal Society as its president, and to coincide
with the Montreal meeting on climate change, Lord May will tomorrow criticise
President George Bush for failing to follow through on the climate change commitments
made by his father when he was president.
The current President Bush failed even to mention climate change, global warming
or greenhouse gases in a 2,700-word speech on energy that he made immediately
after the Gleneagles G8 communiqué, Lord May will say.
"In short, we have here a classic example of the problem or paradox of
co-operation ... the science tells us clearly we need to act now to reduce inputs
of greenhouse gases but unless all countries act in equitable proportions, the
virtuous will be economically disadvantaged while all suffer the consequences
of the sinners' inaction. In this sense, the climate-change disaster which looms
this century is an appallingly large-scale experiment in the social sciences."
"If this experiment is to end in success for humankind, then it is essential
that progress be made at the Montreal meeting." Carbon dioxide, the principal
greenhouse gas generated by man-made emissions, has risen from 280 parts per million
(ppm) before the Industrial Revolution to 380 ppm today. It is projected to increase
to 500 ppm by the middle of the century.
"It is worth noting that the last time our planet experienced greenhouse
gas levels as high as 500 ppm was some 20 to 40 million years ago, when sea
levels were around 100m higher than today.'' Average global temperatures were
projected to rise by between 1.4C and 5.8C by 2100 because of global warming,
yet many, including some economists, found it difficult to grasp the significance
of the figures given that daily temperatures could fluctuate by as much as 10C.
"There is a huge difference between daily fluctuations, and global averages
sustained year on year; the difference in average global temperatures between
today and the last ice age is only about 5C."
Lord May will say that the Montreal meeting should initiate a study of target
levels for greenhouse gas emissions as a basis for discussing an action plan.
Countries must sever the link between economic growth and increasing emissions
of greenhouse gases.
"Appropriately constructed economic instruments, such as a carbon tax,
could help motivate a reappraisal of this perverse message. Initiating such
a study of target levels in Montreal should not diminish the pressure for all
countries to start cutting emissions now.''