How To Avoid The Unmanageable And Manage The Unavoidable Climate Changes

Alpine ski resorts are churning out artificial snow, wrote Laura MacInnis in her story, "Fake Snow in Alps, Moscow Blooms: Green Christmas?", published by Reuters News Service on 13 December 2006. Daisies are blooming by the Kremlin and retailers are fretting that Europeans are simply too warm to go Christmas shopping in a record mild winter.

In the Russian Federation, record temperatures in December kept bears from hibernating, while flowers such as daisies and purple violets have been seen around the capital. Usually gripped by ice, Moscow basked at a record 7.7˚ Celsius on 7 December. From a scientific point of view, last winter's weather conditions in northern Eurasia and America were very unique -- extreme weather and not a climatic event. Climate change is a much slower process. The last two decades were much warmer than the average temperatures during the base period of 1960-1990. The past years clearly show that global warming and weather extremes are realities of the current epoch, which bring a very serious challenge to humanity.

The United Nations is trying to bring worldwide attention to climate change. Its best known activity in this area is the creation of and support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), already in operation for almost two decades under the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). With the turn of the new millennium, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) organized its work based on a two-year cycle, each focusing on selected thematic clusters of issues. Within the broader context of the United Nations action on sustainable development, climate change -- with energy, industrial development and air pollution/atmosphere -- is part of the CSD thematic cluster for the 2006/2007 cycle.

The IPCC in 2007 presented its Fourth Assessment and other reports, including one by the Scientific Expert Group (SEG) titled "Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable". Prepared for the 15th session of the Commission (CSD15), the report outlines a road map for preventing unmanageable climate changes and adapting to the degree of change that can no longer be avoided. The expert team was invited to make recommendations on key mitigation and adaptation needs. The United Nations Foundation and the scientific research society Sigma Xi, organizing the SEG, presented the final report to the CSD Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting on 27 February 2007.

Some very important UN events related to climate change issues were held in 2007, such as the first-ever Security Council debate on the impact of climate change on 17 April, where several delegates raised doubts on whether the Council was the proper forum to discuss the issue. Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation said his country was an active participant in the global efforts to address climate change. The country's decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol had brought that important instrument into existence. Since then, the Russian Federation has significantly reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and intends to carry out its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol through 2012. The Government believes that all future action on global warming and climate change should be based on sound scientific information. Mr. Churkin appealed to the international community to consider the climate change issue in all its aspects, in a comprehensive manner and within the appropriate international forums, such as CSD, WMO and the UN General Assembly, adding that the Security Council should only deal with issues directly under its mandate. On 27 April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held meetings with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and former United States Vice President Al Gore. On 30 April, CSD15 started, putting an end to the two-year thematic cycle related to climate change. These top-level UN activities show how deeply and seriously UN leadership is involved in one of the most significant problems facing humanity.

As the Deputy Director of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, I fully agree with the CSD statement that "climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is an issue firmly placed in the context of sustainable development and it requires the urgent attention of the international community". Carbon dioxide, methane and GHG, in current concentrations, are not dangerous air pollutants, but they affect global climate and humanity. The United Nations, as the world's leading intergovernmental body, must act collectively and urgently to change the course of climate change through all levels of leadership. There is no more time for delay.

The IPCC report provides the international community, and especially the United Nations, with information about the current stages and future patterns of climate change, including possible adaptation and mitigation measures. The SEG report outlines a set of recommendations on how to avoid the unmanageable and how to manage the unavoidable climate changes. The main ideas of the SEG and the proposals of the CSD (see box next page) are not a duplication of the work of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, but are recommendations in the area of climate change mitigation and adaptation. As one of the lead authors of the SEG report, I am very satisfied that many of the CSD recommendations are close to milestones of the report's road map for preventing the unmanageable and adapting to the degree of unavoidable climate changes. The whole spectrum of the CSD decisions is much wider than that of the SEG recommendations, but the Group's report considered some other specific issues, such as the proposal to create and rebuild cities to be climate-resilient and GHG-friendly, taking advantage of the most advanced technologies and approaches for using land, freshwater, marine, terrestrial and energy resources. Some of the recommendations provided to the UN system and national governments are:

  • Advocate and achieve a fourfold increase in global public and private investments in energy-technology research, emphasizing energy efficiency in transportation, buildings and the industrial sector, as well as in biofuels, solar, wind and other renewable technologies, including advanced technologies for carbon capture and sequestration.
  • Promote a comparable increase in public and private investments, with particular emphasis on partnerships focused on demonstration and accelerated commercial deployment of energy technologies with large mitigation benefits.
  • Use UN institutions and other specialized organizations to promote public-private partnerships that increase private-sector financing for energy-efficiency and renewable energy investments, drawing upon limited public resources to provide loan guarantees and interest rate buy-downs.
  • Increase energy-technology research, development and demonstration in developing regions. Potential options for achieving this goal include arrangements between developed and developing countries, and strengthening the network of regional centres for energy technology research.
  • Complete a study, over the next two years, on how to better plan, finance and deploy climate-friendly energy technologies, using the resources of the United Nations and other international agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility.

As a scientist and SEG member, I hope that these recommendations will help the United Nations and the CSD to lead a worldwide movement in making all human activities much more climate-friendly.

Comparison of Some SEG and CSD Recommendations Scientific Expert Group
  • Move towards a more sustainable energy environment. Improve efficiency in the transportation sector through measures, such as vehicle efficiency, fuel taxes and registration fees, in addition to the expansion and strengthening of public transportation and regional planning.
  • Implement a new global policy framework for mitigation that results in significant emissions reduction, spurs development and deployment of clean energy technologies, and allocates burdens and benefits fairly.
  • Develop adaption strategies and integrate them into resource management and infrastructure development and commit to helping the poorest nations and the most vulnerable communities cope with damages.
  • Enhance early-warning systems to provide improved prediction of weather extremes, especially to the most vulnerable countries and regions.
  • Increase investments and cooperation in energy technology innovation to develop new systems and practices that are needed to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change.
  • Improve communications to accelerate adaptation and mitigation by increasing education efforts and creating forums for dialogue, technology assessment and planning.

Commission on Sustainable Development

  • Increase financial incentives for the use of advanced energy technologies, including cleaner fossil fuel, energy-efficiency and renewable energy technologies and promote fuel efficiency in the transport sector.
  • Enhance technology cooperation and information-sharing on climate-friendly and low-carbon technologies; strengthen North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation in research and development initiatives.
  • Move towards strengthening the carbon market. Policies and actions should be based on the principles of sustainable development and poverty eradication, which are the priorities of developing countries.
  • Support early-warning, risk-management, disaster reduction and response measures for developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable, such as small island developing States and least developed countries.
  • Support the development, deployment and diffusion of low-carbon energy technologies, and increase financial incentives for the use of advanced energy technologies, including cleaner fossil fuel and renewable energy technologies.
  • Encourage the integration of climate policies into national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies with respect to adaptation and mitigation.

This table shows the common understanding of the mainstream ideas of climate change mitigation and adaptation.