CLIMATE CHANGE: 'We Have Run Out of Time'

By Julio Godoy

ROME, Jun 14 (IPS) - New scientific research suggests that climate 
change is taking place faster than foreseen in studies considered so 
far, according to environmental experts at a forum on climate change 
called by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced 
Environment (GLOBE).

"We have run out of time," Ashok Khosla, president of the 
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's 
largest environmental association, told IPS. "Climate change is 
happening at a swifter speed than we thought so far."

Khosla, an Indian national, holds degrees in physics and natural 
sciences, and has taught and worked on environmental and social 
economics since the 1970s. He leads several non-governmental 
organisations committed to human development.

Katherine Richardson, a leading marine biologist researching the 
effect of climate change effect on the oceans, told IPS, "Sea levels 
are rising 50 percent faster than expected by the Intergovernmental 
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"If humankind does not stop climate change in the immediate future, 
at the observed present rate sea levels shall rise by at least one 
metre by the year 2010." This would aggravate the catastrophic 
consequences already forecast for human settlements along coasts, 
especially in the developing world, she said.

The acidity of oceans' water is also increasing rapidly, Richardson 
said. "If nothing changes to stop global warming, by 2065 no region 
will have corals."

This degradation of the oceans has been provoked by a fast rise in 
greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. "The emissions in the last three or 
four years were all above the estimated range of projections," 
Richardson said. "Since 1990, emissions have risen by 17 percent."

This growth in GHG emissions since 1990 has important relative and 
absolute value because that year's emissions are used to measure 
reductions foreseen in the Kyoto protocol. Under Kyoto, 
industrialised countries agreed to reduce their collective GHG 
emissions by 5.2 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The growth is dramatic, because "societies and ecosystems are highly 
vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change. Temperature rises 
above two degrees Celsius will be very difficult for contemporary 
societies to cope with," Richardson said.

Khosla said that conventional wisdom on climate change is that 
average rise in temperatures should not go beyond two degrees Celsius 
in order to keep rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the 
atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm).

"But we are already at 387 ppm," Khosla said. "We have practically no 
time to stop this growth of greenhouse gases emissions."

Despite intense international dialogue over the last 40 years on the 
environmental consequences of economic growth, and almost 20 years of 
debates on how to tackle climate change and solve the environmental 
crisis associated with global warming, "practically nothing has been 
reached so far," Ian Dunlop, an Australian economist and expert on 
energy told IPS.

"Since 1972, when the Club of Rome published its study on the 'Limits 
of Growth', and outlined the problem of unsustainable economic 
growth, humankind has proved incapable of accepting, so far, that the 
most important factor for our own survival is the preservation of a 
biosphere fit for human habitation," Dunlop said. The Club of Rome is 
a global think-tank that carried out pioneering work on climate 

Richardson, Khosla, and Dunlop were in Rome Jun. 12-13 to participate 
in the international forum on climate change organised by GLOBE. The 
forum brought together more than 100 environmental legislators from 
13 countries, and several scientists and experts.

Dunlop pointed out that because of the global economic depression, 
industrialised nations are trying to encourage more consumption. 
"Governments are applying economic measures conceived some 80 years 
ago to stimulate old industries and save banks, and by so doing are 
skyrocketing their deficits and debts, thus crowding out investments 
in environmental policies," he said.

The solutions for tackling climate change are clear, Dunlop said. 
"The problem is that vested interests, representing the old economy, 
which caused climate change, keep a tight hold of politics."

Khosla said the world is ravaged by a demographic crisis and by an 
unjust concentration of income, closely linked to a dramatic 
degradation of the environment.

"The richest fifth of the world's population takes some 85 percent of 
the world's income," Khosla said. "Meanwhile 2.5 billion people, well 
over one- third of the world's population, must survive with less 
than two dollars per day."

At the same time, the poorest people are the main victims of the 
environmental degradation associated with climate change and the 
depletion of nature by the present economic model. "Some three to 
four billion people are surviving on a landscape of poverty, 
vulnerability, and environmental degradation," Khosla said.

New global policies must, he said, aim to increase human development 
in the poorest countries to solve "the climate change paradox: by 
2050, the world will have several billion extra tonnes of carbon 
emissions, unless the poorest populations have access to higher 
levels of energy services." This is only possible with "human, 
sustainable development, now, and for all inhabitants of the world."

Colin Bradford, economist at the Brookings Institute in the U.S., 
called on governments to "recover economics from neo-liberal 
ideologies." Since the 1970s, he said, following the rise to power of 
former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. 
president Ronald Reagan, "economics stopped to be a social science 
and became a prisoner of ideologues."

These ideologues' belief that free markets would correct themselves, 
and set the prices right, "has proven utterly wrong," Bradford told 
IPS. "For instance, the oil market price is wrong, the carbon market 
price is wrong, both are too low."

The prices of both have a strong impact on climate change. A low 
price makes both fossil fuels more competitive compared with 
low-carbon energy sources. Scientists agree that the combustion of 
fossil fuels, which produces high amounts of carbon dioxide and other 
greenhouse gases, is the main cause of global warming and climate