University dean and colleagues outline new roadmap
for climate change risk reduction
School of Natural Resources Dean Rosina Bierbaum and a panel of eminent scientists from around the nation have released a report that offers a roadmap for reducing the risks of climate change. The researchers presented their report Feb. 28 to the United Nations and later testified on their findings before Congressional committees.
United Nations Foundation and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, asked for the report for the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development. The panel, which spent two years on the report, was co-chaired by Bierbaum and Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
"The world is experiencing climate disruption now and the increases in droughts, floods, and sea level rise that will occur in the coming decades will cause enormous human suffering and economic losses," said Bierbaum, former acting director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The poorest are likely the most vulnerable.
"We imperil our children's and grandchildren's future if we fail to improve society's capacity to adapt to a changing climate. We can manage water better, bolster disaster preparedness, increase surveillance for emerging diseases, make cities more resilient, move vulnerable populations and prepare for environmental refugees, design more drought-tolerant crops, use natural resources more sustainably, and enhance local capacity to cope with a suite of expected changes."
The report covers an overview of the science of climate change; the importance of avoiding the risk of major impacts of climate change; options for mitigation; and steps that can be taken to prepare to adapt to anticipated climate change.
Among the report's key findings:
• Exceeding global average temperature increases above 2-2.5°C above the 1750 pre-industrial level would entail "sharply increasing risk of intolerable impacts." To avoid exceeding the 2-2.5°C limit will require stabilizing atmospheric concentrations at the equivalent of no more than 450-500 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 (compared to about 380 ppm CO2-equivalent today). That in turn requires that global CO2 emissions peak no later than 2015 to 2020 at not much above their current level and decline by 2100 to about a third of that value.
• The technology exists to seize significant opportunities around the globe to reduce emissions and provide other economic, environmental and social benefits, including meeting United Nations Millennium Development Goals. To do so, policy makers must immediately act to:
° Improve efficiency in the transportation sector through measures such as vehicle efficiency standards, fuel taxes, and registration fees/rebates that favor purchase of efficient and alternative fuel vehicles;
° Improve design and efficiency of commercial and residential buildings through building codes, standards for equipment and appliances, incentives for property developers and landlords to build and manage properties efficiently, and financing for energy-efficiency investments;
° Expand the use of biofuels through energy portfolio standards and incentives to growers and consumers.
° Begin immediately to design and deploy only coal power-plant types that can affordably be retrofitted to capture and sequester CO2.
• Climate change and impacts from it already are being experienced, and there will be more even if mitigation efforts are successful. Societies must do more to adapt to ongoing and unavoidable changes in the Earth's climate system by:
° Improving preparedness/response strategies and management of natural resources to cope with future climatic conditions that will be fundamentally different than those experienced for the last 100 years;
° Addressing the adaptation needs of the poorest and most vulnerable nations, which will bear the brunt of climate change impacts;
° Planning and building climate resilient cities; and
° Strengthening international, national, and regional institutions to cope with weather-related disasters and an increasing number of climate change refugees.
• The international community, through the United Nations and related multilateral institutions, can play a crucial role in advancing action by helping to developing countries and those with economies in transition finance and deploy energy efficient and new energy technologies; accelerate negotiations to develop an international framework for addressing climate change and sustainable development; and educate all about the opportunities to adopt mitigation and adaptation measures."
"Our report makes clear that the challenge before us is to reduce the risk of climate change resulting in intolerable global impacts," said Raven, past president of Sigma Xi, a Presidential Medal of Science recipient and preeminent biodiversity expert. "Our recommendations are designed to help the international community get on a path to stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and managing the impacts of climate change."
A copy of the report can be downloaded at www.confrontingclimatechange.org.