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UK’s Brown issues stark warning

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:54:00 10/21/2009

Filed Under: Global Warming, Climate Change, Warnings, Foreign affairs & international relations, Flood

A grim apocalyptic vision of floods, droughts and killer heat waves has been conjured by the catastrophic flooding in Metro Manila, Central and Northern Luzon in the wake of Typhoons ?Ondoy? and ?Pepeng.?

At the Major Economies Forum in London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a warning last Monday that the world has less than two months to agree to avoid ?catastrophic global warming whose impact would be felt for generations.? He said negotiators had 50 days to save the world from global warming and to break the ?impasse.?

Gordon was speaking to the representatives of 17 of the world?s biggest greenhouse gas-emitting countries. He said there was ?no plan B.?

The forum was convened ahead of the United Nations summit in Copenhagen in December on a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to set new targets for reducing emissions.

Gordon warned that negotiators were not reaching agreement quickly enough and said it was a ?profound moment? for the world involving ?momentous choice.? In Britain, he said, ?we face the prospect of more frequent droughts and a rising wave of floods,? adding that the ?extraordinary summer heat wave of 2003 in Europe resulted in over 35,000 extra deaths? On current trends, such an event could become quite routine in Britain in just a few decades? time. And within the lifetime of our children and grandchildren the intense temperatures of 2003 could become the average temperature experience throughout much of Europe.?

The costs of failing to tackle the issue would be greater than the impact of both world wars and the Great Depression combined, Brown said. The world would face more conflict, fueled by climate-induced migration, if a deal was not concluded. By 2080 an extra 1.8 billion people?a quarter of the world?s population?would not have enough water.

Brown issued a stark warning that put pressure on the United States to finalize its position before the December global climate conference in Denmark. He told delegates to the London forum that countries need to compromise with one another to reach a deal in December ?to avoid the catastrophe of unchecked climate change.?

He said: ?There are now fewer than 50 days to set the course of the next few decades. We cannot afford to fail. If we fail now, we will pay a heavy price? If we falter, the Earth itself will be at risk.?

The UN conference in Copenhagen will cap two years of negotiations on a global climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions.

?If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt,? Brown said. ?Once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement in some future period can undo that choice. By then, it will be irretrievably too late.?

Pressure has been mounting on the US to put together a position before the UN conference. The Obama administration says the US is ?making headway? but gave no concrete proposals for emissions reductions. US President Barack Obama blames Congress, saying that his administration is tied up by Congress, where climate bills are slowly moving forward.

The US climate envoy, Todd Stern, said in London that it was unlikely that Obama would heed the call to attend the Copenhagen conference. Few other world leaders have said they would go to Copenhagen.

British Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband says clinching a new pact is proving to be an ?uphill struggle.? He said this is ?absolutely not a done deal,? after the 17-nation London forum.

The London talks were attended by representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Britain and the US.

Other countries, including India, China, Brazil and Mexico, have agreed to draw up national programs to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but have resisted making those limits binding and subject to international monitoring.

Despite Brown?s grim warning, he appears to be a voice in the wilderness, a doomsday prophet. On the prospects of an agreement in Copenhagen, Brown said, ?We must frankly face the plain fact that our negotiators are not getting to agreement quickly enough. So I believe that leaders must engage directly to break the impasse.?

Worries over American and Chinese resistance to reducing emission level targets have led to mounting pessimism that a deal can be struck in Copenhagen. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN scientific panel studying climate change, writes in the Newsweek website, ?The prospects that states will actually agree to anything in Copenhagen are starting to look worse and worse.?

The grim picture painted by Brown finds more resonance with developing countries, including the Philippines, that have been devastated by flooding and storms. Filipinos identify with what Brown is speaking about.

His warning followed publication of a new report by the Organization of European Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the impact of climate change on urban development. According to the report, the impact of climate change could more than triple the number of people around the world exposed to coastal flooding by 2070.

The report, which ranks port cities on the basis of high exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes, found that around 150 million people could be exposed to coastal flooding by 2070, up from 40 million in 2007. Around half of the total population that would suffer from exposure to coastal flooding caused by storm surge and high winds would be living in just 10 cities.

Over the coming decades, the unprecedented growth and development of the Asian mega-cities will be a key factor in driving the increase in coastal flood risk globally. In terms of risk exposure, Kolkata is first, followed by Mumbai, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, Bangkok and Rangoon.

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