The costs of cutting greenhouse gases and who will pay for doing it are likely to be the key issues at a major UN-backed climate change meeting of scientists and diplomats in the Thai capital this week, participants said Sunday.
Some of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters like the US and Australia and top oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia will try to water down language in a draft report, obtained by media earlier this month, that suggests reducing emissions could cost less than 3 percent of annual global economic activity, environmental activists said.
"Cost will be on everybody's mind," said environmental protection group WWF International's Martin Hiller. "Changing the energy system is costly but we can still afford to do it. The cost for doing nothing is staggering and could be up to 20 times more expensive."
Developing countries are likely to demand that richer countries help them adapt to warming global temperatures which are expected to cause widespread flooding, droughts and rising sea levels.
"If you take roads or electricity lines or buildings, they will all have to be adapted to climate change," said Hiller.
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a network of more than 2,000 scientists, will open a five-day meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, to finalize a report on how the world can mitigate rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases.
The draft report, which will be amended following comments from dozens of governments, says emissions can be cut below current levels if the world shifts away from carbon-heavy fuels like coal, invests in energy efficiency and reforms the agriculture sector.
Two previous IPCC reports this year painted a dire picture of a future in which unabated greenhouse gas emissions could drive global temperatures up as much as 6 C by 2100. Even a 2 C rise could subject up to 2 billion people to water shortages by 2050 and threaten extinction for 20 percent to 30 percent of the world's species, the IPCC said.
The third report makes clear the world must quickly embrace a basket of technological options already available and being developed just to keep the temperature rise to 2 C.
Making buildings more energy-efficient, especially in the developing world, through better insulation, lighting and other steps, could also lead to significant cuts as would converting from coal to natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy such as wind.
"We believe that you can reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050 using renewable energy technology and energy efficiency," said Stephanie Tunmore, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace International. "Hopefully, energy efficiency will come out strongly in the report because that is really important. For the most part, it's a negative cost."
Over the next century, the report says, such technology as hydrogen-powered fuel cells, advanced hybrid and electric vehicles with better batteries, and carbon sequestration whereby carbon emissions are stored underground will become more commercially feasible.
The US delegation at the Bangkok meeting is expected to argue that the report's cost estimates are unrealistically low and that the expense of reducing greenhouse gases currently would be difficult at present for most nations to bear.
The damage from unabated climate change might eventually cost the global economy between 5 percent and 20 percent of GDP every year, according to a British government report last year.
(China Daily via agencies April 30, 2007)