UN chief Ban Ki-moon told a meeting of some 150 governments today that time is running out for a new climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Copenhagen talks in December are looming and little real negotiating time is left “to resolve some of the most complex issues,” the UN secretary general told the World Climate Conference. “We need rapid progress.”
Only limited progress in the climate talks has been made for the meeting to hammer out a new accord to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on reducing the gases blamed for global warming.
Meanwhile, climate change is advancing.
“Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss,” said Mr Ban, warning that climate change could spell widespread economic disaster.
He noted that he had just visited the Arctic and was alarmed by what he saw.
“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth,” Mr Ban said. “It may be ice-free by 2030.”
Not only is the Arctic serving as a warning, the warming there is accelerating global climate change, he said.
“Instead of reflecting heat, the Arctic is absorbing it as the sea ice diminishes, thus speeding up global warming,” Mr Ban said. “Methane, trapped in permafrost and on the sea bed, is escaping into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.”
He said the increased melting of the Greenland ice-cap threatens to raise sea levels and alter the flow of the Gulf Stream, essential to keep Europe warm.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the predicted sea level rise from warming oceans will be increased by the melting of glaciers and other snow and ice on land.
“If you add the two together, we are certainly going to face a dire crisis if not a catastrophe across the world,” he told the conference.
Pachauri, whose scientific panel shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore in 2007, said world leaders will have to agree on deep emission cuts, if they want to limit temperature increases.
The climate conference in Geneva is aimed at providing ways for the world to cope with global warming that will occur because of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, regardless of what the Copenhagen meeting achieves.
The delegates in Geneva today approved the creation of a Global Framework of Climate Services to improve climate forecasts. Among its aims is to make sure that early warnings for tsunamis and hurricanes reach everybody and that farmers in remote African regions know about upcoming droughts and floods.
A meeting of member states of the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation in the next four months is to set up a task force to help implement the framework.