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Dim Prospects for Halting Climate Change, AAAS Chief International Officer and Colleague Say
It may already be too late to halt or considerably slow the rate of climate change, and it is time for policy makers to grapple seriously with adaptation strategies, AAAS chief international officer Vaughan Turekian and Paul J. Saunders, executive director of the Nixon Center, argue in a new essay.
"A realistic look at climate change suggests that it is time to change the debate," Saunders and Turekian say in a sobering assessment posted 25 September on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine. "This emphatically does not mean giving up on efforts to slow climate change, which could still measurably reduce the costs of protecting the people and infrastructure most vulnerable to higher temperatures and new weather patterns."
But Saunders and Turekian note that "mounting scientific evidence, coupled with economic and political realities, increasingly suggests that humanity's opportunity to prevent, stop, or reverse the long-term impacts of climate change has slipped away."
Saunders, who also is associate publisher of The National Interest, and Turekian, who has a doctorate in atmospheric geochemistry, served together as aides to the under secretary of state for global affairs during the Bush administration from 2003 to 2005.
Scientists continue to debate whether great reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved using current technologies. While the United States leads the world in investment in new energy technologies, "it would be irresponsible for us to count on an energy technology miracle to save the day," Saunders and Turekian write. Nor it is realistic, they say, to count on a political miracle—an international agreement that would mandate the necessary emission cuts to reverse the momentum behind the changing global climate system.
Given projections by the United Nations Environment Program that economic losses due to weather disasters could total $2 trillion for the period from 2007 to 2020, Saunders and Turekian conclude that policy makers in the United States and elsewhere "must start hedging their bets and prepare us to live in this new world." Adaptation will not be easy or cheap, they say, but some tools are available. International lenders like the World Bank need to pay more attention to projects that limit the vulnerability of developing countries to climate change.
Saunders and Turekian also note that scientists will need to do a much better job of predicting local and regional impacts of climate change. Governments will need to support such efforts and develop plans to assess and use the new information. "Riding out the consequences of a warming world will be difficult," Saunders and Turekian write, "and we need to prepare now."
26 September 2007