Scientists demand action on climate

Ahead of next month's G8 summit, science academies issue an unprecedented joint statement

By | June 7, 2005

Scientific academies from the world's leading nations have issued an unprecedented joint statement today (June 7) urging the leaders of their countries to commit to taking prompt action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The statement from Britain's Royal Society and the science academies of France, Russia, Germany, United States, Japan, Italy, and Canada was released ahead of a G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, at which climate change is expected to be a major focus. The academies of Brazil, China, and India, not members of G8, are also signatories.

"It is clear that world leaders, including the G8, can no longer use uncertainty about aspects of climate change as an excuse for not taking urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions," said Robert May, president of the Royal Society, in a statement. "The scientific evidence forcefully points to a need for a truly international effort. Make no mistake, we have to act now. And the longer we procrastinate, the more difficult the task of tackling climate change becomes."

May said that the current US policy on climate change was misguided. "The Bush administration has consistently refused to accept the advice of the US National Academy of Sciences [NAS]… Getting the US onboard is critical because of the sheer amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for."

May said that President Bush has a chance at Gleneagles to signal that his administration will no longer ignore the scientific evidence and act to cut emissions.

The United States isn't the only target of the academies' statement, however. "The problem with the UK, of course, is that it's all very well saying that it is an important issue, but you've got to make the difficult political decisions to back that up," said Ward.

"We don't want to hear any more statements from G8 leaders to the effect that we don't know enough about the science to be certain," Royal Society spokesman Bob Ward told The Scientist. "We want all the leaders to accept that we do know enough about the science to take action on climate change."

The academies urge the G8 nations to find cost-effective steps that can be taken immediately toward substantial and long-term reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Climate change is real," the academies write. "There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world's climate. However, there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring."

"We urge all nations," they conclude, "in the line with the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] principles, to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change, adapt to its impacts, and ensure that the issue is included in all relevant national and international strategies. As national science academies, we commit to working with governments to help develop and implement the national and international response to the challenge of climate change."

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth welcomed the academies' statement, but said it was disappointed they hadn't specified any targets or a timetable for action.

"The national science academies are right to call for prompt action on climate change. But this document lacks targets or a timetable for urgent action," The group's climate campaigner, Catherine Pearce, said in a statement. "It is crucial that the entire world—including the United States—recognizes that there is a window of opportunity to avert potentially catastrophic climate change. Emissions must peak and decline within the next decade. The world must act now before it is too late."

Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Katie Elliott told The Scientist, "They've got all the right sentiments in there... but we wanted some recognition that emissions need to peak and decline in the next decade."

"It's all very well taking these baby steps, but we really need to ramp things up now," Elliott added.

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