5 September 2007
Meetings Coverage
NGO/624
PI/1792

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DPI/NGO Annual Conference

AM & PM Meetings


‘CLIMATE CHANGE:  HOW IT IMPACTS US ALL’ THEME, AS ANNUAL DPI/NGO CONFERENCE OPENS


Citing clear evidence that global warming was real, mostly manmade and had the potential to devastate our planet, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today told representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at United Nations Headquarters that tackling climate change required a truly global effort that drew together Governments, the private sector and civil society in “one sustained push for change”.


While Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had identified climate change as one of his top priorities, “we also understand that this is not a challenge for the UN alone”, said Ms. Migiro, opening the sixtieth DPI/NGO Conference, an annual three-day event, organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) in cooperation with associated NGOs, .which this year is set to focus on Climate Change: How it Affects us All.


Addressing nearly 2,000 civil society representatives from 90 countries, she said that the effects of climate change were already visible -- from the Arctic, which was warming twice as fast as the global average to her home continent of Africa, where changing weather patterns threatened to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.  So how global warming was addressed today carried grave implications for the future.


At the same time, she said that the challenge presented a remarkable opportunity to break with the past, “to look anew at the way we operate…and the way we relate to each other”.  It also provided the opportunity to implement a new sustainable development process; promote cleaner business, industries and jobs; make better and wiser use of limited natural resources; and re-invest in depleted natural capital. 


Those changes would not prove painless, but their discomfort was far outweighed, by the cost of not acting, she said, noting that the landmark reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had suggested that “it will not cost us the moon to save the Earth” -– as little as 0.1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) might be needed annually for the next three decades, “if we start to act now”.


In a keynote address, Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that 2007 was proving to be a pivotal year, and that people of the world, galvanized by the Intergovernmental Panel’s reports, had finally begun to ask their Governments and leaders:  “What are you doing about this problem?”  Moreover, calls to address climate change were now building from the grass-roots level.  Civil society had stepped up its already active involvement and NGOs were becoming more aware that the grave, far-reaching consequences of global warming touched on virtually all aspects of their work. 


He said that, in the global effort to turn back the effects of climate change, it was absolutely necessary to address the role of the United Nations –- an organization that was “much maligned, criticized and faulted for the problems of the world”.  But, the DPI/NGO Conference, as well as the Organization’s early –- and future –- involvement as a driver of the climate change issue was proof of why the United Nations was far from redundant and far more relevant than ever before.


The United Nations had picked up the science on climate change and moved the discussion into the Government arena, even though the idea had been met with derision in some quarters, though establishing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  He noted that UNEP, for its part, had set up the Intergovernmental Panel of some 2,000 renowned scientists who had turned a hotly contested ideological concept into a universally accepted basis for action in 2007.  “That is the United Nations at work,” he said.


But the challenge to take another major step forward would be again on the table of world leaders this December in Bali.  What Government leader could stand before his or her people and try to explain the alternatives to action in the face of such compelling evidence?  “There are no alternatives” to collective action, he said, appealing to civil society representatives, who knew more about the United Nations than some, to go back into their communities and make people aware that they were in danger of losing some of their greatest assets unless action to comprehensively address climate change was not taken swiftly.


General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa said that a comprehensive global response to the climate change threat must be pursued within the ambit of the international development agenda.  It also required “a radical change of behaviour and consciousness”, and the effort can only succeed “if it is home-based” and engages communities “in identifying the actions and responses that are most suited to their particular circumstance”.


She said that civil society could contribute greatly and most effectively if it fostered awareness and persisted in developing inventive initiatives at the grass-roots level which inspire people to work towards a solution, she added.  “The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization, but it draws its strength and inspiration from the support of civil society worldwide,” she said.


Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that the Conference took place on the eve of several milestone events on the United Nations climate change agenda.  Those included the 24 September high-level meeting on climate change convened by the Secretary-General, the releases in November of the Human Development Report and the synthesis report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December. 


He trusted that deliberations at the NGO/DPI Conference would contribute to that series of continuing global efforts and that they would suggest specific ways in which that urgent challenge could be tackled, both individually and collectively.  He urged that participants be active, ask questions, make critical comments and create partnerships.  Through those interactive partnerships, it would be possible to make a difference.


After the opening statements, several NGO representatives took the floor, including Joan Kirby, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee, who said that “the tide is turning and political leaders are responding here and around the world”.  In large part, that response was due to the persistent efforts of the Secretary-General.  She was pleased to share his concerns about climate change with civil society and the world of NGOs.  Hopefully, Conference participants would be transformed into “conservers rather than users of the Earth”, and leave knowing what they could do to respond to the challenge, equipped with the practical tools to do so.


Renate Bloem, President of the Geneva-based Conference of NGOs and representative to the United Nations for the World Federation of Methodist and United Church Women, urged NGOs to exert their “soft power” to persuade Governments to set goals to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.  On an operational level, climate change should become an issue for all NGOs, not only for environmental ones, because it concretely affected the way they worked, she said.  Climate change was not just an environmental issue, but also an economic one -– an issue of food security, refugees and human rights and development -- particularly since it had a disproportionate effect on the lives of the poor. 


Conference Chair and Co-Chair of its Planning Committee, and representative of the International Council for Caring Communities, Richard Jordan said, in assessing the challenge, cross-cutting issues of gender, education, human rights, health and migration should be articulated.  He urged participants to pause for the three days and consider the reasons for the lack of progress, for all too soon it would be Monday morning and time for everyone to help combat that very serious challenge to the entire “human-earth” community.  The Conference would produce a declaration, which he hoped would be a consensus text that would provide a greater understanding of climate change and its impact.


A panel discussion in the afternoon on “Climate Change:  The Scientific Evidence”, one of seven such scheduled discussions, was highlighted by a presentation by Micheal Oppenheimer, one of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel’s report.  Mr. Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, focused particularly on the findings of working group 2, which had examined the impact of climate change and the ability of human and natural systems to adapt to those changes. 


Touching on water availability, human health, the effects of climate change on ecosystems and species, as well as on sea level, he said that, after working on the issue for the past 25 years, he had never seen such a clear statement of the hazard of climate change as the predicted precipitation changes, flowing from working group 2’s report.  Particularly worrying would be the anticipated drying in the south-western United States, the Mediterranean basin, sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico and elsewhere.  The rains would decrease in sub-Saharan Africa, which already had difficulty with water and food availability.  Already, malnutrition and starvation were all too common worldwide.


In terms of ecosystems, he said that coral reefs were very sensitive to temperature.  Those were broadly distributed in the tropics, and provided a rich biodiversity centre and were essential to island nations.  The sinking of floating ice was another concern.  The ice pack in the Arctic, the polar bears’ habitat, was shrinking, which might lead to that species’ extinction.  Niche species lived in very specific circumstances and were at particular risk, but about 30 per cent of all species would disappear, based on the estimated warming. 


Andrew Revkin, a journalist with The New York Times, moderated the panel, which also featured the participation of Zhenlin Chen, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Cooperation, China Meteorological Administration; and Nirivololona Raholijao, Head of Applied Research Service, Madagascar National Meteorological Office.


The Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m., Thursday, 6 September.


Background


The sixtieth DPI/NGO Conference, entitled “Climate Change:  How It Impacts Us All”, met today to begin its annual three-day session.


The gathering, organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) in cooperation with associated non-governmental organizations (NGOs), brings together more than 2,000 NGO representatives and other civil society partners from around the world to address the issue of climate change, which United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has identified as a top priority for the Organization. 


Opening Statements


KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the Conference was intended to highlight both how everyone was coping with the influence of climate change and to suggest the ways by which each could make a difference in addressing the needs for mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.  He was grateful to the partners in the NGO/DPI Executive Committee who had thought of that timely opportunity for NGOs worldwide to add their voices and expertise to the discussion of future global agreements on addressing climate change.  That was reflective of the meaningful and enduring partnership between the United Nations and NGOs associated with DPI.


He said that the Conference took place on the eve of several milestone events on the United Nations climate change agenda.  Those included the 24 September high-level meeting on climate change convened by the Secretary-General, the releases in November of the Human Development Report and the synthesis report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December.  He trusted that deliberations at the NGO/DPI Conference would contribute to that series of continuing global efforts and that they would suggest specific ways in which that urgent challenge could be tackled, both individually and collectively.  He urged that participants be active, ask questions, make critical comments and create partnerships.  Through those interactive partnerships, it would be possible to make a difference.


MARJORIE B. TIVEN, Commissioner of the New York City Commission for the United Nations, welcomed the Conference participants and stressed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s commitment to the environment and addressing the unique challenges climate change posed to the millions of people around the world living in heavily populated urban centres.  She said that New York would gain another one million residents by the middle of the century and, with that in mind, this past April, on Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg had launched “PlaNYC 2030”, a sweeping initiative to strengthen the City’s urban environment.


She said the Mayor’s urban development initiative aimed to make New York America’s “ Green City” and to serve as a model for other cities around the country and worldwide.  PlaNYC aimed to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and was based on a set of initiatives and targets in five major areas, including land, air, transportation, water and energy.


Sheikha HAYA RASHED AL KHALIFA (Bahrain), President of the General Assembly, said that the presence of civil society at the opening of the General Assembly was vital to ensure that the United Nations was an Organization of the people and for the people –- embodying the global aspirations of civil society.  As the world became more interconnected, no problem could be viewed in isolation, and all stakeholders must ensure that priority was given to emerging global challenges facing humanity.  That was why it was fitting that the sixtieth DPI/NGO Conference focused on climate change, the effects of which knew no boundaries.


Societies in all corners of the world simultaneously faced threats that would affect their quality of life, and, in some cases, their very existence.  She said that a comprehensive global response to the climate change threat must be pursued within the ambit of the international development agenda.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had confirmed the indisputable link between human activities and climate change.  “We are confronted with both a collective and an individual responsibility to address this challenge and reverse its destructive trends,” she said, adding that the world was already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, and everyone was aware that even more extreme events would occur in the coming years.


She said that, although the increasing natural disasters needed to be attended to, international efforts must go beyond relief, to encourage a way of living that gave priority to the environment.  “In our efforts to counter climate change, we have an opportunity to protect and restore the incredible diversity of the Earth’s landscape with its unique healing properties,” she said, stressing that the impetus of civil society could be harnessed most effectively by fostering awareness and continuing to develop innovative approaches at the grass-roots level, which empowered people to contribute actively to finding solutions.


“A radical change in behaviour and consciousness is needed,” she said.  “This will only be successful if it is home-based, engaging communities in identifying the actions and responses that are most suited to their particular circumstance.”  Further, all were aware that the poorest and most marginalized segments of society suffered the most brutal effects of climate change, which further undermined their economic growth and poverty reduction.  “We have a moral imperative to act,” she said.  “Preserving our environment is a responsibility that we all share -– rich and poor, developed and developing nations.”


She went on to say that any measures designed to address climate change should not be at the cost of economic growth, but part of the efforts to achieve growth.  That included greater investment in climate-friendly energy production and energy efficiency, as well as technology transfers to help ensure that all the Millennium Development Goals were met.  “Together we can work towards a new framework that sees economic growth, social justice and environmental care advance hand in hand.”  Development could not happen in the absence of a healthy and secure environment.


All were aware that the increase in natural disasters and the scarcity of natural resources could place tremendous pressures on societies that no society was prepared to manage effectively, including in the developed world, and that could lead to an increase in conflicts.  The international community’s decisions must, therefore, be holistic and immediate.  She believed it was not just more urgent than ever before, but also more possible to build global consensus for tackling environmental change.  “We have the technological know-how.  However, a global consensus can only be secured if we share in the benefits from action to address it.”


Stressing the United Nations commitment to bringing all elements of the international community together to address climate change, she added that it was essential to build stronger ties with civil society, which had often been strained due to mistrust and lack of understanding.  The United Nations was an intergovernmental organization, but it drew on the inspiration and support from civil society worldwide.  “Your presence and input enriches these halls, bringing to our attention the realities on the ground, and reminding us that the test of our success is determined by the impact felt by those who are most in need.”


ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, Deputy Secretary-General, said that the gathering was a wonderful illustration of the strong ties binding the Organization to global civil society.  Those ties dated back to the earliest stages of the United Nations, but only in recent years had they truly come of age.  That had been made possible because of a deliberate and sustained outreach effort on both their parts.  It also reflected the greatly expanded role of civil society organizations on the world stage.  From development to human rights, peace and security to humanitarian assistance, civil society organizations had always taken a lead in mobilizing public opinion on the leading challenges of our time.  Now, however, they were also ever more engaged in designing and implementing solutions at every level, from the local to the intergovernmental.


She said that one area where the partnership was increasingly vital related to the global challenge posed by climate change.  NGOs had historically been at the forefront of the struggle to draw attention to the environment, and to push for action to protect it.  Now, that grave challenge was beginning to receive the very highest attention it merited.  The recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had settled on the basic science, and silenced any lingering doubters.  The Panel’s report had unequivocally confirmed the warming of the climate system and linked it directly to human activity. 


The effects of climate change were already visible, she continued.  The Arctic was warming twice as fast as the global average.  The resultant melting threatened the region’s people and ecosystems, but it also imperilled low-lying islands and coastal cities half a world away.  On the other hand, as glaciers retreated, water supplies were being put at risk.  Additionally, for one-third of the world’s population living in dry lands, especially those in her home continent of Africa, changing weather patterns threatened to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity. 


She said that how that threat was addressed carried grave implications for the future.  At the same time, the challenge also presented a remarkable opportunity to:  define a new, more sustainable development process; encourage new kinds of cleaner and sustainable businesses, industries and jobs; make better and more intelligent use of scarce natural resources; and re-invest in depleted natural capital, from forests to freshwater, and from soil to biodiversity.


Those changes would not prove painless, but their discomfort was outweighed, many times over, by the cost of not acting, she said.  In fact, the IPCC report suggested that “it will not cost us the moon to save the Earth” -– as little as 0.1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) might be needed annually for the next three decades, “if we start to act now”, she said.


The Secretary-General had identified climate change as one of his top priorities since his very first days in office, she added.  It was just the kind of global challenge that the United Nations was best suited to address, yet it was not a challenge for the Organization alone.  Confronting it required a truly global effort, one that drew together Governments, the private sector and civil society in “one sustained push for change”. 


Already, she continued, many welcome measures were being implemented.  The European Union had agreed to a 20 per cent emission reduction target, which would rise to 30 per cent if other countries followed suit.  The Group of Eight Summit in Germany had affirmed the ongoing United Nations climate change process, and, across the world, the private sector was adapting to climate change.  It was demanding that Governments and the United Nations deliver an international agreement to address the issue.  Businesses appeared eager to do their part, if the ground rules were clear and comprehensive.  The agreement reached at last week’s talks in Vienna also augured well for progress at Bali. 


She noted that developing countries were acting, too.  In Brazil, efforts to counter deforestation in the Amazon had shown positive results.  China had re-committed itself to reduce its energy intensity by 20 per cent, and India’s Prime Minister had ordered a review of his country’s greenhouse gas emissions.  The United Nations had no intention of lagging behind.  It was currently taking steps to make the Organization carbon neutral, and it expected the refurbishment of its Headquarters in New York to be a model of energy efficiency and environmental friendliness.


In just over two weeks, the Secretary-General would host a high-level event on climate change in New York, she said.  He had also consulted widely with various political figures, civil society representatives and business leaders in an effort to build political momentum ahead of upcoming negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention in Bali.  To advance that effort, he had also appointed three Special Envoys on Climate Change.  Those initiatives would only succeed through sustained and broad-based engagement.  She, therefore, urged civil society to redouble its efforts to raise public awareness, in particular to build grass-roots support for a breakthrough in Bali.  It could also push for the “quick wins” that would be quickly implemented by almost all countries.


She stressed that the ultimate goal must be a comprehensive agreement under the Framework Convention process.  Such an agreement must tackle climate change on all fronts, including adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization.  Leaders must be encouraged to reach that agreement by 2009 and to have it in force by the expiration of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period in 2012.  “This is the challenge before us.  If we succeed –- as we must -– we will not only change the world, we will save it,” she concluded. 


Keynote Address


ACHIM STEINER, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the statements made at the opening of the session had proved that the issue of climate change had taken centre stage at the United Nations.  The fact that the Assembly Hall was filled with civil society representatives was welcome, because it was the place where most people considered that Governments gathered to make decisions that affected the entire world.


Indeed, the presence and interest of civil society was also proof that climate change was a phenomenal environmental problem that bound the people of the world together more than any other previous challenge.  Indeed, whether people were rich or poor, from the global North or South, everyone was beginning to understand that climate change could not be addressed effectively unless the world came together.  “I do not believe that mankind has ever before in its history faced such a challenge,” he said.


He said that 2007 was proving to be a pivotal year.  The people of the world, galvanized by the reports of the groundbreaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had finally begun to ask their Governments and leaders:  “What are you doing about this problem?”  It was also important that calls to address climate change, while largely driven by discussions about global warming, were now building from the grass-roots level.  Civil society was stepping up its already active involvement and NGOs were becoming more and more aware that the gravity and far reaching consequences of climate change touched on virtually all aspects of their work. 


In addition, he believed that climate change was the transformative issue of the early part of the century, especially since it challenged the past century’s notions about such things as “environment vs. economics”, and “economy vs. the planet”.  Climate change also challenged the paradigm of equity -- between rich and poor, and even between generations.  The difference between being poor and being wealthy was not merely “depravation vs. luxury”.  The floods, mudslides and other devastating natural disasters that had swept South Asia in the past few weeks proved that climate change was a significant threat to all.  It also threatened years of work towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.


The effects of climate change were also exacerbated by the sheer numbers of people currently living on the planet, as well as where those populations were centred and their density, he continued.  Entire national infrastructures and economies that had taken centuries to build and maintain could be wiped away in a matter of years by the effects of climate change, particularly along costal areas, and in mountain ranges and valleys.  He said that the cost of adapting and mitigating climate change must be equitable.  No one could argue that Kenya, Indonesia and China faced the same challenges, in that regard.  At the same time, moving towards a lower-carbon economy was not just a matter of cost.  Adapting and mitigating climate change must address human development factors like health, as well as the environment.


In all this, he said, it was absolutely necessary to address the role of the United Nations –- an Organization that was “much maligned, criticized and often faulted for the problems of the world”.  But, the DPI/NGO Conference, as well as the Organization’s early –- and future –- involvement as a driver of the climate change issue was proof of why the United Nations was far from redundant and far more relevant than ever before.


The United Nations had picked up the science on climate change and moved the discussion into the Government arena, even though the idea had been met with derision in some quarters, though establishing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  He noted that UNEP, for its part, had set up the Intergovernmental Panel of some 2,000 renowned scientists who had turned a hotly contested ideological concept into a universally accepted basis for action in 2007.  “That is the United Nations at work,” he said.


But the challenge to take another major step forward would be again on the table of world leaders this December in Bali.  What Government leaders could stand before his or her people and try to explain the alternatives to action?  “There are no alternatives” to action -– collective action, taken through the United Nations system.  And while he was not naďve and recognized that there were things wrong, as there were with any bureaucracy dealing with competition and funding issues, the United Nations was making a difference.


Every day, hundreds of thousands of people stayed alive because the United Nations Member States allowed agencies to go out into the field to provide food, clothing and medicine.  It might be an abstract notion to some, but those living in refugee camps knew what the United Nations could do.  Indeed, it might be a surprise, but “a few people out there stand up for the UN”.  It was easy to criticize, but the world was at a point where it was losing its perspective.  He appealed to civil society representatives, who knew more about the United Nations than some, to go back into their communities and make people aware that they were in danger of losing some of their greatest assets unless action to comprehensively address climate change was not taken swiftly.


NGO Statements


JOAN KIRBY, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee, said that “the tide is turning and political leaders are responding here and around the world”.  In large part, that response was due to the persistent efforts of the Secretary-General.  She was pleased to share his concerns about climate change with civil society and the world of NGOs.


She said that the worst part was that there was a deep injustice in the impact of climate change.  Rich countries had grown richer, even as decades of greenhouse gas emissions had caused the problem, while poor countries would be the worst affected, facing greater droughts, floods, hunger and disease.  South African farmers were forced to sell their cattle because of less reliable rains.  Vietnamese communities were planting mangroves along the coast to diffuse tropical storm waves.  The crisis in Darfur had been described as the first “climate change war”, owing to decades of drought that had preceded the conflict.


She invited participants to the NGO/DPI Executive Committee’s open forum tomorrow at 9 a.m., and reviewed some of the Committee’s initiatives.  Among them, it had supported students’ outreach to recruit new NGOs in Costa Rica.  Also, under an innovative programme, regional representatives were being appointed to develop regional networks in far parts of the world.  Those networks would be useful in taking forward the Conference outcome to other cities.  Hopefully, Conference participants would be transformed into “conservers rather than users of the earth”, and leave knowing what they could do to respond to the challenge, equipped with the practical tools to do so.


RENATE BLOEM, President of the Geneva-based Conference of NGOs and representative to the United Nations for the World Federation of Methodist and United Church Women, said that the Conference’s theme could not be more timely in light of the recent terrifying floods and hurricanes, dryness and meteorological uncertainty.  Even in countries not now speaking out on the issue, people and Governments were realizing that those ecological disasters were not the fruit of hazard, but due in large measure to human activities.  The climate was getting chaotic, and the death of people from tsunamis and earthquakes was the responsibility of all.  “We have to act urgently,” she said.


However, she said, the implications of the phenomenon on human activities had not yet been fully measured.  In addition to becoming more aware of it, more influence, or “soft power”, should be exerted in environmental decision-making processes to reverse, or at least, stop, the tendency towards global warming.  In an impressive attempt to draw the attention of public opinion to global warming, Greenpeace recently made headlines when it took photos of naked men and women on the Swiss glacier of Aletsch to highlight the disastrous effect of global warming and of the melting of the Alps.  Hopefully, that would sensitize the general public to the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  Some countries had already set ambitious goals to reduce those emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.  Others were more reluctant, and, thus, NGOs should continue to exert their “soft power” to persuade them.


One of the best examples of NGO involvement in decision-making in environmental matters was the 1998 Aarhus Convention, formally, the UN/ECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, adopted.  That Convention established that sustainable development, including climate change, could be achieved only through the participation of all stakeholders, and it was the first international document to define environmental rights as human rights.  Although the Convention was so far limited to States members of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and to States with consultative status with the ECE, it could inspire other Member States in other regions. 


On an operational level, climate change should become an issue for all NGOs, not only for environmental ones, because it concretely affected the way they worked, she said.  Climate change was not just an environmental issue, but also an economic one -– an issue of food security, refugees and human rights and development -- particularly since it had a disproportionate effect on the lives of the poor. 


RICHARD JORDAN, Conference Chair and Co-Chair of its Planning Committee, and representative of the International Council for Caring Communities, said that climate change had made rural development for billions of people an unimaginable prospect.  In assessing the challenge, cross-cutting issues of gender, education, human rights, health and migration should be articulated.  He urged participants to pause for the three days and consider the reasons for the lack of progress, for all too soon it would be Monday morning and time for everyone to help combat that very serious challenge to the entire “human-earth” community. 


The Conference would produce a declaration, which he hoped would be a consensus text that would provide a greater understanding of climate change and its impact.  It was in draft form and presently available; participants had a chance to suggest changes, and he described the process by which they could do so.  The deadline was 6 p.m. on Thursday.  He also envisioned collaboration over the next 12 months to create a report to be given to the Secretary-General.  That was an experiment in encouraging broad mobilization for disseminating information by the NGO community.


He concluded by recalling the closing image from the film, “Battleship Potemkin”, in which a baby carriage careened down the Odessa Steps.  Drawing an analogy, he said that the United Nations role was to prevent the baby carriage from ever starting on its perilous journey in the first place.  However, since “the baby carriage of climate change” had already started its journey, everyone, together, needed to work with the United Nations in the run-up to the Bali Conference in December to “prevent a calamity”.


Afternoon Panel Discussion on “Climate Change:  The Scientific Evidence”


The roundtable, one of seven such scheduled discussions, was moderated by ANDREW REVKIN, a journalist with The New York Times.  He was joined by:  MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences, Princeton University; ZHENLIN CHEN, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Cooperation, China Meteorological Administration; and NIRIVOLOLONA RAHOLIJAO, Head of Applied Research Service, Madagascar National Meteorological Office.


In introductory remarks, Mr. REVKIN said that the public discourse on the issue of climate change showed a sharp polarization.  There was a big faction that continued to say it was a hoax, and another that said it was a catastrophe unfolding in real time, in fast motion.  At the same time, their knowledge was building, especially in the media, and it was the long-term trajectories that mattered the most. 


“We’re on a path towards having ever greater influence on the planetary system; the sting is in the tail,” he said.  The world would be profoundly different if things stood the way they were today.  In a review of The New York Times clippings, he said the first story he found on climate change dated back to 1890.  It stated that the ice crop had failed for several years in a row, as winters had been so temperate.  That was the year that New York City started importing ice from Norway.  A warmer world meant higher seas and that dicta had held firm since at least the 1930s he said, showing slides of various The New York Times clippings.


Mr. OPPENHEIMER focused his remarks on the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of which he had been among the several authors, particularly on the findings of working group 2.  That group had examined the impact of climate change and the ability of human and natural systems to adapt to those changes.  Today, he wanted to concentrate on water availability, human health, the effects of climate change on ecosystems and species, as well as on sea level. 


Having worked on the issue for the past 25 years, he said he had never seen such a clear statement of the hazard of climate change as the predicted precipitation changes, flowing from working group 2’s report.  Particularly worrying would be the anticipated drying in the south-western United States, the Mediterranean basin, sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico and elsewhere.  The rains would decrease in sub-Saharan Africa, which already had difficulty with water and food availability.  Already, malnutrition and starvation were all too common worldwide.


In terms of ecosystems, he said that coral reefs were very sensitive to temperature.  Those were broadly distributed in the tropics, and provided a rich biodiversity centre and were essential to island nations.  The sinking of floating ice was another concern.  The ice pack in the Arctic, the polar bears’ habitat, was shrinking, which might lead to that species’ extinction.  Niche species lived in very specific circumstances and were at particular risk, but about 30 per cent of all species would disappear, based on the estimated warming. 


Heat-related deaths were a common human impact, he said, drawing attention to the heat-related deaths in Europe in 2003.  In their response, Governments had been “flat-footed”.  More heat waves were predicted for the future, and Governments were ill-prepared to deal with them.  Sea levels would also continue to rise as the Earth warmed.  Already, the fraying of the edges of the ice sheets was occurring over large parts of Greenland and parts of Antarctica, signalling widespread loss of those ice sheets.  The stakes were huge on rising sea levels. 


He said that there had been some temperature changes occurring already in the 0 to 1 degree range, and those would worsen in the 2 to 3 degree range.  A relative modest warming brought with it large threats.  Moreover, most scientists would say it was almost impossible to keep the warming in the 1 to 2 degree range.  “So, we are buying into –- in many people’s opinions -– large impacts,” he added. 


Mr. CHEN concentrated on the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel’s report.  The three working groups had released their assessments, respectively, in February, April and May, and the Chairman’s report was due out in November.  As for the science of the report, the climate was getting warmer and was projected to continue.  The increase in the average global air and ocean temperatures in the past 100 years had been 0.74 Celsius.  The corresponding sea level rise during the twentieth century had been 17 centimetres.  There were significant changing trends with ice and snow.  For example, the snow cover in the northern hemisphere had showed a decreasing trend, particularly in the 1980s. 


He said that the warming was “truly global”; it was getting warmer everywhere.  The warming of the climate system was “unequivocal”.  It was not only evident with traditional climate elements, such as temperature and precipitation, but also heat and water vapour content, ocean heat uptake, ice and snow, and extreme events -– all were changing in a consistent pattern of warming.  It was projected that temperature would increase by the end of this century from 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius and sea level rise by 18 to 59 centimetres.  It was likely that heat waves and precipitation events would become more frequent, and also likely that extreme events, such as typhoons and hurricanes, would intensify.  Precipitation was expected to increase in high latitudes and decrease in sub-tropic altitudes. 


The impacts of climate change were profound, as they affected all sectors of socio-economic development, he stressed.  In terms of the response, adaptation would be “very necessary”, but many impacts could be avoided, reduced or delayed by mitigation.  In the long term, sustainable development could impede global warming, and global warming could impede sustainable development. 


He also drew attention to the “data gaps”, notably the gap in geographic balance in the literature, particularly in developing countries.  It was more difficult to observe and analyze extreme events compared to monitoring climatic averages, and developing countries suffered more and longer from extreme events, so that was a huge challenge.  In the last several decades, the global climate observation system had been improved generally, but it was deteriorating in some parts of the developing world, which was worrying.  The international community should pay attention to the urgent needs of developing countries. 


Focusing her comments on Africa, Ms. RAHOLIJAO said the continent was considered to be the most vulnerable when it came to climate change.  The responsibility for the greatest emission of greenhouse gases had been clearly identified, but its effects did not distinguish between the polluters and non-polluters.  Sub-Saharan Africa only produced 4 per cent of greenhouse gases globally and emitted 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide in 2000, but studies had showed that the climate there had changed and would continue to change.  In fact, Africa was already experiencing climate extremes and natural disasters that were meteorological in nature, and those were on the increase.


She said that Africa would not be in a very good position to cope with climate change, owing to its economic difficulties.  In addition, detection of climate change in Africa was facing the basic problem of a lack of historical data, because of the progressive degradation of meteorological stations in sub-Saharan Africa.  That factor was limiting studies and research and, therefore, “preventing us from getting to the bottom of climate change in Africa”. 


Despite the difficulties, she said that several changes had occurred.  Among them was the general trend upwards in temperature, with long-term temperature increases expected during the century.  There had also been a significant drop in annual precipitation.  Seasonal rains were very important in Africa, but they were subjected to greater variability, year to year.  Sea level had risen from 1965 to 2003, and was still rising.  The highest levels were around the western coast, and lowest on the eastern coast. 


Regarding projections, she said that the general warming in Africa over the century was expected to increase at a rate of 1.5 times higher than the global average, and heating would be more pronounced in dry, tropical areas, or arid and semi-arid regions.  Regarding annual precipitation, that was expected to drop in North Africa.  In southern Africa, it would decrease significantly in winter, but increase in eastern Africa.  Generally, excessive rains were predicted, with a reduction in the number of rainy days in humid areas.  In terms of tropical cyclones, the trend was for wind and precipitation to increase, which should be taken into account in the south-west Indian Ocean.


She also touched on the impact on food security, stressing the possible reduction in the area where food could be grown, as well as the shortening of the growing season.  Some areas might see agricultural production reduced up to 50 per cent by 2020.  Certain areas that already suffered in the realm of water availability would see a worsening of that situation.  The rise in sea levels would threaten major coastal cities.  Marine and land ecosystems risked degradation.  Africa must adapt.  The shortest path was to learn how to manage and adapt to year-by-year changes in climate.  That could be achieved by obtaining climate information in a timely manner, which met the continent’s needs and the expectations of the users.  That required the adoption of new approaches, as new climate products were developed.


In the interactive discussion that followed, questions centred on how the combined power of 2,000 non-governmental organizations could lobby the worst corporate polluters, including in the United States.  Mr. Oppenheimer encouraged that the non-governmental organizations could go back to their communities and engage in dialogue with the aim of changing people’s minds.  He urged the non-governmental organizations to be creative and to do their research.  He also asked them to return in six months to report on whether they had accomplished their goal.  There would be a feedback mechanism in the Intergovernmental Panel’s final report.  He suggested that the representatives go to Washington, D.C., on a bicycle or by foot -- “with a light carbon footprint” –- and engage in dialogue. 


Responding to a question about whether China had suitable geological formations for storing carbon dioxide and plans to employ carbon capture, Mr. Chen said that working group 3 had done a report on that subject, and several Chinese experts had participated in drafting the report.  For China, that was a completely new field of knowledge.  Since the report, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology had conducted a survey to see if there was any geological formation to capture or store carbon dioxide.  That was also a direction being taken in the plan of action adopted by China last June.  China also emphasized international cooperation and sought technology transfers to developing countries, so as to better enable them to protect their environments. 


On the mitigation of emissions and adaptation, Mr. Revkin said that the role of technological advancement did not get a lot of attention.  Research and scientific endeavour, and making the energy issue a high priority at national and academic levels, was “not really out there yet”.


Mr. Oppenheimer added that the race was on, however, and the question was whether the policies making it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide happen soon enough to bring those new technologies on line.


Mr. Chen said that, in China, there were many studies on new technologies under way, including on renewable energies, such as solar and wind energies.  In terms of long-term planning, raising energy efficiency was another focus. 


“No matter what we start doing, not much change would be noticed for the next 40 or 50 years,” Mr. Oppenheimer replied to a question about the lag time between the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a noticeable effect on global temperatures.  Most of the change that would happen was in the pipeline and could only make a difference in the margins.  However, it would make a difference -– a big difference -– in the next century.  Mr. Revkin added, “We’re talking about our kids’ climate rather than our own, in terms of our strategies”. 


In terms of how to get the developed world to understand that supporting environmental health in the developing world would develop better communities in rich countries, Mr. Revkin said the Internet could play a role in that regard.  He was starting a blog at The New York Times called dot.earth.  He hoped for a “conversation” where people the world over could report to him on some interesting story about sustainability.  There was a role for communication, a role for the media.  His e-mail address at the newspaper was:  revkin@nytimes.com.


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For information media • not an official record