Recent natural disasters amplify need for urgent action on climate change – UN

2 September 2008 – The destruction wreaked by Hurricane Gustav in the past week and the uprooting of some two million Indians by the worst flood in five decades has reinforced the need for countries to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today.

These events “underline the increasing vulnerability of humanity to natural disasters – vulnerability that is set to rise under the scientific scenarios if climate change is left unchecked,” Achim Steiner said in a statement.

This year is already proving to be a significant year, disaster-wise, according to Munich Re, one of the world’s top insurance companies. At the halfway mark of 2008, some 400 natural disasters – including Cyclone Nargis that struck Myanmar in May – have reaped damages in excess of $80 billion.

Although the devastating May earthquake in China which claimed some 70,000 people and left almost 5 million homeless cannot be attributed to global warming, many of this year’s other disasters “are in line with the scientific predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” Mr. Steiner noted.

Less than 500 days remain before nations converge in Copenhagen, Denmark, to wrap up negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Nothing less than firm, legally binding commitments to significantly reduce pollution linked with the burning of fossil fuels will suffice alongside increased funding to climate-proof vulnerable economies and communities,” said UNEP’s Executive Director.

He also warned of other climate-related problems of urgent concern, such as the melting of glaciers in mountain ranges around the world and sea level rises threatening to submerge small island States.

“The current calamities facing the planet, from the serious threat of famine in Ethiopia to the misery and loss of life in India and the disruptions to the people of New Orleans, underline the kind of economic and human suffering the globe is facing within the coming years,” Mr. Steiner cautioned.

But he voiced optimism that the costs of taking action – less than one per cent of global GDP, according to the IPCC – will not overburden the planet.

The Nobel Peace Prize co-winning Panel celebrated its 20th anniversary on 31 August, and Mr. Steiner lauded the IPCC for its numerous contributions to environmental science since its conception.

“Over 20 years, thousands of scientists have selflessly come together to periodically sift, to weigh and to validate the scientific evidence on the links between rising greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the global climate,” he said in an address to the body’s 29th session in Geneva, which runs until 4 September.

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNEP to help the world better understand the phenomenon of climate change.

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