With a major United Nations conference on climate change underway in Nairobi, Kenya, amid new ominous reports on the global dangers involved, Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for urgent action now in both the preventive and adaptive fields before it is too late.
“There is still time for all our societies to change course,” he said in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post. “The question is not whether climate change is happening, but whether, in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.”
Efforts to prevent future emissions must not be allowed to obscure the need to adapt to climate change, which will be an enormous undertaking because of the massive carbon accumulations to date, he wrote.
Much of the burden will fall on the world’s poorest countries, many of them in Africa, who will need international help if they are not to be further thwarted in their efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash a host of social ills such as extreme poverty, hunger, maternal and infant mortality, and a lack of access to education by 2015.
Most frequently cited effects of global warming include the flooding of low-lying coastal regions and the disappearance of some small island States due to rising sea levels, drought, more violent storms and inland flooding, and the spread of tropical diseases to currently temperate regions.
Mr. Annan cited a UN report released last month that showed a continuing increase in greenhouse-gas emissions by major industrialized countries, and a British study that called climate change “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen,” with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20 per cent and cause economic and social disruption on a par with the two World Wars and the Great Depression of the last century.
“The scientific consensus, already clear and incontrovertible, is today moving towards the more alarmed end of the spectrum,” he wrote. “Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that warming has reached dire levels, generating feedback loops that will take us perilously close to a point of no return,” he warned.
“The few sceptics who continue trying to sow doubt should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and just about out of time,” he added. “The stakes are high indeed. Climate change has profound implications for virtually all aspects of human well-being, from jobs and health to food security and peace within and among nations.”
He called on the world’s leaders not to fear the voters or underestimate their willingness to make large investments and long-term changes. “People are yearning to do what it takes to address this threat, and move to a safer and sounder model of development. More and more businesses are eager to do more, and only await the right incentives,” he said.