Emboldened, perhaps, by the shiny Nobel Peace Prize medal his Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won, or perhaps by his boss's recent trip around the world to view firsthand the real-time changes wrought by global warming, Yvo de Boer minced no words at the opening of the IPCC's conference Monday in Spain.
"Failing to recognize the urgency of this message and act on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible," the Associated Press quoted de Boer as saying.
The IPCC, a group of scientists from around the world, is meeting to condense thousands of pages of scientific analysis about global warming into a single 25-page document. The reams of information are filled with statistics, evidence, predictions and prescriptions that add up to the most authoritative document ever prepared about global warming. Now, what matters is that the IPCC crystallize its message, and that it shine.
The accuracy and urgency of the statement about global warming, humankind's influence on the climate, the effects of climate change and the avenues we might take to avoid the most catastrophic consequences has obvious importance.
It will be the reference point for the world for years to come (not only because it will be the only part of the document most read). It will be the statement politicians will rely on to craft, or avoid, policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ending "oil addiction," and transforming modern economies into clean, green machines. More immediately, it will be the focal point of discussions next month in Bali, where the world community meets to map a greenhouse gas reduction plan that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
Why is the problem urgent? The signs that global warming is having an effect are increasingly evident. More Arctic sea ice melted this summer by far than ever before. Greenland and Antarctica show new and worrying melting patterns. Glaciers are retreating on mountaintops across the globe. The world's oceans may be absorbing less of the carbon we emit, and we may well be emitting more carbon than the IPCC scientists have accounted for.
And many of those findings are too new to even be a part of the IPCC's calculations this week.
So de Boer is certainly right: For the world's sake, the IPCC needs to get it right.
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