The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Prize this fall, completed Friday work on the most authoritative and comprehensive climate science analysis ever produced.
It's message, according to Reuters: The world has no more than a few years to act if it is to avert some of the worst consequences of global warming.
The conference, in Spain, precedes the United Nations conference in Bali next month, where delegates are expected to map out a plan for global greenhouse gas reduction that will follow the Kyoto Protocol's expiration in 2012.
This is the fourth report by the IPCC, and it is more detailed and authoritative than any before. But, as Andrew Revkin, the New York Times reporter, pointed out in his blog, the details have changed but the underlying issue has not: It's the world's choice to act, or not.
"... the central question remains largely as it was posed ... 19 years ago: Will the worlds leaders and citizens act on the basis of this building picture of a world sent into environmental flux by human actions," he writes, "or choose to wait for some future round of research to clarify things a bit more?"
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, the massive cyclone that has killed at least 1,100 is a reminder of how pressing the task is. While the tropical cyclone (a.k.a. hurricane) can't be said to have been caused by climate change, scientists have warned that Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable nations to the effects of a changing climate. As sea levels rise and floods become more frequent and extreme, low-lying nations like populous Bangladesh will see more natural catastrophes, more humanitarian crises and more political instability.
The IPCC report is just a piece of paper, but its findings and prescription for action ought to be read with an eye on the devastation in Bangladesh. Both speak clearly of the imperative to act decisively on the global problem.
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