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Climate Change Congress: Scientists and prime minister go head to head

By Liz Kalaugher

The cultural differences between scientists and politicians were clear at the closing session of the Copenhagen Climate Congress.  Five scientists presented their take on the key findings from the conference to Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will host the COP delegates at the negotiations in the same Copenhagen conference centre in December.

Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany’s Potsdam Institute stressed how he sees the 2 degree target for climate change as an absolute upper limit, not just a guideline. “When politicians talk about an ambition of 2 degrees, if all goes reasonably well we get 3,” he said. “As scientists that really is an upper limit we should not cross. At 2 degrees I think we have more than a 1 in 6 chance of really bad impacts.” This morning delegates heard John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute, explain how that more than 1 in 6 chance is worse than your odds of survival when playing Russian Roulette.

Rasmussen, however, was somewhat dismayed by this news. “I need some concrete advice now,” he said. “We had a very hard battle in the EU to get the 2 degree target, and now you tell me it’s not enough. I need to know and I need to know today.”

 Will Steffen of Australian National University stepped in to the debate to explain that coming up with a number is a risk game. He believes it’s up to politicians to decide how much of a risk society is prepared to take. And while Steffen thinks 2 degrees is a reasonable target for 2009, the situation could change in five years. Rahmstorf insisted he would advise a more ambitious target if at all possible, one that leaves room for manoeuvre and a safety margin.

 In response, Rasmussen recommended that scientists not give politicians too many moving targets. “It is already complex,” he said. “I need your help to move this in the right direction.” The process now is for discussion of the agreement at the G8 summit in July, the UN meeting in September and the December meeting back in Copenhagen. Rasmussen
says there will be three key elements to the agreement – targets, funding and verification.

 With regards to targets, the aim is to cut global emissions by 50% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. “I have noted that that should be a minimum,” said Rasmussen. A binding agreement should come from developed countries to cut their emissions substantially by 2020, and by 80% by 2050. Developing countries, meanwhile, should cut their emissions by 15-30% compared to business-as-usual by 2020, and after that create real reductions.

 Developed countries should provide funds to developing countries to help them transform to a low carbon economy, with forests and land use as part of the package, continued the prime minister. They should also help with adaptation and the dissemination of technology. And a reliable and transparent system is needed to verify international actions, both on emissions and technology.

 “I call on the scientific community to follow the trends closely and help us adjust our course,” said Rasmussen.

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One comment to Climate Change Congress: Scientists and prime minister go head to head

  1. Trackback: Limiting global warming to 2 °C – why Victor and Kennel are wrong

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