Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Now or never

A world with 30 percent fewer species. Huge water shortages caused by disappearing glaciers affecting hundreds of millions of people. Tropical rain forests dying out as ground water disappears. An accelerating overall rise in world temperatures. All this and more could be the world's fate in just a few short decades.

That, at least, is the ominous tale told by the report released this spring by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This month, though, the IPCC said it had made a mistake. Our future is actually much bleaker. The original predictions had been based on current emissions of greenhouse gases. As it happens, such emissions are still climbing by 3 percent each year.

"Scientists are telling us we have a very small window of time in which to act," Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We have 10 or 15 years to turn global emissions from their current upward trend to an extreme downward trend."

That small window of time begins Monday on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali. Over 10,000 diplomats and scientists from around the globe will gather to begin the task of reaching an agreement that will perhaps lead the world away from the climate change brink. The challenge, though, is immense. The first such UNFCCC-brokered emissions agreement, widely known as the Kyoto Protocol, has done little to halt rising temperatures and a concurrent rise in apparently climate-related natural catastrophes. With Kyoto expiring in 2012, a sense of urgency surrounds the round of talks kicking off on Monday. And Europe is hoping to lead the charge.

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