Vol 7 N° 4 [October–December 2009]



2 Darwin lives!

10 Albania approves science strategy
10 UN adopts climate services
11 OECD reassesses UNESCO’s development aid
11 Strong growth in student mobility
12 Invest more in higher education, conference urges
12 UNESCO assesses damage to Babylon
13 Lecture notes go public
13 thirteen sites join World heritage

14 Beatriz Barbuy retraces the life and death of stars

17 Captivate them young
20 Taking a step back

24 Diary
24 New releases

Direct link A World of Science Vol. 7 n° 4 (document PDF)
See also ARCHIVES for A World of Science



Seal the deal!

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels stood at a record 8.4 gigatons in 2006, according to the Earth Policy Institute, ‘20% above the level in 2000. Emissions grew 3.1% a year between 2000 and 2006, more than twice the rate of growth during the 1990s.’ This shows that we are on a dangerous slide towards runaway climate change. Growth in CO2 emissions currently exceeds the worst-case scenario in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report of an average 6.4°C temperature rise by the end of the century.

Yet, just when a sense of urgency should prevail, the mood going into the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December is one of wait and see. Much of the responsibility for our current predicament lies with the wealthy countries. Time and again, they have failed to live up to their promises of international support for poverty reduction and technology transfer to the developing world. Nor can they deny responsibility for most of the increase in global emissions of greenhouse gases since the 1950s, even if much of this growth is now taking place in the fast-growing indus-trializing world. Developing countries fear that most of the burden for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will rest on their shoulders, as their investment needs for energy swell in coming years.

Yet, it is not a question of choosing between high economic growth and low greenhouse gas emissions, says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He argues that the two pathways are com-plementary, in his preface to the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey released in September. The Survey proposes creating a global investment programme to help developing countries embrace cleaner development pathways.

The Survey suggests that at least 1% of annual world gross product, or US$500–600 billion, should be invested in adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change. This compares with an estimated US$21 billion at present in overseas development assistance for climate change. ‘The poorest and most vulnerable need significant fast-track funding for adaptation – now!,’ warns Ban Ki-moon. You need only look at the case study within these pages of two biosphere reserves in the UK and Kenya to see that, although both are already feeling the effects of sea-level rise, the means at their disposal for adapting to climate change vary greatly.

The onus is on the biggest carbon emitters historically to lead by example by committing in Copenhagen to lower emissions. But no agreement will make sense unless countries with fast-growing emissions also make substantial cuts. Today, just 10 countries emit two-thirds of the world total. In descending order, these are: China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, UK, Canada, Republic of Korea and Italy. Trailing these countries are Iran, Mexico, South Africa, France, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland, Thailand and Turkey.

In the words of Ban Ki-moon, ‘our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss.’ All of humanity is seated in that car. We are hurtling towards this calamity together and it is only together that we will be able to pull back from the brink.

Copenhagen is the culmination of a three-year effort by the United Nations to have a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement in place by 2012. Delegations need to come to Copenhagen prepared to assume their responsibilities. Seal the deal!

W. Erdelen
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences

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