THE final report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a fire-bell in the night that the world can ignore only at its peril.
Scientists from around the world, working under the rubric of the IPCC for five years and drawing on the latest data on global climate change, had previously published three reports. The first was on the science of the matter, the second on possible means for mankind to adapt to climate change, and the third on steps that could be taken to mitigate the effects.
The fourth report, delivered last week in Valencia, Spain, synthesized the first three. It warned that if the world's people and governments do not take urgent steps to control carbon emissions, climate change is going to alter lives around the world drastically.
It says that the melting of polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will raise sea levels steadily and, eventually, by very significant levels. Some islands will end up under water. Certain species will be eliminated.
The next move on all of this will be a meeting of energy ministers next month in Bali, Indonesia. The aim will be to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, but the most important element is to get national and international action behind the effort to try to head off or at least mitigate this coming profound change.
The attitude of the U.S. government is not encouraging. The United States, China, India, and Saudi Arabia led a fight at the Valencia meeting to soften some of the language of the report. The prominent role of fossil fuels in climate change is clear; so is the reason for the opposition of the Bush Administration and Saudi Arabia to measures that would limit their consumption. With India and China, it is a question of wanting to continue untrammeled their current economic leap forward, without regard to the global impact.
Legislation in Congress called America's Climate Security Act would require cuts in U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Although the bill has bipartisan support its chances of passage are dim. If it were passed, President Bush would veto it.
It is no comfort that America would share the blame with other nations for not taking steps to fend off a coming environmental disaster.
The alarm sounding at Valencia was unmistakable. The United States and the world need to act on it now.