GENEVA—A new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that global warming is likely to become completely irreversible if no successful effort is made to slow down the trend before 2006.
Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced by then, the report concludes, it will be too late to avoid inflicting a grave environmental catastrophe upon future generations.
"We have absolutely no time to waste," said Dr. William Tumminelli, lead author of the report, which stresses it is utterly crucial the world cut its carbon footprint in half by the year 2000. "If we wait until 1998 or even 1995 to really start doing something about climate change, our planet's rising temperature will already have set in motion a series of devastating and irreparable long-term consequences. We need to have strict international rules in place well ahead of 2006 or, to be blunt, many of the earth's inhabitants will be doomed."
"The situation could not possibly be more urgent," Tumminelli added.
The IPCC report—the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken—estimates the failure to address global warming immediately could result in sea levels rising 6 inches by the end of the 20th century, 2000-2009 being the hottest decade ever recorded, and roughly half the Arctic ice cap melting by 2011.
Even before 2006, when the report indicates the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach "entirely unmanageable levels," scientists confirm the likelihood of an alarming increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and droughts, which could lead to death tolls in the hundreds of thousands.
"Climate change is the deadliest crisis currently facing humanity, so needless to say, we can expect it to be the dominant issue of the 2000 presidential election," Brookings Institution political analyst Gloria Leting said. "It stands to reason that, as the world's foremost producer of greenhouse gases, the United States will want to take the lead in preventing this disaster while we still have time."
"We can also count on hearing U.S. Senate candidates make firm campaign promises to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as they take office," continued Leting, referring to the U.N. accord that aims to enforce emission standards starting in 2005. "Our elected officials realize Americans don't want to suffer the embarrassment of not being among the first nations to approve such an vitally important agreement."
The report also outlines a set of year-by-year goals aimed at curbing emissions prior to 2006, such as weatherizing all homes by 1979, replacing household light bulbs with compact fluorescent models by 1985, phasing out fossil fuels by 1992, and taking steps to ensure the world population never reaches the "exceedingly dangerous" 7 billion mark.
If the 2006 deadline isn't met, climatologists warn the world will eventually experience planet-wide cataclysms, including massive shortages of potable water, insufficient crop productivity, the extinction of numerous species, and unprecedented outbreaks of famine and pandemic disease.
"The picture by the end of the 21st century becomes quite bleak, frankly," Dr. Tumminelli said. "I, for one, would not want to live in the world this report describes: entire Asian cities underwater from monsoon flooding, mass human diasporas, wars fought over the scraps of habitable land still remaining—hell on earth, basically. Our only hope is for the nations of the world to put aside their individual interests and take decisive action by 2006."
Although the report represents the collaborative efforts of several thousand scientists, some observers expressed doubt about the objectivity of the study.
"I think the report is a bit reactionary, and perhaps even politically motivated." said Arthur Bainbridge, a climate policy specialist based in Washington. "Plenty of alternative models have estimated 2008 or even 2010 as the absolute point of no return."