BUENOS AIRES — The world’s chief climate scientist yesterday disputed the US government’s contention that cutbacks in carbon dioxide emissions are not yet warranted to slow the pace of global warming. ”The science says you’ve got to reduce emissions,” Rajendra K. Pachauri said in an interview midway through a two-week international climate conference.
The Kyoto Protocol, the international accord requiring cuts in carbon dioxide, ”is driven by the need to reduce emissions, and on that there is no question,” said Pachauri, chairman of a UN-sponsored network of climatologists.
Scientists largely blame the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other ”greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere for the rising temperatures of the past century.
The 10 warmest years globally, since records were first kept in the 19th century, have all occurred since 1990, and the top three since 1998. Specialists here this week will issue a report saying 2004 ranks as the fourth- or fifth-warmest year recorded.
Before leaving for the annual climate-treaty talks, US negotiator Harlan Watson told reporters in Washington that the United States — the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide — would eventually stop the growth in its emissions ”as the science justifies.” After arriving here, he said the Kyoto Protocol’s approach was ”not based on science.”
Asked about Watson’s statements, Pachauri was emphatic.
”The science says you’ve got to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said. ”What may be subject to uncertainty and subject to debate is who is to reduce how much.”
As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Indian scientist oversees the work of hundreds of specialists who regularly assess the latest research on climate change.
In its last major report, in 2001, the panel projected that global temperatures in the 21st century would increase by 3 to 10 degrees, depending on many factors, including how quickly and deeply gas emissions were cut back. Warming could possibly dry out farmlands, stir up fiercer storms, and raise ocean levels, the panel said.
One of the world’s leading climate institutes, the British government’s Hadley Center, issued a report at the conference yesterday on computer-based climate models. It said temperatures would most likely rise by an additional 5 degrees by later this century if the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere doubles from its preindustrial levels — a probable scenario if emissions are not controlled.
Pachauri said the evidence of change is everywhere — in the doubling of extreme weather events recorded by the World Meteorological Organization, in the melting of glaciers, and in the 1-degree global temperature rise of the past century.
”The evidence is so strong, the observations so strong, it’s very difficult to close your eyes to it,” he said. ”I was born in the mountains in India. I’ve seen the kinds of changes that have taken place with
snow cover, with the seasons, with the extent of warming, precipitation patterns, the impact on forests.”
Pachauri said he was heartened by the actions of individual US states, particularly in the Northeast, to impose carbon-dioxide reductions on power plants, for example. ”I think the next round of action will only come from an acceptance of the science,” he said.