Prof. advises NGOs at Kyoto energy conference
Vol. 17, No. 14Dec. 11, 1997

Prof. advises NGOs at Kyoto energy conference

John Byrne, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP), has just spent eight days in Kyoto, Japan, attending the U.N. Conference on Climate Change as an advisor to the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) meeting there.

Byrne is one of three UD faculty members who are on the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization of scientists from around the globe who research and report to the U.N. on global climate change.

He had expected to make four presentations to the NGOs about emission reduction targets and sustainable development, but "they've been calling on me more often."

Since Nov. 28, when he arrived in Kyoto, he's been shown polls taken in Germany, Japan and the U.S. that indicate the citizens of these countries want something done about climate change now.

"Just before the opening of this conference, The New York Times published a poll that showed that 65 percent of Americans want action now," Byrne said. It appears that there's a chasm growing between democratic governments and the people they represent, he added. "The people are saying act now and do what has to be done to stop the problem, but governments are saying we can't act now because we're not sure what to do."

The three major players at the conference, the U.S., Japan and the European Union, have different targets for curtailing greenhouse gases by the next century, but all three are far below the figures the IPCC says are necessary to keep the global temperature from rising by as much as 6 degrees by the end of the next century, Byrne said.

That's enough to cause the seas to rise, inundating coastal areas and swamping small island nations and cause the world to become rainier, and accelerate flood and drought conditions. Tropical diseases would spread and summers would be more intense and deadly. Of course, the ultimate impact of global warming is the continuous trapping of heat in the atmosphere causing the planet to continue to warm regardless of what human actions are taken.

"According to the IPCC, there needs to be a total reduction of heat-trapping gases of 60 percent below 1990 emissions by 2050 or it predicts global warming will be a reality," Byrne said.

The U.S. has recommended scaling back emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2010, Japan wants a 5 percent reduction by then and the European Union is calling for 15 percent.

"Whichever proposal wins, none, according to scientific knowledge, will meet the standard to prevent global warming. Much more drastic cuts are needed," Byrne said.

The government organizations appear to be ignoring the IPCC's findings, but the NGO discussions are more in line with them, he said. These non-governmental organizations were interested in knowing how CEEP arrived at its projection of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2005 with little economic disruption.

"We made multiyear targets for when developed countries would have to begin reducing emissions, called for a green bank to finance the use of renewable energy sources, developed a recycling facilities plan and energy conservation techniques," he said.

Byrne wouldn't predict what the outcome of the Kyoto conference will be, but he did say that if there is to be real progress, it will be citizen action rather than government action that will make it happen.

-Barbara Garrison