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Climate Change is as Serious as WMD: Annan

by: Richard Ingham    17 November 2006

UN chief Kofi Annan demanded that world leaders give climate change the same priority as they did to wars and to curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Annan made the appeal as he launched a three-day gathering of environment chiefs, tasked with stepping up action against global warming.

In his valedictory speech to the annual meeting, the UN secretary-general painted a sombre tableau about the effects of climate change, especially on impoverished countries that were least to blame for it.

And he lacerated the fast-shrinking minority of politicians or scientists who still denied there was any threat as "out of step, out of arguments and out of time."

Climate change imperils agriculture through drought and coastal cities through rising sea levels, poses a health threat by spreading mosquito-born disease and could lead to billion-dollar weather calamities, said Annan.

"Climate change is also a threat to peace and security," he warned. "Changing patterns of rainfall, for example, can heighten competition for resources, setting in motion potentially destabilising tensions and migrations, especially in fragile states or volatile regions.

"There is evidence that some of this already occurring; more could well be in the offing."

Annan declared: "The message is clear. Global climate change must take its place alongside those threats -- conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -- that have traditionally monopolised first-order political attention."

Ministers or their stand-ins at the 189-nation meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are under pressure to spell out by Friday their commitments for deepening cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The spotlight is being placed on Brazil, China and India -- big-population developing countries whose carbon pollution has surged in line with their economic growth.

The European Union (EU) hopes these countries will signal they will join rich nations in making binding curbs in their emissions when negotiations start next year to reshape the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012.

The United States, meanwhile, which walked away from Kyoto in 2001, is being scrutinised for any gesture towards the pact in the light of last week's US elections, in which the Democrats wrested control of Congress away from President George W. Bush's Republicans.

The United States by itself accounts for a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas output, although its position as No. 1 polluter could soon be overtaken by China, a major burner of coal.

Greenhouse gases trap the Sun's heat instead of letting it radiate out into space.

As a result, Earth's atmospheric temperature is rising, and many scientists are convinced this is already starting to affect the climate system.

The evidence for this comes through thinner snow cover in the European alps, shrinkage of the Greenland icesheet and Arctic ice cover, and a retreat in Siberian permafrost.

Experts are demanding swingeing cuts in the pollution to avoid prolonged droughts and floods or melting of the Antarctic icesheet that could unleash an alarming rise in sea levels.

The Nairobi conference, which began on November 6, yielded its first significant progress on Tuesday with deals on technical aspects of Kyoto's complex machinery.

They reached agreement on how a fund to help poor countries adapt to global warming will be managed, and on a five-year work programme to identify areas in rich and poor countries alike that could be vulnerable to climate change.

In addition, they agreed rules for defining which projects should be eligible under Kyoto's "Joint Implementation" (JI) initiative. JI is a scheme by which rich countries that transfer clean technology to former Soviet eastern European countries can gain carbon credits that they can trade or offset against their own emissions goal.

Financial experts on Tuesday warned climate change could so amplify the effect of weather disasters that droughts, storm surges and other natural catastrophes could cost as much as a thousand billion dollars in a single year by 2040.