Robert May, president of Britain’s leading scientific body, the Royal Society said the potential results of climate change are on par with the damage that can be wrought by weapons of mass destruction.
“The impacts of global warming are many and serious: sea-level rise … changes in availability of fresh water … and the increasing incidence of extreme events — floods, droughts, and hurricanes — the serious consequences of which are rising to levels which invite comparison with weapons of mass destruction,” said Lord May in an advance copy of a speech released on Monday.
He will make the speech during the 12-day conference in Montreal which begins on Monday, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will seek to decide the future of the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012.
It is the first UN climate conference since the pollution-cutting Kyoto agreement, signed by 156 countries, took effect on January 16.
Climate change discussions
Much of the conference will be spent negotiating technical decisions on how emission-cutting targets will be reached over the next seven years.
However a notable non-signatory of the protocol that seeks to reduce or offset emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide is also the world’s greatest polluter, the United States.
Australia has also refused to sign the agreement.
There are fears it will be difficult for the conference’s 10,000 delegates from 180 countries to agree on a post-2012 deal that will be agreed upon by the European Union, green groups, business and US President George W Bush, who argues Kyoto penalises the oil-dependent US economy.
But Lord May said delegates could help by agreeing to initiate a study of pollution that looks at the potential costs of corrective action, and the fallout if nothing is done.
“Such an analysis could focus the minds of political leaders, currently worried more about the costs to them of acting now than they are by the consequences for the planet of acting too little, too late,” he said.
The scientist pointed to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US jazz capital of New Orleans in August, as an example of what could happen more often if politicians fail to tackle global warming.
On the eve of the talks, Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion said the world has “no choice” but to act, describing climate change as “the worst threat the world is facing from an environmental perspective… It’s putting at risk our relationship with the planet”.
On one frontline of climate change, about 2,000 people on the Cantaret Islands off Papua New Guinea have decided to move to nearby Bougainville island after a losing battle with rising sea levels that have washed away homes and poisoned fresh water.
Under Kyoto, about 40 nations have to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
The conference is a parallel meeting of the UN’s 189-nation 1992 climate convention which oversees Kyoto, in which Washington and Canberra are full members, and of the 156-nation Kyoto Protocol, where they are mere observers.
Among other tasks, Montreal will try to streamline a Kyoto scheme for green projects in developing nations, like tapping the energy from methane gas released by rubbish dumps in Brazil.