Conference Board: Global warming signs an 'Urgent Priority' for business

Growing scientific evidence of global warming becoming an 'Urgent Priority' for business and other leaders, concludes new Conference Board report: Are we approaching warmest period in 36 million years?...

NEW YORK, Sept. 7, 2004 (PRNewswire) -- Growing scientific evidence is confirming that the world's climate is radically changing and that human activity is now contributing to global warming, according to a report released by The Conference Board.

The report is based on the collective views of 11 noted climate scientists who met this June under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Conference Board's participation in the meeting was facilitated by Environmental Defense, which links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. (For the names of participating scientists, see pages 3-4 of the report.)

Concludes the report: "The Earth - for whatever the exact reasons - is on a trajectory toward an ever warmer climate. This cannot be avoided at this point, but the trajectory can be jiggled and potential risks associated with the warming can be mitigated. Ultimately the trajectory could be reversed."

The report finds that "governments and markets are likely to act" on expanding scientific evidence and perceptions that climate change has become "an urgent priority that must be addressed through a variety of measures." Participating scientists in the report strongly believe that "a reduction in human-caused emissions is an essential step in any overall strategy for dealing with climate change."

Says Dr. Charles Bennett, author of the report and The Conference Board's environmental expert: "Given the increasing costs of, and uncertainties surrounding, the reliability of traditional energy sources and growing pressures for higher standards of citizenship and contributions to global sustainability, businesses that ignore the debate over climate change do so at their peril."

Pressure on corporate boards
Corporate boards will be increasingly expected to evaluate potential risks associated with climate change, says the report. It adds: "The frequently cited 'Enron effect' will likely result in increased pressure on boards to evaluate potential costs and risks associated with mitigation either of carbon emissions or the effects of actual climate changes."

The Conference Board report finds a broad scientific consensus emerging that climate change (defined as shifts in average weather conditions over time) is underway. This is most clearly demonstrated by the rapid rise in average global temperatures, especially over the last 100 years. The report notes also an increase in severe weather events (such as intense rain storms) which scientists believe are the results of rising atmospheric instability occurring alongside global warming.

Said Don Kennedy, editor of Science magazine, who chaired the meeting: "We're in the middle of a large uncontrolled experiment on the only planet we have."

Spring a little earlier this year
The report cites a number of ecological shifts that suggest widespread changes in the world's climate.

Ocean warming, expansion of sea water and melting glaciers are causing the sea level to rise. Mean global sea level has risen 10-20 centimeters (3.9-7.8 inches) during the last century. "This trend is expected to continue," says the report, "but both the rate and the amount of sea level rises are, as with most other climate change patterns, subject to uncertainty."

Spring is arriving earlier. The start of spring in the northern hemisphere has been arriving 2.5 days per decade earlier, on average, than it did a century ago. Says Dr. Bennett, citing comments by the Carnegie Institute's Dr. Chris Field: "The role of climate change in the world's recent ecological problems, including expanding wildfires and increases in invasive plant and animal species, is not clear, but there appears to be solid evidence that warming can exacerbate negative impacts of human actions such as forest clearing."

Mountain glaciers, which account for about 10 percent of the world's surface water, are melting. In many parts of the world they are sources of municipal and irrigation water. This is especially evident in the tropics. "The large spatial scale and accelerating rate of mountain glacier retreat both north and south of the equator are astonishing," says Dr. Lonnie Thompson, Professor of Geological Sciences at Ohio State University.

We're having a heat wave
Some scientists suggest the Earth could be approaching its warmest period since the Eocene epoch (55-36 million years ago). Professor Daniel Schrag, Professor of Geochemistry at Harvard University, cites historical evidence indicating that the present atmospheric level of CO2 (380 PPM) is higher than it has been for 400,000 years. Projections suggest that it could reach 800-1000 PPM by 2100, levels not seen since the Eocene.

The challenges facing business are summed up by John Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP plc in Foreign Affairs: "Taking small steps never feels entirely satisfactory. Nor does taking action without complete scientific knowledge. But certainty and perfection have never figured strongly in the story of human progress. Business, in particular, is accustomed to making decisions in conditions of considerable uncertainty, applying its experience and skills to areas of activity where much is unknown. That is why it will have a vital role in meeting the challenge of climate change -- and why the contribution it is already making is so encouraging."

Some not-for-profit organizations stress the urgency of designing strategies that can reduce at least some of the human behavior that is worsening an impending crisis. "The Conference Board report underscores the scientific realities of global warming and the need to take action," declares Steve Cochran, Director of Strategic Communications at Environmental Defense. "Affordable, practical solutions are available today."

Source: The Conference Board, "Climate Change: Clear Trajectory-Haze in the Details," Executive Action, No. 107, August 2004,


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