The United States and China want to water down a key climate change report, arguing that quick action to reduce greenhouse gases will be more costly and less effective than the scientists who wrote the report claim, according to documents reviewed Monday by The Associated Press.
The comments, submitted by the two governments ahead of this week's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting, also downplay the potential benefits of reducing emissions and take aim at the report's conclusion that quick action could stabilize greenhouse gas levels, limiting the temperature rise to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit).
The comments from the U.S. and China are a precursor to what delegates expect will be a fight for much of the week to preserve the key conclusions in the draft IPCC report, which says greenhouse gas emissions can be quickly cut below current levels if the world shifts away from fuels like coal, invests in energy efficiency and reforms the agriculture sector.
The report was prepared by hundreds of researchers from around the world and independently reviewed by their peers.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. delegation declined to discuss the American position until the draft report is finalized Friday.
Two previous IPCC reports this year painted a dire picture of a future in which unabated greenhouse gas emissions could drive global temperatures up as much as 6°C (11°F) by 2100. Even a 2°C (3.6°F) rise could subject up to 2 billion people to water shortages by 2050 and threaten extinction for 20 percent to 30 percent of the world's species, the IPCC said.
One of the reports concluded that global warming could increase the number of hungry in the world in 2080 by between 140 million and 1 billion by contributing to widespread droughts and flooding. Diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and dengue fever could spread as temperatures rise and weather becomes increasing erratic, affecting the poorest of the world's poor.
The report being debated this week stresses that the world must quickly embrace a basket of technological options — already available and being developed — to keep the temperature rise to 2°C.
But the United States wants to take a longer-term approach, a position that will likely anger island nations and other developing countries already feeling the effects of climate change.
The U.S. wants clauses inserted into the report saying that the cost of current available technologies to reduce emissions "could be unacceptably high" and calling for a greater emphasis on "advanced technologies," many of which are aimed at extending the use of coal.
The United States and China also criticized the economics in the report, which concludes that stabilizing the greenhouse gases to limit the temperature rise to 2°C would cost less than 3 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP) over two decades.
Global economic growth has averaged almost 3 percent per year since 2000. The damage from unabated climate change, meanwhile, might cost the global economy between 5 percent and 20 percent of GDP every year, according to a British government report last year.
The United States also said that switching from coal to gas would be "bad for energy security," questioned the benefits of fuel-efficient cars, and challenged the potential economic benefits of efforts to reduce emissions, including job creation.
China joined the U.S. in trying to delete language saying the potential to reduce global warming was "significant" and questioning the affordability of taking action. China also wants countries with high per capita greenhouse gas emissions, such as the United States, to do more.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the climate change panel, wouldn't address the U.S. comments directly. But he said "every country" would have a chance to express its views and "ultimately it's a balanced assessment of the science that will prevail."
"The science certainly provides a lot of compelling reasons for action," Pachauri said. "But what action and when is what the government will have to decide."
The IPCC was established under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program to provide regular assessments to policy makers on scientific, socio-economic and technical aspects of climate change.
This week, more than 200 delegates chosen 119 countries will examine the group's report and recommend changes before it is finalized. The report is entirely scientific and technical and does not include policy recommendations.
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