Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.N. Panel Issues Climate Warning


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Today, the world's top climate scientists reiterated their warning about the impact humans have on climate. The U.N. panel called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released a big report on the state of climate science. And the news isn't good. Michael Oppenheimer is coordinating lead author of the new report. And he joins us from Copenhagen. Thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: Up to this point, it's been hard to pin down where the effects of climate change are going to be most profound. Does this report tell us anything about specific places in the world that are especially at risk?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, I would first point to three types of places. One, you know, if you're a farmer, particularly in a poor country, but also in our country, and you're in an area that doesn't naturally get a lot of rain, those sorts of areas may become hotter and dryer in the future. Crop yields are already decreasing.

The second thing I'd point to are problems along the coast due to, as we're quite familiar with in a lot of the states in this country, the combination of the rising seas and coastal storms. This has made living in places like New York or Miami or New Orleans progressively more risky as storms drive the sea into inland places that it's basically never been before.

The third area I point to which effects people particularly in cities anywhere in the United States, which already have an urban heat island effect - well, I'd point to the extra frequency with which we're getting already and are going to get more in the future - heat waves. In Europe in 2003, about 40,000 people died in the heat wave. We just can't afford to have that risk increasing over time. We've got to get on top of our missions or else it's going to get out of control.

MARTIN: So what is left to say? I mean, there have been five of these reports. If there is consensus in the scientific community that climate change is happening, why keep putting them out?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, first of all, it's not all bad news in that we know, and you can read the report, and you can find out a lot about solutions to the problem. Basically, we need to have a transformation in the way we produce and use energy. And the good news is we're partially, perhaps painfully slowly, moving along in that transition. The price of solar energy has plummeted. Natural gas, which has pluses and minuses, at least produces less carbon dioxide. We found a lot more natural gas when the prices plummeted.

And new technologies are developing all the time. Part of the great sort of Silicon Valley revolution, which make the way we use technology, the way we use energy, the way we do things in our daily lives, much more efficient so we don't have to waste as much energy. And that means more and more greenhouse gases going up into the atmosphere. So that's real progress. In fact, U.S. emissions of these gases have gone down about 10 percent in the last seven years.

So there is progress. The trouble is it's not fast enough. And the governments are going to have to take this seriously. They're going to have to realize that the opportunity to avoid a dangerous warming is disappearing. And they've got to move along fast in encouraging the development of approaches to reduce our emissions. By I'm ever optimistic. I think we have yet got time to get on top of this.

MARTIN: Michael Oppenheimer. He is the coordinating lead author of the new climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from the United Nations. Thanks so much for talking with us, Michael.

OPPENHEIMER: It's been a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.