Panel: Global warming fix isn' t so steep

Bert Metz, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Working Group III displays a meeting report during a press conference at the United Nations building in Bangkok.

KAI RYSSDAL: What have we learned so far from the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change?

From its first report in February we learned that human activity is almost certainly responsible for global warming. From its second report a month ago that the consequences of climate change are really, really bad. And from its third report out today that it might not cost as much as we thought to do something about it.

Nancy Marshall Genzer's following the story from Washington. Hi, Nancy.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Hello, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Nancy, you read the papers this morning it says things like, taking care of global warming is now seen to be affordable and manageable. What's the actual cost? What are people saying?

MARSHALL GENZER: Well, the least-stringent recommendation in the report would shave about a tenth of a percent off of global gross domestic product every year. Now, that doesn't seem like a lot. But the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said it would cause a global recession. And, basically, the Bush administration is saying, Look, we know that we are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but it's going to take us longer to reduce our emissions. You gotta give us a break here.

RYSSDAL: No pressure but, you know, economists have a tough time figuring out what the jobs number is going to be from month to month in this country. How are we expected to know what the global economy's gonna be by the year 2030?

MARSHALL GENZER: Kai, you don't wanna bet the ranch on these numbers. One economist I talked to today, Ray Kopp, said, Look, we can predict five to 10 years into the future, but after that it's very difficult.

RAY KOPP: But when you start getting out 30 and 40 and 50 years, I mean, you can imagine how difficult it is to know what the world is going to look like and then what a regulatory policy is going to cost.

RYSSDAL: The comeback, of course, to how much it might cost to take care of global warming is to think about the cost of doing nothing.

MARSHALL GENZER: Exactly. And the British government actually came out with a report last year saying if we do nothing about global warming, it would cost 5 to 20 percent of GDP every year. And then there's also costs like drought and flooding that could lead to big migrations of people. I talked to Joseph Romm about that today. He's a former Clinton administration Energy Department official.

JOSEPH ROMM: I mean, what is the cost of, you know, 20- to 80-foot sea level rise? And what is the cost of increasing desertification, and making water scarcity a problem for a billion people?

RYSSDAL: Nancy, there was mention in the report this morning of the importance of moving away from carbon and carbon dioxide-producing technologies. What did it say about what technologies we ought to go to? And how we might encourage other countries to use those technologies?

MARSHALL GENZER: Well, that's a tricky question. It talked about solar energy, energy from wind, not so much about nuclear. There's also the technology of taking carbon dioxide emissions and injecting them into the ground. But, you know, getting back to China, China says, "Hey, guys, we're way behind the rest of you. If you expect us to cut our emissions, you've gotta share that technology with us." And China doesn't have such a great track record on protecting intellectual properties. So, the U.S. isn't too enthusiastic about that.

RYSSDAL: So, do you think that might make it less likely that other countries would sign on to this agreement?

MARSHALL GENZER: I do. And actually, this agreement, it's really just a series of recommendations. It's nothing enforceable. But it could be used to negotiate the next round in Kyoto.

RYSSDAL: All right. Nancy Marshall Genzer in Washington. Thank you, Nancy.

MARSHALL GENZER: Thank you.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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