Strong worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, a leading Australian climate change specialist said.
Scientist Tim Flannery said a report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be released next month will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.
"What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change," Flannery, who says he has seen the raw data that will be included in the report, told ABC late on Monday.
"What it says is that we already stand an unacceptable risk of dangerous climate change and that the need for action is ever more urgent," he said.
Flannery, whose recent book The Weather Makers made bestseller lists worldwide, said new and improved scientific data showed that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had reached about 455 parts per million by the middle of 2005, well ahead of scientists' previous calculations.
"We thought we'd be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time," Flannery said. "I mean, that's beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001."
The recent economic booms in China and India have helped to accelerate the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but strong growth in the developed world has also exacerbated the problem, he said.
"It's a worldwide issue. We've had growing economies everywhere, we're still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels," he said. "The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet."
The measurement of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere included not just carbon dioxide, he said, but also nitrous oxide, methane and hydrofluorocarbons. All these gases were measured and then equated into potentially one gas to reach a general level.
"They're all having an impact. Probably 75 percent is carbon dioxide, but the rest is that mixed bag of other gases," he said.
The report adds an urgency to international climate change talks in Bali in December, as reducing greenhouse gas emissions may no longer be enough to prevent dangerous climate change, he said.
In Bali, environment ministers will start talks on a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol on curbing climate change that expires in 2012.
"We can reduce emissions as strongly as we like -- unless we can draw some of the standing stock of pollutant out of the air and into the tropical forests, we'll still face unacceptable levels of risk in 40 years' time," he said.
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