In a move with uncharacteristic political timing, the national science academies of 11 countries, the United States among them, issued a statement Tuesday urging world leaders to take immediate action to curb gases tied to global warming.
The statement came as British Prime Minister Tony Blair met at the White House with President Bush, who opposes mandatory action, saying that while humans appear to be a factor in global warming, the science is not conclusive enough to take stronger steps.
But the academies, in their joint statement, said that "a lack of full scientific certainty about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for delaying an immediate response."
Blair, who favors mandatory action, is hosting a Group of Eight summit of world leaders next month in Scotland, and has made global warming a priority topic.
Lord May, president of Britain’s Royal Society, said in releasing the statement that Bush’s policy on climate change was “misguided” and that the administration "has consistently refused to accept the advice of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences."
"The G8 summit is an unprecedented moment in human history," May added. "Our leaders face a stark choice act now to tackle climate change or let future generations face the price of their inaction. Never before have we faced such a global threat. And if we do not begin effective action now it will be much harder to stop the runaway train as it continues to gather momentum."
The academies did, however, provide some wiggle room for leaders, saying the steps should be "cost effective" in dealing with carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. While CO2 is vital to support human life, many scientists fear that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation are adding to the natural greenhouse effect that traps heat.
The Bush administration has refused to sign the Kyoto climate protocol, saying its emission cuts would undermine the U.S. economy and increase unemployment.
The academies did not urge governments to back Kyoto, and instead called for them to "identify cost-effective steps that can be taken now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions."
The Bush administration, which favors voluntary efforts and technology solutions, has also been critical of Kyoto for not requiring mandatory cuts of China and India.
The academies took a diplomatic approach on that issue, as well, saying world leaders should "work with developing nations to build a scientific and technological capacity best suited to their circumstances, enabling them to develop innovative solutions to mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, while explicitly recognizing their legitimate development rights."
Activists see it as 'ammunition'
The National Environmental Trust, a Washington-based group, said that even with the wiggle room the statement is significant.
"While we would have liked to see the academies endorse the Kyoto Protocol, their call for action still sends a very strong statement," said NET Vice President John Stanton. "President Bush has refused to take even the most basic steps to combat global warming or even admit that the overwhelming scientific evidence supports action on global warming."
"We hope Blair will use this as ammunition to get the G8 to agree to a firm action plan for addressing this problem," Stanton added.
The academies signing the statement were from the Group of Eight nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia and the United States — as well as Brazil, India and China.
The academies are nonprofit societies of leading scientists who advise their governments.
The full statement by the academies is online at www.nationalacademies.org/morenews/.
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