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Wednesday, 21 May 2008 - Strasbourg
Scientific facts of climate change: findings and recommendations for decision-making

European Parliament resolution of 21 May 2008 on the scientific facts of climate change: findings and recommendations for decision-making (2008/2001(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to its decision of 25 April 2007 on setting up a temporary committee on climate change(1), adopted pursuant to Rule 175 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council of 8-9 March 2007,

–   having regard to the G8 Summit Declaration of 7 June 2007, issued in Heiligendamm, and in particular to the section thereof entitled "Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Energy Security – Challenge and Opportunity for World Economic Growth",

–   having regard to the conclusions of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in Valencia, Spain, on 17 November 2007, and to the further studies commissioned by national governments or conducted by other UN bodies,

–   having regard to the Communication from the Commission entitled "Progress towards achieving the Kyoto Objectives" (COM(2007)0757),

–   having regard to the Joint Parliamentary Meeting on Climate Change between the European Parliament and national parliaments of the Member States and the candidate countries of 1-2 October 2007,

–   having regard to the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to the Third Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 3) held in Bali, Indonesia, from 3 to 15 December 2007,

–   having regard to the public hearings and exchanges of views with high-level personalities and to the outcome of the delegation visits made by Parliament's Temporary Committee on Climate Change, and in particular to the information gathered through the experts" presentations and the subsequent debate at the Thematic Session of 10 September 2007 on "Climate impact of different levels of warming",

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the interim report of the Temporary Committee on Climate Change (A6-0136/2008),

A.   whereas the mandate of the Temporary Committee on Climate Change calls on the committee to formulate recommendations on the EU's future integrated policy on climate change; whereas such recommendations should be based on state-of-the-art research, and should not exclude the latest scientific evidence,

B.   whereas the Temporary Committee's interim report addresses exclusively the impacts and effects of climate change based on scientific evidence; whereas a final report will formulate proposals on the EU's future integrated policy on climate change in accordance with the mandate conferred on the committee and on the basis of all the information gathered by it in the course of its work; whereas that final report will also include Parliament's position in the negotiations regarding the international framework for climate policy after 2012, with a view to COP 14, which is to be held in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008,

C.   whereas the scientific consensus on the origins and causes of climate change is well established and recognised worldwide inside and outside the IPCC; whereas scientific knowledge and understanding of the underlying human origins of the current global warming trend have grown enormously since the first IPCC assessment report in 1990 and are now regarded as scientific facts; whereas there is a deep-seated scientific consensus on the role played by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the global climate; whereas, in the light of the risk assessment provided, uncertainty demands action rather than a deferral of action,

D.   whereas the knowledge about climate change and the causes of global warming gathered to date through research and data collection is sufficient to trigger the political action and decision-making urgently needed in order to reduce emissions very substantially and to prepare for adaptation to unavoidable climate change,

E.   whereas, according to IPCC AR4, global emissions of CO2 grew by about 80% between 1970 and 2004 and these increases are due primarily to the use of fossil fuels,

F.   whereas research based on observations and modelling shows the risk of serious impact on our planet if measures are not taken swiftly to slow or even halt further increases in CO2 and other GHG emissions, as listed in the IPCC list of greenhouse gases,

G.   whereas, since the review period and the subsequent publication of IPCC AR4, numerous new scientific studies have measured and brought forward data confirming the global warming trend and have further assessed the implications of climate change on mankind in social, economic and ecological terms, as well as the need to adapt to it and mitigate it,

H.   whereas the Stern Review concludes that, if no measures are taken, the annual cost of projected climate change will account for between 5% and 20% of GDP in 2050; whereas the same report concludes that the climate objectives can be met if, starting now, 1% of GDP is spent each year on measures in this area,

I.   whereas the continuing scientific debate no longer questions the underlying causes of global warming and climate change; whereas all scientific debate is merely an expression of scientific progress aimed at clarifying remaining uncertainties or doubts and is historically marked by the quest for a deeper understanding of the human impact on natural processes,

J.   whereas recent scientific studies have delivered further proof of the anthropogenic disturbance of the earth's atmosphere; whereas the physical science of climate change is assessing the concrete implications of already existing levels of global warming caused by historical emissions; whereas the data collected from such studies underline the urgent need for adaptation and mitigation measures to be implemented in order to limit alarming risk to humans, the biodiversity of flora and fauna, habitats and infrastructure, first and foremost in the developing world but also in Europe and other wealthier parts of the world,

K.   whereas science has identified a number of so-called "tipping-points" in the earth's climate system; whereas such "tipping points" represent "points of no return" for practically irreversible climate change impacts that cannot be reasonably managed by humans; whereas these "tipping-points" and the unstoppable bio-geophysical processes triggered thereby cannot be fully included in the existing future climate scenarios; whereas such "tipping points" include: melting of permafrost, with the resulting release of large quantities of methane into the atmosphere; melting of glaciers, with an increase in the rate of sunlight absorption and lower CO2 solubility in seawater, bringing with it a rise in temperature; whereas, as temperatures rise, these factors tend gradually to exacerbate global warming, owing to a positive feedback effect,

L.   whereas 20%-30% of all species are projected to be at increased risk of extinction if there is a 1.5°C-2.5°C rise in warming; whereas the percentage based on a 3.5°C rise in warming is 40%-70%, thus making climate change mitigation critical for the preservation of global biodiversity and the maintenance of eco-system services,

M.   whereas more than 70% of the world's surface is covered by oceans; more than 97% of all the planet's water is contained in the oceans; the oceans provide 99% of the Earth's living space; fish supply the highest percentage of the world's protein consumed by humans, on which 3,5 billion people depend for their primary source of food; and three-quarters of the world's mega-cities are located by the sea,

N.   whereas the scientific consensus as expressed in IPCC AR4 leads to the conclusion that the level of global GHG emissions must be reduced by 50% to 85% compared to 2000 to avoid serious risks; whereas it will be increasingly difficult to achieve this target if global GHG emissions continue to rise until 2020 and beyond; whereas nearly all Member States are making good progress in their efforts to comply with their individual EU burden-sharing targets, thus raising the likelihood that the EU will reach its Kyoto target by 2012; whereas, nevertheless, after 2012 Member States will have to reduce GHG emissions in a more ambitious way if they are to meet the targets adopted at the above-mentioned European Council of 8-9 March 2007, to be achieved collectively by developed countries, of reducing their GHG emissions by 60% to 80% by 2050 compared to 1990,

O.   whereas IPCC AR4 shows that positive feedbacks between warming and reduction in carbon sinks on land and in oceans may require a substantial further reduction of emissions in order to stabilise GHG concentrations,

P.   whereas there is political consensus in the EU on the vital importance of achieving the strategic objective of limiting the global average temperature increase to not more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels; whereas the global temperature has already risen by 0.74°C during the last century and will inevitably continue to increase by a further 0.5°C -0.7°C due to historical emissions,

Q.   whereas, according to IPCC AR4, global GHG emissions have grown since pre-industrial times and are currently growing faster than ever before, with an increase due to human activities of 70% between 1970 and 2004 and a significant increase of 24% since 1990; whereas many natural systems on all continents and in most oceans are already affected by regional climate change through rising temperatures, changing rain and wind patterns and increased water scarcity,

R.   whereas, for the climate system, it is the total amount of cumulated GHG emitted into the atmosphere that is relevant, not relative emissions or relative reductions and thus, for the purposes of avoiding dangerous climate change, the most significant determining factor is the total amount of GHG emissions in the coming years and decades,

S.   whereas IPCC AR4 has, for the first time, collated existing documented wide-ranging impacts of changes in current climate for Europe, such as retreating glaciers, longer growing seasons, shifts of species" ranges and health impacts due to a heatwave of unprecedented magnitude; whereas the observed changes are consistent with those projected for future climate change; whereas, in an overall balance for Europe, nearly all regions will be negatively affected by some future impacts of climate change and these will pose challenges to many socio-economic sectors; whereas climate change is expected to magnify regional differences in Europe's natural resources, e.g. water availability,

T.   whereas climate change, together with massive urbanisation due to population growth, is expected to increase urban heat, with direct negative impacts on the health and welfare of urban citizens,

U.   whereas existing climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, which must in any case be intensified, will nevertheless be insufficient to reduce global GHG emissions over the next decades; whereas, according to scientific recommendations, the window of opportunity for the successful stabilisation of global GHG concentration to a level corresponding to a 50% likelihood of maintaining climate change to 2°C will remain open until 2015, when global emissions would need to peak,

V.   whereas the contribution of Working Group III to IPCC AR4 indicates that, in order to achieve the lowest levels assessed by the IPCC to date and the corresponding potential damage limitation, Annex I parties to the UNFCCC would need as a group to reduce emissions by 25%-40% below 1990 levels by 2020,

W.   whereas the next IPCC assessment report will probably not be published until 2012 or 2013; whereas additional knowledge emanating from peer-reviewed scientific literature and from scientific reports commissioned by governments or conducted by other international bodies or UN institutions such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are making a significant contribution to a deeper understanding of the current and future impact of climate change on humans and the environment, as well as to adaptation to and mitigation of climate change,

X.   whereas most results of these additional studies underline the urgent need to respond to global warming without delay; whereas, in particular, the latest WMO data published in December 2007 state that the decade from 1998 to 2007 is the warmest on record and that 2007 will itself be one of the 10 warmest years on record, with an expected temperature anomaly of 0.41°C above the long-term average, and whereas 2007 was marked by temperature anomalies of more than 4°C above the long-term monthly averages for January and April 2007 in parts of Europe,

Y.   whereas it is necessary to see global warming and the various dimensions of climate change from the perspective of other global problems such as poverty or global health issues, as these problems will be exacerbated by the effects of rising temperatures, drought, floods, rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme climate phenomena; whereas climate change could impede the ability of countries to follow sustainable development pathways and attain the Millennium Development Goals; whereas climate change could seriously threaten examples of successful development and should therefore be an overarching issue in international cooperation,

1.  Welcomes the recognition by the Parties to the UNFCCC at their meeting in Bali that IPCC AR4 represents the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of climate change to date, providing an integrated scientific, technical and socio-economic perspective on relevant issues, as well as the encouragement to draw on the information which it provides in the development and implementation of national policies on climate change;

2.  Is convinced that science progresses by confronting accepted knowledge and hypotheses with competing ideas, and by applying peer-review procedures; praises the IPCC for its work and its ability to involve the work of thousands of scientists; believes that the IPCC should take new arguments seriously, in order to continue to guarantee the credibility and quality of its research;

3.  Regards the science of climate change as sufficiently settled and reiterates its commitment to the EU's strategic objective of limiting the global average temperature increase to not more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, which, according to several scientific reports, can be attained with approximately 50% probability at an atmospheric GHG concentration of 400-450 ppm CO2 equivalent and which, according to IPCC AR4, will require industrialised countries to reduce their GHG emissions by 25%-40% below 1990 levels by 2020; believes, notwithstanding this, that all efforts to curb emissions should in fact aim at staying well below the 2°C target, as such a level of warming would already heavily impact on our society and individual lifestyles and would also entail significant changes in ecosystems and water resources;

4.  Stresses that, as man-made GHG emissions rise, there will be dramatic impacts on and severe threats to marine ecosystems, resources and the fishing community, and that significant changes in water temperature may lead to shifting populations of marine organisms (migrations), including the invasion of alien species and the disappearance of indigenous species;

5.  Acknowledges that data projections for 2050 clearly show that the time to act is now; underlines that the window of opportunity for starting the mitigation efforts needed to achieve the 2°C target will close by the middle of the next decade;

6.  Stresses that scientific evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are already affected by regional climate changes due to historical carbon emissions from the industrialised countries; emphasises that it has been scientifically proven that the underlying causes of global warming are predominantly man-made and that the level of gathered knowledge sufficiently proves the anthropogenic disturbance of the Earth's atmosphere;

7.  Stresses that the projected acidification of the oceans due to rising CO2 levels may have very serious effects on marine ecosystems and calls for further research in this area to enhance our understanding of the problem and to identify implications for policy;

8.  Believes that trends in temperature, oxygen, salinity, pH, chlorophyll and wind oscillation patterns become evident only after many years; stresses the need for data sets and comprehensive ocean and sea floor observation to help explain local changes that impact on fisheries as our ability to unravel the causes and consequences of ecosystem changes;

9.  Stresses that scientific results clearly demonstrate how climate change will occur in the near future, following different regional patterns and demonstrating that global warming is both a development issue and a global environmental issue, with poor people and developing countries being the most vulnerable; considers that adaptation aimed at managing the unavoidable consequences of global warming caused by historical emissions from the industrialised countries is as important as intensive mitigation efforts designed to avoid further unmanageable global warming;

10.  Stresses that tipping points, including inter alia the dying back of the Amazon rain forest, the deglaciation of Greenland and of the west Antarctic ice sheet, a collapse of the Indian monsoon and a massive release of methane from the Siberian tundra, are difficult to predict but may all very possibly reach their critical points during the course of this century under current climate change conditions; stresses that avoiding these tipping points will require stronger mitigation efforts than indicated by IPCC AR4;

11.  Welcomes in this respect the outcome, following established scientific advice, of COP 13 and COP/MOP 3 and in particular the Bali Roadmap, which should be assessed at COP 14 in 2008 and should lead to an agreement on a comprehensive regime by 2009; welcomes also the task allocated to the Expert Group on Technology Transfer of assessing the gaps and barriers to the use of, and access to, financial resources provided to developing countries in response to their commitment to engage in nationally appropriate mitigation actions in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner; equally welcomes the creation of the Adaptation Fund and the inclusion of forests in a new climate protection agreement aimed at avoiding further deforestation and carbon emissions caused by forest or peat land fires, which are also causing enormous damage to local communities, including even the expropriation of their own land through illegal or semi-legal procedures;

12.  Disagrees with scientifically unsubstantiated efforts to portray the results of studies into the causes and effects of climate change as doubtful, uncertain or questionable; understands, however, that scientific progress has always been marked by doubt, the progressive elimination of such doubt and the search for explanations or models beyond the current scientific mainstream;

13.  Believes, therefore, that further research aimed at a better understanding of the causes and consequences of global warming is essential for responsible decision-making; considers, nevertheless, that the level of knowledge acquired to date is sufficient for the urgent formulation of policies that would achieve GHG emission reductions limiting climate change to +2°C and of measures for adaptation to current climate change;

14.  Stresses the need for further analysis and research into the consequences of climate change such as the effects on economic competitiveness, energy costs and social development in Europe, the role of land use, forests and deforestation, the role of the maritime environment and the calculation of the external climate costs of the industry sector, not least the transport sector, including quantification of the effects of aircraft pollution; considers that further studies are needed in order to mainstream adaptation and risk reduction into development and poverty reduction policy measures;

15.  Advocates additional research into the impact of the policy of promoting biofuels and their effects on the increase of deforestation, the expansion of cultivated land and world food supplies;

16.  Emphasises the need for research on the physiology and ecology of marine fish, particularly in the tropics where comparatively little research has been conducted; points out that, as our information base accumulates, scientists will be able to make more accurate predictions and devise relevant solutions; considers that the landing of all by-catch for scientific analysis could make a major contribution to our information base; equally recognises the need for ongoing research on the impact of climate change on seabird populations through food stress and impact on breeding success and survival;

17.  Believes that the communication of scientific evidence of human impact on the global climate must be the main element of a broader effort to raise public awareness and subsequently gain and maintain public support for political measures to curb carbon emissions, such as interaction with the various social players, not only in the industrialised countries but also in the emerging economies; asks the IPCC to publish a summary of its assessment reports; believes, furthermore, that individual changes in lifestyle patterns are necessary and should be a part of educational programmes to communicate the causes and effects of global warming;

18.  Calls, therefore, on the scientific community and the political representatives to join forces in raising awareness and lobbying for "little things which could make the difference", taking into account the fact that even communities with a well-developed capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change remain vulnerable to extremes and to unpredictable events;

19.  Stresses that the detailed information needed for low-carbon lifestyle education, including for example GHG footprint declarations on consumer goods and GHG labelling, is poorly developed today and needs to be rapidly developed; stresses that such initiatives should ideally be based on shared standards and should also take into account the embedded GHG emissions from imports;

20.  Asks its Temporary Committee on Climate Change to continue its work and, at the end of its mandate, to present to Parliament a report containing, as appropriate, recommendations as to actions or initiatives, as well as adaptation and mitigation measures, to be taken on the EU's future integrated policy on climate change in line with the EU objective of limiting global temperature increases to below 2°C and in accordance with the findings and recommendations of IPCC AR4;

21.  Calls on the Commission, the Council and Parliament to advocate at the highest level negotiation and dialogue on the strategic extension to all partner countries throughout the world of EU or non-EU countries' highly proficient strategies, principles and standards in the field of scientific research and action for tackling climate change, in accordance with the recommendations of the scientific community;

22.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ C 74 E, 20.3.2008, p. 652.

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