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Meeting of Global Leaders Aims for Consensus on Addressing Climate Change and World Energy Needs
Three-year process pursues science-based actions that take into account the need for global equity and continued economic growth
Senior officials and leading scientists from nearly 100 businesses and business organizations, national governments, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions came together on May 11 and 12 for the first in a series of meetings to discuss how to address the challenges posed by climate change.
The Global Roundtable on Climate Change, hosted by The Earth Institute at Columbia University and funded by the Lenfest Foundation, is a three-year effort aimed at forming an international, cross-sectoral consensus on core scientific, technological and economic issues critical to developing sound public policies related to climate change.
The Roundtable brought together a wide range of interests to answer difficult questions about how society should face possible future changes to the Earth's climate caused by increasing energy demand and rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
"Climate change is one of the most challenging problems facing our planet today, one that requires global solutions," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. "The cross-section of world leaders at the Roundtable makes this perhaps the most significant effort of its kind to date to address the issues related to greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for serious disruptions to the Earth's climate.
"Our goal is to search for solutions that are based on science, that acknowledge the need for continued economic growth, and that respect global equity and public values around the world," said Sachs.
Presentations by leading climate scientists and energy experts put the scope of the challenge and the need for real solutions in stark terms.
"If we do nothing, it's quite likely that we'll triple the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by the end of this century," said Wally Broecker, Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. "One thing we know is that the Earth's climate system has been nudged in the past and in every case, the response of the system has been much greater than one would expect. It would be irresponsible of us to prod the system by continuing to emit CO2 at the present rate."
Keynote speeches by Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of the Republic of Iceland; Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea; and Lord Ronald Oxburgh, chairman of the Shell Transport and Trading Company underscored the magnitude of the problem facing the world and pressed Roundtable participants to face the task before them with a heightened sense of urgency.
Given the high-profile status of stakeholders and top-tier positions of business leaders represented at the Roundtable, a consensus on the key issues, if reached, could have a significant impact on the international community.
Roundtable participants are scheduled to meet five more times between now and 2007, and will also engage in a regular exchange of information and ideas as well as review the work of the Roundtable's four dedicated working groups: Climate Science; Engineering and Technology; Economic and Social Impacts and Policy Responses; and Attitudes, Ethical Issues, Decision Making.
"I am very heartened by the seriousness with which everyone is approaching the challenge we have given ourselves," said Sachs. "It's clear from the first meeting that the Roundtable has the potential to make a major impact on a wide range of issues at a global level."
About The Lenfest Foundation
The Lenfest Foundation is dedicated to supporting programs primarily in education, the arts and the environment.
About The Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.