On the eve of the main event at the United Nations' Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a task force created by Mikhail Gorbachev urged international delegates to "face the urgent realities" of global climate change.
The appeal came as the Gorbachev's Climate Change Task Force issued a detailed report on climate change, the result of two years of research and peer review. By the time the report was issued, it had been signed by nearly 40 experts and high-level public officials ranging from scientists and economists to philosophers and former heads of state.
Within hours of its release, the report was endorsed by an international organization of mayors from 164 cities in 21 countries, representing 170 million people.
The document came 20 years after Gorbachev created Green Cross International, an organization formed after the original Earth Summit to deal with issues ranging from environmental quality to nuclear disarmament.
The report does not contain new scientific findings. Instead, its purpose is to encourage world leaders, policy makers and civil society to reinvigorate the search for solutions that would mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to impacts that already are inevitable. As I said in remarks during the launch event, Americans should be demanding that political candidates in this presidential election year, the presidential candidates tell in concrete terms how they will address climate change, and "green groups" advocating action should not be waiting for a better political moment.
Global warming is not waiting for a warmer political climate.
The Task Force warned that "multilateral effort to preserve a stable climate and a safe future are proving to be slow and inadequate in relation to the scale and urgency of the challenges. They are failing to achieve action sufficient to avert the risks of catastrophic climate change."
"We appeal to leaders across the world in all walks of life to face their historic responsibilities by taking strong, urgent and concerted action to face the realities of climate change and to avert its potentially devastating consequences," the report said. "In a spirit of international solidarity, we call on them to engage public support in defining and implementing a vision and strategy for human progress that is sustainable, inclusive and just."
Gorbachev created the Climate Change Task Force prior to the United Nations' 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen -- an event that despite high expectations failed to produce an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a video-taped message from his home in Russia, Gorbachev said that in his view, the document that set the foundation for this week's negotiations in Rio did not adequately address the climate issue.
The Task Force also warned that nations participating in the formal negotiation process on climate change have discussed greenhouse gas reduction targets "far from what is required to limit global average temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that two degrees of warming would give the world a 50-50 chance of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.
So far, the Task Force said, the actions being considered by the international community could lead to a global average temperature far in excess of two degrees.
The Task Force issued these recommendations:
1. Developed countries should commit to cut their carbon dioxide emissions more than 20 percent by 2020. All nations should commit to a clear and binding program of substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
2. The world community must begin to measure and protect the value of terrestrial and ocean ecosystems in storing carbon dioxide. These ecosystems include soils, forests, mangroves, sea-grasses and other vegetation.
3. Immediate action must be taken to help the world's people adapt to future climate impacts as well as impacts already evident in extreme weather events. Particular attention should be paid to adaptation measures for the world's poor, who are likely to be the principal victims of climate change. The Task Force endorsed the idea of a Green Climate Fund to provide $100 billion (U.S.) per year for adaptation programs.
4. Through education, training, technology transfer and technical assistance, the international community should help localities build their resilience and create sustainable local economies.
5. The international community should increase investments and public-private partnerships in research and development of radical new solutions to the climate problem.
6. Climate change must become a "central determining factor" in all economic and policy decisions at every level of government.
7. Governments should create clear and sustained policies such as carbon pricing to trigger private research investments and innovations.
"We cannot manage the scale, complexity and dynamics of the 21st century with the tools of the 20th," the Task Force concluded. "We are a turning point in world history where new ideas, new values, new strategies and new institutional arrangements are needed."
Editor's Note: Bill Becker is a member of the Climate Change Task Force. Other members, associates and contributors to the Task Force report include climate scientist Martin Beniston of France; U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu; oceans expert Jean-Michel Cousteau of France; energy expert Ian Dunlop of Australia; Senior UN Foundation Fellow Mohamed El-Ashry of Egypt; Harry Hendriks of the Netherlands, the CEO of Philips Benelux; climate scientist Carlo Jaeger of Germany; climate scientist Sir David King of the UK; Poland entrepreneur Jan Kulczyk; Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile; South Korean entrepreneur Jon-sang Lee; Martin Lees, Rector Emeritus of the UN University for Peace and former UN official; Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International in Geneva; Mohan Munasinghe of Sri Lanka, the former vice-chairman of the IPCC; Janos Pasztor of Hungary, UN Special Advisor on Climate Change; Hamadoun Toure of Mali, the Secretary-General of the International Telecoms Union; and Dimitri Zenghelis of the London School of Economics.