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UN blames humans for climate change -

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UN blames humans for climate change

Reporter: Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop

KERRY O'BRIEN: Which parts of the world are going to be most hit by the scenario reflected in this
report, broadly?

GRAEME PEARMAN: I think the reality is that there are two parts to that - one is what will actually
happen to the climate system, so what we're seeing is, throughout the world, drying in the middle
latitudes, as we're predicting for Australia. That will occur in the northern hemisphere as well,
so those areas are subjected to the same kind of water stress issues that we are. The tropical
areas are going to be warmer but they're also going to have more intense tropical storms, but for
some areas of the northern hemisphere countries, they will have more rainfall. There may be
positive things out of that. It depends on which perspective you have. If you look at an ice-free
Arctic, some people who live in northern Russia may in fact find that as a positive thing. It's
part of the problem that everyone will perceive the results of this in a different way. The second
aspect is that everyone on the earth has a different capacity to respond. In Australia we have a
relatively strong economy, so we can adapt to quite significant changes. But other people don't
have that and therefore, they're subjected very directly to these changes and in many cases won't
have the power to respond to them, and that raises the whole issue of what do they do? Do we lose
lots of people that way? Do those people start to migrate? Do those people start to be unhappy and,
therefore, do you get disobedience and migrations that you would not otherwise have?

KERRY O'BRIEN: You're talking potentially in the hundreds of millions? I think Al Gore made that
point in his documentary?

GRAEME PEARMAN: That's right. You're talking about very large numbers. The indications of how many
people are at risk is still quite difficult to determine but they, for water and food, they're at
least in the order of tens to a hundred million people that could be exposed. From a water point of
view, the estimates are more like up to billions of people.

KERRY O'BRIEN: One of the arguments from greenhouse sceptics has been that it's not yet clear that
the bulk of blame for global warming can be laid at the door of human activity, rather than nature
simply taking its course. Does this report clear up that once and for all?

GRAEME PEARMAN: This report goes into a large degree of detail, remembering this report is based on
published literature. It doesn't do this research itself, it accesses all of the published
literature. So it chooses and looks at a large number of publications, and comes to the conclusion
there is a more than 90 per cent chance that the warming we've seen so far is due to greenhouse
gases, and less than 5 per cent chance it is due to variations of the sun or other natural

KERRY O'BRIEN: What about the argument that Australia is a relatively small offender because, as a
nation, we only contribute about 1 to 1.5 per cent to global emissions and therefore it is not so
critical for us or so urgent for us to reduce our greenhouse gases?

GRAEME PEARMAN: It's an argument that has been put forward by a lot of people but the reality is,
of course, if you look at the emissions of Australia, they're not that different from the emissions
of the UK or from France, or from Sweden. All of these countries have emissions that are
approximately the same. So each of these countries could put up their hand and say, "We're going to
opt out of doing anything, because no-one else is doing it". We have to share the responsibility
for actually doing this emissions reduction. There's no doubt that currently the US are the major
contributors and in the future, ever-increasingly China will become. But at the same time, all of
us together make these emissions and I think we have to share that responsibility across the world,
otherwise we're just not going to achieve these goals.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Australia is now throwing money at technology, hopefully to produce cleaner coal by
a process call geosequestration. There's a debate cranking up about nuclear power. The Government's
increased its contribution to solar research. But all of these things potentially, if they do
eventually work, may not come in to play for 20 years. Are we yet doing enough, Australia, to
shoulder our share of the burden?

GRAEME PEARMAN: Well, my own opinion is no, we're not. I mean, you make a very good point, I think,
that some of these options are realistic options, and we should be considering a lot of them, but
most options have problems - that, in other words, there are things we don't know for sure and the
nuclear option and the sequestration option have issues about the real cost and how that cost will
unfold, but also the rate at which we can actually build our capacity to reduce emissions through
those processes. So, again, it's a matter of prudence. What do we do in the meantime? Let's not
wait until we've emitted all this additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, remembering it is
going to stay there for a long time.

KERRY O'BRIEN: As one of the leading scientists in this field over a long period of time, what are
the words that come closest to your mood now, as a result of reading the report? Alarm? Depression?

GRAEME PEARMAN: I think it's probably a degree of depression and I think it comes out of the fact
that this report, all of us who have been in this field have worked in this field hoping that
someone would find that we were wrong and that isn't the case, it's just simply confirming what we
have thought was the issue and what was the problem over a long period of time and as I say,
secondly, it's the issue of whether human societies - not any one government, not any one country
but human societies in general - have the capacity to respond to a major threat of this kind in a
timely fashion and at the moment, I am not clear we are going to have that. I'm not clear that
therefore leads to a point where we're going to respond in time to avoid very significant impacts,
if not on ourselves, on other people around the world.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Graeme Pearman, thank you very much for talking to us.

GRAEME PEARMAN: Thank you, Kerry.

(c) 2007 ABC