Launching the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together hundreds of scientific experts, Mr. Ban said that slowing and even reversing the effects of climate change “is the defining challenge of our age.”
He also stressed the report makes clear that “concerted and sustained action now can still avoid some of the most catastrophic scenarios” in the IPCC forecasts.
“We can transform a necessity into virtue,” he said. “We can pursue new and improved ways to produce, consume and discard. We can promote environmentally friendly industries that spur development and job creation even as they reduce emissions. We can usher in a new era of global partnership, one that helps lift all boats on the rising tide of climate-friendly development.”
For this to happen, the Secretary-General said the world's industrialized countries must form a “grand bargain” with developing nations, which are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
The report details how reduced rainfall in much of Africa is likely to aggravate existing water shortages and slash crop yields, rising sea levels are set to inundate small island States and melting glaciers could trigger major floods in South Asia and South America.
More heat waves and periods of heavy rainfall are deemed very likely to occur, tropical cyclones are predicted to become more intense and a dramatic decrease in the polar ice caps is also expected as air and ocean temperatures keep rising. In the worst case scenario, nearly a third of all of plant and animal species could be at risk of extinction.
It also explains that industry, agriculture and infrastructure can become far more energy-efficient, water can be more effectively conserved and used and countries can become less dependent on fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources of energy.
IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said governments have “a wide variety of policies and instruments” available to create incentives to mitigate behaviour – especially in the area of carbon emissions.
“We need a new ethic by which every human being realizes the importance of the challenge we are facing and starts to take action through changes in lifestyle and attitude.”
The report, released in Valencia, Spain, is the synthesis of three IPCC reports issued earlier this year that examined the scientific basis of climate change, the impact it is having and ways to mitigate and adapt to the phenomenon.
It is expected to form the basis of discussions in Bali next month when world leaders gather under the auspices of the UN to try to agree to a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, which is due to expire by 2012.
Mr. Ban told reporters after today's launch that “the breakthrough needed in Bali is an agreement to launch for negotiations for a comprehensive climate change deal that all nations can embrace – developed and developing countries alike. Scientists have now done their work and I call on political leaders to do theirs and agree not only to launch these negotiations but also to conclude them by 2009.”
The report states that “neither adaptation nor mitigation alone can avoid all climate change impacts. However, they can complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change.”
The Secretary-General, who is in Valencia at the end of an international trip that has taken him to both Antarctica and the Amazon rainforest, said he had witnessed first-hand the perils posed by climate change.
“I can tell you with assurance that global, sweeping, concerted action is needed now. There is no time to waste.”
UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Director Achim Steiner agreed, saying “we now have the compelling blueprint for action and in many ways the price tag for failure – from increasing acidification of the oceans to the likely extinctions of economically important biodiversity.”
Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), called for more detailed and continuing observation of the impact of climate change to help individuals, businesses and civil society make informed decisions about how best to adapt to meet their own circumstances.