Global Policy Forum

Global Climate Crisis


Screening of "An Inconvenient Truth" and Panel Discussion

Organized by Global Policy Forum and International Catholic Organizations Information Center
October 3, 2006
777 UN Plaza, 2nd Floor, New York

Presentation by Speakers

Mohammad Reza Salamat is a Senior Programme Officer at the Division for Sustainable Development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). He is an expert on climate change and has experience in international environmental diplomacy. He joined the United Nations in January 2002. Prior to that, he was a diplomat for Iran, negotiating many multilateral environmental agreements including the UN Framework Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

Mohammad Reza Salamat said he was very impressed by the film including Al Gore's broad knowledge and interest in global warming issues during most of his career.

Mr. Salamat emphasized that while climate change is global in nature, the industrialized countries must take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and set the example for developing countries. Even though the majority of industrialized countries have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions is rising. If these countries continue as usual, they will not reach the Kyoto targets. But, Salamat stressed, even if they reach these targets, it is not enough. Kyoto broke ground by creating three new market-based mechanisms, but it is just a first step. Deeper cuts are required to achieve the stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The US and Australia have not ratified the Kyoto protocol, together they account for 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. No matter how much the rest of the world tries to mitigate their contributions to global warming, it will not be effective without the US participation in the binding greenhouse gas reductions, Salamat concluded.

James Tripp has been Counsel for Environmental Defense since 1973 and General Counsel since 1983. He is responsible for the review of all Environmental Defense legal action initiatives. Through the Environmental Defense's Living Cities program, he works on a wide range of issues, including land use, transportation, water resources, solid waste, ecosystem restoration and energy issues in the NY metropolitan region.

James Tripp argued that the most interesting data from the film concerned the "threshold" effects. Above certain indefinite thresholds of greenhouse gas emissions, global climate change will bring alarming effects in a short period of time.

Mr. Tripp talked about his involvement in a court case in California in which the auto industry is challenging the California Air Resources Board's adoption of motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards. Ten states have adopted the California standards. If California is successful in this litigation, it could lead to a significant reduction in motor vehicle and motor vehicle fuel GHG emissions over the next 10 to 20 years. If those standards are adopted more broadly throughout the US, the emission reductions would be much greater.

Tripp argued that the reason why the US Congress has not done anything about global warming is not because Congress members do not know about it. The challenge is that doing something when a national program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly will have effects on the US economy and the world economy. Tripp said that the US government, state governments and private industry would have to make huge investments in shifting from oil, gas and coal to wind and solar power and biofuels.

Tripp also talked about the stricter greenhouse gas emissions legislation and programs relating to electric utilities and industrial sources, as well as motor vehicles, in states like California and New York. These are ambitious state initiatives that will provide very useful guides to other states and the nation as to how best to proceed to cap carbon emissions.

Michael Renner is Senior Researcher and director of the Global Security Project at Worldwatch Institute. In addition to his duties at Worldwatch, he is also a member of the Global Policy Forum Board, the Hague Appeal for Peace International Advisory Board, and the International Advisory Group of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research.

Michael Renner found Al Gore's film very powerful. The way Gore combines scientific data with personal anecdotes made the connection between the "global and the local, the personal and the planetary" very clear, Renner said.

Mr. Renner pointed out that in the film Gore comes across as compelling and funny, not at all like the "old Al Gore" of the 2000 election campaign. Renner also raised the question of why people in high office feel so constrained that they dare not talk about global climate change. In the film, Gore mentions that he has been interested in climate change since the 1960s, but, Renner argued, as a vice president, Al Gore's work in this area was disappointing. Perhaps one explanation is that politicians steer policy according to what the polls are saying.

Renner argued that Al Gore was a bit weak on showing the potential of renewable energy and how far many countries have come in developing renewable energy. Wind power capacity has increased 30-fold since 1990, and solar photovoltaic production about 37-fold. But, compared to Europe, Japan and even China, the US falls short in promoting renewable energies. More solid support from the government is needed, he concluded.

Questions from Audience Members

One audience member asked about the connection between war and greenhouse gas emissions. Renner answered that while there is little data on armed forces and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, estimates from the 1990s indicate they may contribute approximately 3 percent of global emissions. Renner also mentioned the oil spills in the first Gulf war, and pipeline bombings in the Colombian conflict. Salamat explained that during the second Persian Gulf war, a UN commission on compensation was established, which also tried to collect data on the impacts of the war on the environment. The information collected demonstrated how much war had caused such environmental degradation as acid rain and marine pollution. Also, during the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol, efforts were made by some industrialized countries to include greenhouse gas emissions from warfare as a factor. But, due to lack of support by other industrialized countries, it was not incorporated it in the protocol.

James Tripp, Michael Renner, Mohammad Reza Salamat
Dorothy Farley and James Paul

Another audience member said that the New Jersey government has recently suspended the rebate program for building solar panels. Renner responded that this lack of protracted and reliable support for alternatives can also be observed in some other US states. Nonetheless, some progress has been made with regard to expanding wind power. He also explained how the German government has provided important support and investments in alternative energy, thereby making alternative energy a self-sustaining market, able to compete with conventional energy sources.

James Paul of Global Policy Forum (moderator of the discussion) mentioned that the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can be accessed at the panel's own website ( Paul also talked about the oil and gas industry's lobbying against global climate change. Tripp said that we must be alert to differences among companies and sectors. The insurance industry is generally supportive of initiatives on climate change, for instance, because climate change can lead to more intensive weather events, including hurricanes and floods. He added that in addition to the oil sector, the automobile industry also has strongly opposed limits on GHG emissions. Conversely, the agricultural sector, which also has significant leverage in US politics, could potentially constitute a positive force in the efforts to stop global warming, as it has large interest in the use of biofuels.

Michael Renner and Mohammad Reza Salamat

Audience members referred to a part of the film where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are seen from above, one deforested and the other green and Gore's assertion that 30% of carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of forests. They asked about deforestation and the prospects for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renner talked about the potential trade-off between emissions reductions and social development and pointed out that one cannot deal with deforestation, without taking into account the people who live by the forest, who will have to find other ways of surviving. The environmental and social components must be brought together, Renner maintained. Salamat responded that the Kyoto protocol includes a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which aims to promote sustainable development by giving industrialized countries emissions credits from their investments in emission-reducing projects in developing countries.

One audience member asked the panelists if they had any criticism on the film. Salamat answered that Gore's film is not about finding solutions. But, everybody knows that if, for instance, emission of carbon dioxide is the major cause of global warming, the solution is to improve energy efficiency, increase renewable energy and enhance reforestation.

Another question referred to governmental policies on how to educate people on the topic of global warming. One audience member responded that the Venezuelan government, despite being an oil-producing country, mandates education through the constitution on global climate change.

The panelists concluded the discussion by talking about carbon sequestration - the capture and underground storage of carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the possibility to use certain greenhouse gases such as methane as fuel. Salamat ended the discussion by emphasizing that climate change should be treated as a sustainable development issue, rather than just an environmental one. Climate change can impact all development sectors including energy, industry, agriculture, tourism, coastal zone management, forestry and land use.

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