Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

'CO2 reduction treaties useless'

By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Pylons carrying electricity from Sizewell
The report's authors say power stations may need to be moved

A new report says treaties aimed at reducing CO2 emissions are useless.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers report says we have to accept the world could change dramatically.

It also says we should start planning our major infrastructure now to accommodate more extreme weather events and sea level rises.

While not against attempts to reduce emissions, the report's authors say we should be realistic about what can be achieved with this approach.


International diplomats and environment campaigners have, for years, been pursuing an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

In its present incarnation it is called the Kyoto Protocol.

The existing Kyoto Protocol has, to date, been a near total failure
Institution of Mechanical Engineers report

This treaty runs out in 2012, and negotiations are carrying on at the moment to replace it - negotiations which will culminate in a meeting in Copenhagen later this year.

The authors of the report are not optimistic about the outcome:

"The new agreement's most basic premise will be to try and limit the negative man-made effects on our climate system for future generations.

"In other words, the agreement will aim to reduce global CO2 emissions by mitigation.

"However, the existing Kyoto Protocol has, to date, been a near total failure, with emissions levels continuing to rise substantially."

While the report's authors point out that the Institution, like many scientific bodies, has a strong belief that we need "to reduce CO2 to secure long-term human survival", they also say that we should be realistic about what we can achieve.

And "even with vigorous mitigation effort, we will continue to use fossil fuel reserves until they are exhausted."

Climate proofing

If climate change scientists' predictions are correct, the world will look very different if we are unable or unwilling to stop using fossil fuels to the extent we are doing today.

Sea level rises could be seven metres in the UK by 2250, which, unchecked, could inundate much of London, East Anglia and other coastal areas.

We may have to accept, they say, that we will need to abandon some parts of the country, and spend significant amounts of money defending others.

Image of Earth,  industial pollution
Our climate is changing so unless we adapt, we are likely to face a difficult future
Institution of Mechanical Engineers report

2250 may seem like an unimaginably long time away, but the report's authors point out that parts of the London Underground system that are still in use were built in the 1860s, and today's engineers are facing projects the lifetime of which will extend into 2100.

The majority of existing infrastructure, they say, will continue to be operational for at least another 100-200 years.

The "climate proofing" the institution recommends extends into almost every construction.

For example, towns and cities, they say, should be planned to adjust street layouts to correspond with the prevailing winds, maximising ventilation and cooling.

The location of many power stations may have to be reconsidered, as they are often in coastal areas.

And railways were often placed in river valleys to make the most of low gradients.

The report's authors say that while they support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are "realistic enough to recognise that global CO2 emissions are not reducing and our climate is changing so unless we adapt, we are likely to face a difficult future."

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