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Friday, August 29, 2008

Why US must invest against climate change

Eight scientific organisations have urged the next US president to help protect the country from climate change by pushing for increased funding for research and forecasting. The organisations say about $2 trillion of US economic output could be hurt by storms, floods and droughts.

"We don't think we have the right kind of tools to help decision makers plan for the future," said Jack Fellows, the vice president for corporate affairs of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of 71 universities.

The groups, including the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society, urged Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain to support $9 billion in investments between 2010 and 2014 to help protect the country from extreme weather, which would nearly double the current US budget for the area.

The UN's science panel says extreme weather events could hit more often as temperatures rise due to climate change.

Each year the United States suffers billions of dollars in weather-related damages ranging from widespread events like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the more recent droughts in the Southeast, to smaller, more frequent glitches like airline delays from storms, they said. More than a quarter of the country's economic output, about $2 trillion, is vulnerable to extreme weather, they added.

The investments would pay for satellite and ground-based instruments that observe the Earth's climate and for computers to help make weather predictions more accurate.

Invest to protect

John Snow, the co-chairman of the Weather Coalition, a business and university group that advocates for better weather prediction, said improved computers would help scientists forecast extreme weather events more locally, which could help cities better prepare for weather disasters.

It could also help businesses that produce virtually no greenhouse emissions, such as wind farms, know where to best locate their operations, he said.

The scientists said cooler temperatures in the first half of this year are making their task more difficult. "One of the challenges we face ... is to make the case that while we are in a period of warming, we should not expect every year to be the warmest year on record," Snow said.

The global mean temperature to the end of July was 0.28 C above the 1961-1990 average, the UK-based MetOffice for climate change research said on Wednesday. That would make the first half of 2008 the coolest since 2000.

Neither campaign responded immediately to questions about the plea for funding. Obama and McCain, who face off in a November election, both support regulation of greenhouse gases through market mechanisms such as cap-and-trade programs on emissions.

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