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posted 12/01/05

Second GROCC Meets Amid Changing World

Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs (left) and Iceland President Ólafur Grímsson discuss one of the slides during a scientist's presentation at the Global Roundtable on Climate Change (GROCC) conference, November 14, 2005. Photo credit: Bruce Gilbert

More than 200 participants from nearly 150 corporations and other institutions from around the world met November 14 and 15 at Columbia University for the second session of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change (GROCC). With 2005 on pace to becoming the warmest year on record, as well as the most active for hurricanes, and with world leaders preparing for critical negotiations on climate policy in Montreal in December, the Earth's climate was on everyone's mind.

"I believe we are at an important moment in public policy and I believe the Roundtable can fill an important role," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and chair of the Roundtable. "We have the ability to identify a vision of how we can help nudge the world towards a shared understanding of the need to address climate change now."

Organized by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Roundtable meetings have three overarching goals. First, to assist development of a global consensus on a sensible course for public policy that steers between the simultaneous objectives of achieving economic development and growth while avoiding the serious dangers of human-induced climate change. Second, to identify and champion development of demonstration projects in different parts of the world that highlight innovative approaches to addressing climate change. And third, to help participating businesses understand and adjust to the reality of climate change in all its dimensions, from forecasting and adapting, to anticipating public policies, to navigating a world of unprecedented stresses on the world’s energy and productive systems.

With that framework in mind, participants came to the second Roundtable meeting ready to share how their organizations view, and have already begun to address, the risks and realities of climate change and changing policy and economic environments. Presentations from Air France, Alcan, Anglo American, Deutsche Telecom, EGA-Thailand, General Electric, Munich Re, Rolls Royce and many others provided an in-depth understanding of how businesses from different economic sectors and parts of the world have begun taking firm steps to meet the challenges of climate change.

Several of the world’s leading academic experts — including Paul Epstein, Klaus Lackner, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Vaclav Smil, Robert Socolow and John Weyant — provided Roundtable participants with summaries of research on potential impacts, costs, policy implications and technological options related to climate change. Representatives from Roundtable Working Group 2 (Technology and Engineering) and Working Group 3 (Economics and Policy) outlined their work, including ideas for potential demonstration projects based on promising technological and policy options. Roundtable participants noted several areas that show particular promise, including geologic carbon sequestration in Iceland; carbon-capture-ready coal power plants in India, China and other developing countries; carbon credits and other programs to prevent deforestation in rainforest nations; novel advances in alternative energy production; and efficient efforts to place a global price on carbon emissions to encourage and reward emission reductions.

Following substantive and detailed discussions on a broad variety of technological, economic and policy issues, participants agreed on a series of specific initiatives to guide their work in preparation for the next meeting of the Roundtable on June 12 and 13, 2006 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Looking forward to June, Iceland President Ólafur Grímsson recalled another meeting in Reykjavik 19 years ago between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that began amid similarly uncertain times, but that set the stage for the end of the Cold War. "The small building in the center of Reykjavik where that meeting took place is a strong reminder to all of us that it is possible to change the world," said Grímsson.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit