The world can avoid the worst effects of climate change with investments in clean energy so long as the wholesale shift from fossil fuels starts within five years, the environmental group WWF said on Tuesday.
GENEVA -- The world can avoid the worst effects of climate change with investments in clean energy so long as the wholesale shift from fossil fuels starts within five years, the environmental group WWF said on Tuesday.
In its Climate Solutions report, the Swiss-based body argued that solar, wind and other "benign" power sources could satisfy the world's growing energy needs and keep temperature increases below the critical two-degree Celsius (3.6 F) threshold.
Scientists believe that global warming beyond that point will trigger dangerous storms, floods and droughts that could devastate areas that are home to millions of people.
The WWF said that renewable energy sources, though not yet operating on a large-enough scale to replace petroleum, coal and other carbon-emitting fuels, could do so if governments agree by 2012 to set targets and coordinate investments to develop them.
"In five years it may be too late to initiate a sustainable transition which could avert a breach of the two-degree threshold for avoiding dangerous climate change," it found.
"In that event, dangerously unsustainable options may be forced upon us or we will face more severe interventions which will have significant impacts on the global economy."
During the transition to clean energy reliance, the WWF said rich countries should equip their fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage technologies to reduce the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Natural gas should also be used as "transition fuel" to replace coal in the short- to medium-term, the WWF said, also appealing for innovations to make cars, planes, ships and buildings more energy-efficient.
For poor and developing countries, clean energy tools could be introduced when they become more affordable, ideally allowing some nations to side-step the polluting fuels used for years by their richer peers, the report found.
It said nuclear power was an unacceptable alternative to fossil fuels because of its high costs and concerns over safety and weapons proliferation.
"There are more than sufficient benign technologies available, without embarking further on nuclear power with its many associated risks," it said.
The WWF, formerly called the World Wildlife Fund and now known simply by its initials, said curbing energy demand was also crucial to stave off the worst consequences of global warming, recommending less driving and air travel.
It urged governments to work to stop the destruction of forests, particularly in tropical countries, and warned against growing energy crops on newly-displaced forest land. Large hydroelectricity projects should also be avoided as they can disrupt river systems and flood fertile land, the WWF said.