President-elect Barack Obama offers bright prospects for a fairly reasonable international deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a leading British expert has said.
Lord Stern, author of the government's 2006 report on the economic impact of climate change, said that Obama could revolutionise Washington's approach to the subject.
He said an Obama administration gives hope that a new global agreement could be formulated to be in place after the expiration of the Kyoto protocol in 2012.
"He's night and day on this issue relative to his prehistoric predecessor George Bush," Lord Stern told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "That is a very big change and, while people saw the United States as a obstacle, now people are saying well perhaps the United States could really lead on this.
"And it is going to have to - because the two big ones on this are the United States and China."
Lord Stern said that rather than allow the economic crisis to distract efforts to combat climate change, the world should apply the lessons learned on what caused environmental issues.
He said: "The first [lesson] is that the longer you let risks fester, the bigger the impact and the bigger the crash and consequences.
"If we emit greenhouse gases the concentrations in the atmosphere build up and it gets more and more difficult to act the later you leave it.
"The second lesson is that we're really going to have to collaborate on this one."
Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Others such as hydrofluorocarbons
(PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride
(SF6) result exclusively from human industrial processes. Carbon dioxide
is released into the atmosphere by the burning of solid waste, wood and wood products, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). Nitrous oxide
emissions occur during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned. Methane
is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming.
Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels.
When sunlight strikes the Earth's surface, some of it is reflected back towards space as infrared radiation (heat). The greenhouse gases mentioned above absorb this infrared radiation, trap the heat in the atmosphere and reemit the waves downward causing the temperature of the earth to go up.
And this is called the "greenhouse effect," because of a similar effect produced by the glass panes of a greenhouse, where plants are grown under controlled conditions.
Emissions of two greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide have reached record high, says World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
While Bush kept balking on any commitment by his country on reducing greenhouse gases, fearing any such move would affect the profits of the manufacturing sector, Barack Obama could be said to have a more open mind on the issue.
Stern himself could be reading too much into the incoming President's grandstanding. Still some progress could be expected, observers say.