By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Nations and inspaniduals have a duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enact policies that mitigate global warming, said a Vatican-sponsored working group.

“The business-as-usual mode will not be possible because of both resource depletion and environmental damages,” the group said in a report released by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences May 2.

The cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing reforestation, cutting air pollutants and helping poor regions adapt to climate change “pales in comparison to the price the world will pay if we fail to act now,” it said.

“We call on all people and nations to recognize the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands and other land uses,” it said.

The 15-page report on the impact human beings have on the environment was titled, “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” and was compiled and signed by 23 internationally renowned scientists, mountaineers and lawyers. The academy’s chancellor, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, was also a signatory of the working group report.

The academy selected participants for the April 2-4 workshop at the Vatican to discuss the phenomena of melting mountain glaciers and to draw up recommendations in response to the risks and threats of climate change.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a written statement that while the report reflects the findings of the authors and is not “an act of the magisterium of the Church,” it is still “a significant scientific contribution to be valued in the context of the concerns about environmental problems often shown in recent magisterial documents and in the words of the Holy Father.”

Pope Benedict XVI has been very vocal about his concern for environmental degradation and has criticized a lack of real commitment to mitigating climate change.

Father Lombardi said the group of glaciologists, climatologists, meteorologists, hydrologists, physicists, chemists and others represented “an extremely qualified working group” that issued “an important statement.”

The report summarized recent findings of the effects climate change has and will have on world populations. It said diminished air quality due to particulates, soot and gases “result in more than 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year and threaten water and food security.”

Melting glaciers put drinking water security at risk and climate disruptions threaten those living in coastal and storm-prone areas, it said.

“The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air now exceeds the highest levels of the last 800,000 years,” it said, adding that the gases and pollutants pumped into the atmosphere are to a large extent “man-made.”

That human activity could so drastically alter current and future climate conditions, the report said, warrants assigning a new name to the current geological period – anthropocene – a term coined by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who was one of the working group’s co-chairs.

The working group made the following recommendations:

* Immediately reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by employing renewable energy sources, halting deforestation, increasing reforestation and deploying technologies that “draw down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

* Cut heat-absorbing pollutants like soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbons by 50 percent.

* Help countries assess and adapt to the environmental and social impacts climate change will bring.

“The group’s consensus statement is a warning to humanity and a call for fast action – to mitigate global and regional warming, to protect mountain glaciers and other vulnerable ecosystems, to assess national and local climate risks, and to prepare to adapt to those climate impacts that cannot be mitigated,” the report said.

The working group also said another major threat that humanity poses to the world’s climate is “the threat of nuclear war, which can be lessened by rapid and large reductions in global nuclear arsenals.”