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Gov. Brown Hosts International Climate Conference In San Francisco

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California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during The Governor's Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California's Future on December 15, 2011 in San Francisco, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown hosted a one day conference on cliamte change and how it may affect California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during The Governor’s Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California’s Future on December 15, 2011 in San Francisco, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown hosted a one day conference on cliamte change and how it may affect California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The United Nations’ top climate change official joined Gov. Jerry Brown in San Francisco for a conference addressing the costs associated with preparing for the effects of a warming world.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, joined scientists and billionaire Sir Richard Branson for the conference at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Brown opened the conference with a wake-up call about the very real threat posed by the gradually warming atmosphere.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

“The main thing we have to deal with in climate change is the skepticism, the denial and the cult-like behavior of the political lemmings that would take us over the cliff,” Brown said.

Brown vowed to continue investing in renewable energy and infrastructure projects to protect coastlines from sea-level rise and homes from increased flooding from faster snow melts and longer wildfire seasons.

“It’s up to the states” to lead the way on addressing climate change, he said, because of the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol.

Branson talked about steps Virgin Air was taking to have airplanes burn cleaner fuel, and of a New Zealand company working to turn carbon from chimney stacks into alcohol that would become aviation fuel.

The highly partisan nature of the climate change debate left little room for exaggeration, Branson said.

“We’re going to have to lose a lot of Greenland’s ice before we’re going to see sea level rise.”

Brown lumped together global-warming skeptics, including GOP lawmakers and the Cato Institute, calling them a well-funded “cult” that disagrees with the vast majority of published, peer-reviewed climate science.

“The Cato Institute has speakers that say environmentalism is a greater threat to capitalism than Marxism itself,” he said, evoking laugher from the audience.

Patrick J. Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at Cato, said the institute has never denied climate change, but disputes temperature projections by the UN, saying the sensitivity of temperature to changes in carbon dioxide levels have been overestimated.

“Governor Brown clearly has not read anything that the Cato Institute has published on global warming. Rather than deny it, we believe that indeed the surface temperature of the planet is about one degree Celsius warmer than it was 120 years ago and that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide has contributed to this,” Michaels said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“On the other hand, it is also clear that the rate of observed warming is falling beneath the midrange projections from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Pachauri said UN studies show that 95 percent of human deaths associated with extreme weather events happen in developing countries.

Yet he said the world’s large economies, such as California’s, can make great strides toward helping reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, especially through the simple task of retrofitting existing buildings.

“If one could retrofit buildings to make them more efficient, and if new buildings could be built to current standards, it’s really a win-win situation,” Pachauri said. “Overall, the building sector has the largest potential for the reduction of emissions.”

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also is expected to attend the conference Thursday afternoon.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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