Late To Avoid Global Warming'
By Cahal Milmo
19 September, 2007
rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperatures – the point
considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change which
will expose millions to drought, hunger and flooding – is now
"very unlikely" to be avoided, the world's leading climate
scientists said yesterday.
The latest study from the
United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put
the inevitability of drastic global warming in the starkest terms yet,
stating that major impacts on parts of the world – in particular
Africa, Asian river deltas, low-lying islands and the Arctic –
are unavoidable and the focus must be on adapting life to survive the
most devastating changes.
For more than a decade, EU
countries led by Britain have set a rise of two degrees centigrade or
less in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels as the benchmark
after which the effects of climate become devastating, with crop failures,
water shortages, sea-level rises, species extinctions and increased
Two years ago, an authoritative
study predicted there could be as little as 10 years before this "tipping
point" for global warming was reached, adding a rise of 0.8 degrees
had already been reached with further rises already locked in because
of the time lag in the way carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse
gas – is absorbed into the atmosphere.
The IPCC said yesterday that
the effects of this rise are being felt sooner than anticipated with
the poorest countries and the poorest people set to suffer the worst
of shifts in rainfall patterns, temperature rises and the viability
of agriculture across much of the developing world.
In its latest assessment
of the progress of climate change, the body said: "If warming is
not kept below two degrees centigrade, which will require the strongest
mitigation efforts, and currently looks very unlikely to be achieved,
the substantial global impacts will occur, such as species extinctions,
and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger, flooding."
Under the scale of risk used
by IPCC, the words "very unlikely" mean there is just a one
to 10 per cent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to two
degrees centigrade or less.
Professor Martin Parry, a
senior Met Office scientist and co-chairman of the IPCC committee which
produced the report, said he believed it would now be "very difficult"
to achieve the target and that governments need to combine efforts to
"mitigate" climate change by reducing CO2 emissions with "adaptation"
to tackle active consequences such as crop failure and flooding.
Speaking at the Royal Geographical
Society, he said: "Ten years ago we were talking about these impacts
affecting our children and our grandchildren. Now it is happening to
"Even if we achieve
a cap at two degrees, there is a stock of major impacts out there already
and that means adaptation. You cannot mitigate your way out of this
problem... The choice is between a damaged world or a future with a
severely damaged world."
The IPCC assessment states
that up to two billion people worldwide will face water shortages and
up to 30 per cent of plant and animal species would be put at risk of
extinction if the average rise in temperature stabilises at 1.5C to
Professor Parry said developed
countries needed to help the most affected regions, which include sub-Saharan
Africa and major Asian river deltas with improved technology for irrigation,
drought-resistant crop strains and building techniques.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman
of the IPCC, said that 2015 was the last year in which the world could
afford a net rise in greenhouse gas emissions, after which "very
sharp reductions" are required.
Dr Pachauri said the ability
of the world's most populous nations to feed themselves was already
under pressure, citing a study in India which showed that peak production
of wheat had already been reached in one region.
Campaigners said the IPCC
findings brought added urgency to the EU's efforts to slash emissions.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "The EU needs
to adopt a science-based cap on emissions, ditch plans for dirty new
coal plants and nuclear power stations that will give tiny emission
cuts at enormous and dangerous cost, end aviation expansion and ban
wasteful products like incandescent lightbulbs."
Plus two degrees:
350 and 600 million people will suffer water shortages or increased
competition for water. Yields from agriculture could fall by half by
2020 while arid areas will rise by up to 8 per cent. The number of sub-Saharan
species at risk of extinction will rise by at least 10 per cent.
to a billion people will suffer water shortages as supplies dwindle
with the melting of Himalayan glaciers. Maize and wheat yields will
fall by up to 5 per cent in India; rice crops in China will drop by
up to 12 per cent. Increased risk of coastal flooding.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 more heat-related deaths a year. Water supplies
will no longer be guaranteed in parts of southern and eastern Australia
by 2030. Annual bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.
Warmer temperatures will increase wheat yields by up to 25 per cent
in the north but water availability will drop in the south by up to
a quarter. Heatwaves, forest fires and extreme weather events such as
flash floods will be more frequent. New diseases will appear.
Up to 77 million people will face water shortages and tropical glaciers
will disappear. Tropical forests will become savanna and there will
be increased risk of coastal flooding in low-lying areas such as El
Salvador and Guyana.
North America: Crop
yields will increase by up to 20 per cent due to warmer temperatures
but economic damage from extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina
will continue increasing.
Polar regions: The
seasonal thaw of permafrost will increase by 15 per cent and the overall
extent of the permafrost will shrink by about 20 per cent. Indigenous
communities such as the Inuit face loss of traditional lifestyle.
Low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels with
the Maldives already suffering land loss.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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