U.N. Report Forecasts Crises Brought On by Global Warming
By Eric Pianin
The Washington Post , Feb. 20, 2001
Rising global temperatures already responsible for shrinking glaciers and vanishing permafrost eventually could touch off climate changes that would literally alter ocean currents, wipe away huge portions of Alpine snowcaps and aid the spread of cholera and malaria, according to a study released yesterday.
In the most comprehensive look yet at the existing and long-term effects of global warming, the report by a United Nations panel warned of the potential for large-scale and irreversible climate changes -- including large reductions in the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and a substantial slowing of the circulation of warm water in the North Atlantic.
The report also warns of devastating droughts, floods, violent storms and the spread of cholera and malaria. It concluded that poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America with limited resources would bear the brunt of the most extreme climate changes.
The report said that economic losses from natural catastrophes increased from about $4 billion a year in the 1950s to $40 billion in 1999, with about a quarter of the losses occurring in developing countries.
"Most of the Earth's people will be on the losing side," said Harvard University environmental scientist James J. McCarthy, who co-chaired the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued the report in Geneva.
The 1,000-page report follows the group's warning in January that Earth's average temperature could rise by as much as 10.4 degrees over the next 100 years -- the most rapid change in 10 millennia and more than 60 percent higher than the same group predicted less than six years ago.
Taken together, the two studies provide the strongest evidence yet that most of the global warming in the past 50 years has been caused by human activities, primarily the burning of oil, gasoline and coal, which produces carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
While some scientists disagree over the panel's methodology and findings, the release of the latest report is likely to put added pressure on the Bush administration to develop a policy to address the mounting threat of global warming.
President Bush and his advisers have made increased domestic energy production a top priority, but have had little to say about the related issue of cleaning up the environment. At the administration's request, United Nations officials agreed last week to delay the next round of formal global warming treaty negotiations, set for May, until this summer.
The United States and other industrialized countries have declined so far to ratify the so-called Kyoto Protocol, an agreement first negotiated in 1997 that would require about three dozen developed nations to cut combined emissions of greenhouse gases to 5 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012.
Bush and his advisers have opposed the treaty, saying that it would put U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage and hinder efforts to boost domestic energy supplies. The White House declined to comment on yesterday's report.
Rafe Pomerance, a State Department official in the Clinton administration who specialized in global warming issues, said that even if Bush eventually embraces the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty governs emissions only through the coming decade. "Every delay means the system is committed to more and more warming," he said.
S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a Reagan administration environmental scientist, charged that the U.N. study grossly exaggerated the problem. He said it was based on faulty models that don't conform to existing scientific data from thermometers at weather stations, Earth-circling satellites and high-altitude balloons.
"This report is based on shaky science and is designed to present only the worst possible cases in order to scare politicians and the population and pressure the administration into signing the Kyoto Protocol," Singer said.
Over the weekend, scientists meeting separately in San Francisco said the melting of equatorial glaciers in Africa and Peru was another danger signal of the effects of global warming. They said the white ice caps of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro and others in Peru and Tibet may be disappearing because of rising surface temperatures.
The U.N. study, conducted by some 700 scientists, warns that "projected climate changes during the 21st century have the potential to lead to future large-scale and possible irreversible changes in Earth systems resulting in impacts at continental and global scales."
Disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet or melting of the Greenland ice sheet each could raise global sea levels up to 3 meters over the next 1,000 years, submerge many islands and inundate coastal areas, the report stated. In Europe, rising temperatures could melt the Alpine snowpack.
While the United States would largely escape the worst of the effects, the rise of sea levels would lead to more coastal erosion and flooding, increased risk of damaging storms along much of the Atlantic coast and a higher incidence of malaria, dengue fever and Lyme disease.
A more likely scenario, the study said, is a general reduction in potential crop yields in most tropical and sub-tropical regions, a decrease in the water supply of regions already suffering severe drought, an increase in the number of people exposed to malaria and cholera, widespread increase in the risk of flooding and added pressure on energy sources for air conditioning.
Even as scientists look to the distant future, the report said evidence abounds that global warming already is having a serious impact. The study cites observational evidence, such as shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, delayed freezing and earlier break-up of ice on rivers and lakes, longer growing seasons at mid- to high-latitudes and the disappearance of some plants and animals from areas experiencing unusually high temperatures.
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Report Shows Global Warming Risks
By CLARE NULLIS
Associated Press , Feb, 19, 2001
GENEVA (AP) . Tropical island paradises and glistening Alpine skiing retreats may be lost to future generations, while melting ice caps in polar regions could unleash climate changes that would continue for centuries, according to a U.N. report released Monday.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said poor countries would bear the brunt of devastating changes as a result of global warming. But it warned that the rich wouldn't be immune, with Florida and parts of the American Atlantic coast likely to be lashed by storms and rising sea levels.
"Most of the earth's people will be on the losing side,'' Harvard University environmental scientist James J. McCarthy, who co-chaired the panel, told reporters.
Scientists meeting separately at a conference in San Francisco on Sunday said the melting of equatorial glaciers in Africa and Peru are another powerful indication of global warming. They said the white ice atop Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, and others in Peru and Tibet, may be disappearing, the victim of a process of shrinking mountain glaciers everywhere.
Monday's Geneva report was a summary of 1,000 pages of research into ``Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,'' conducted by some 700 scientists. Given the political sensitivities of the climate debate, the 19-page summary was subject to line-by-line scrutiny by government representatives during weeklong discussions prior to release.
``Projected climate changes during the 21st century have the potential to lead to future large-scale and possible irreversible changes in Earth systems,'' with ``continental and global consequences,'' said the report, adding that climate change will lead to:
. more ``freak'' weather conditions like cyclones, floods and droughts;
. massive displacement of populations in the worst-affected areas;
. potentially enormous loss of life;
. greater risk from diseases like malaria as the mosquito widens its reach;
. and extinction of entire species as their habitat is wiped out.
The report said global economic losses from so-called natural catastrophes increased from about $4 billion per year in the 1950s to $40 billion in 1999. Total costs were in reality twice as high, it said.
The Geneva report followed one released last month in Shanghai, China, by the international climate change panel. That predicted that global temperatures could rise by as much as 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. It said the increase was much higher than expected, with clear evidence that industrial and auto pollution, were to blame.
The third volume, on solutions, will be released in March. But effective international action remains elusive, in part because of U.S. reluctance to commit to firm targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, and the push in developing countries like China toward economic progress.
Scientists have for years warned about the impact of global warming. What is significant about the new reports, however, is the degree of precision about the extent and impact of climate change.
``The effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy,'' said the report released in Geneva.
Changing rainfall patterns coupled with population growth would lead to huge pressure on water supplies, it predicted. It said that 1.7 billion people live in areas where water resources are tight. This likely will increase to about 5.4 billion in the next 25 years.
``Projected climate change will be accompanied by an increase in heat waves, often exacerbated by increased humidity and urban air pollution, which would cause an increase in heat-related deaths and illness,'' it said.
Basic human needs like food and clean water are at risk, said panel chairman Robert Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank. ``Those with the least resources have the least capacity to adapt.''
The report said a reduction in crop yields would lead to an increase in malnutrition in vulnerable areas . especially in drought-prone parts of Africa.
Even more serious was the risk from rising sea levels . such as landslides . in densely populated coastal areas ranging from Egypt to Poland to Vietnam
The report said that the change in temperature was most extreme in the polar regions.
``Climate change in polar regions is expected to be among the largest and most rapid of any region of earth,'' it said. ``Polar regions contain important drivers of change. Once triggered, they may continue for centuries, long after greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized, and cause irreversible impacts on ice sheets, global ocean circulation and sea-rise.''
The report predicted that half of Alpine glaciers could disappear in the next 100 years, and said less reliable snow conditions would have an adverse impact on winter tourism in Europe.
In the United States, sea-level rise would result in increased coastal erosion, flooding and risk of storm surges, particularly in Florida and much of the Atlantic coast.
Small island nations would be ``among the countries most seriously impacted by climate change,'' it warned. Tourism -- not to mention life in general --would be severely disrupted.
GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- Environmentalists have demanded action after a United Nations report spelled out the potentially devastating effects of global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report calculated that the so-called "greenhouse effect" would cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm by up to 5.8C (10.4F) by 2100.
Environmental pressure groups said the report indicated governments needed to begin action against global warming now rather than just talking about the issue.
The report, issued on Monday, said: "No country can afford to ignore the coming transformation of its natural and human environment. The poor and vulnerable are at greatest risk."
Roger Higman, Friends of the Earth's Senior Climate Campaigner, said: "This report shows that climate change will be a disaster for the world in general and for the poorest countries in particular.
"Governments in industrial countries must agree radical cuts in our use of coal, oil and gas, and big increases in the use of renewable power. If we don't act now it may be too late."
Greenpeace International said the report revealed a "climate emergency" which the world's richest nations needed to tackle urgently.
Bill Hare, climate policy director of Greenpeace, said: "It is time for governments, particularly the new Bush administration, to show that they are taking the reality of climate change seriously."
The World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Campaign director Jennifer Morgan said: "It is time for governments such as the United States to get serious about reducing their carbon dioxide emissions."
The IPCC report said tropical islands could be wiped out by rising sea levels while warmer weather could melt Alpine ski slopes.
It predicts harsher droughts for southern Europe and more severe storms hitting U.S. coastal areas.
The report said: "The effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy."
It added that over the next 25 years the number of people living in regions where water resources are tight is likely to rise from 1.7 billion to about 5.4 billion.
Scientists outside the wide embrace of the IPCC, say the work the panel has done over the past 10 years has effectively ended debate on whether warming is taking place or not and moved the issue on to the measures that need to be taken.