The Heat Is Online

Climate Situation Called "Critical" by US, UK Experts

Climate chiefs issue severe weather warning

The Independent (London), Dec. 23, 1999
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Global warming is now changing the world's climate rapidly, and humanity faces a "critical" situation because of it, the chief meteorologists of Britain and the United States warn today in a remarkable joint statement.

Peter Ewins, head of the UK Meteorological Office, and James Baker, his US counterpart, confront climate-change sceptics head on with their assertion in a letter to newspapers, including The Independent, that the world is warming rapidly and human actions are responsible. The statement from such senior figures breaks a tradition of caution by scientists involved in climate research, who have been providing evidence for a decade of global warming, but have left the conclusions to politicians.

Their statement will be seen in the context of recent climate-related catastrophes, from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch last year to the recent disastrous mudslides in Venezuela brought about by extreme weather conditions consistent with predictions of what global warming may cause.

The two meteorologists attack the sceptical view, still prevalent in the American business community, that fears of global warming are exaggerated. They say in their letter that data on global temperatures over the last year "confirms that our climate is now changing rapidly". And they add: "These new observations, when combined with our improving understanding of the climate system, increasingly point to human influences as the cause of these climate changes."

As revealed in The Independent a week ago, 1999 is likely to prove the warmest year in England since records began in 1659 despite the recent icy conditions and the fourth warmest year the world has known. It is likely to be the second-warmest year recorded for the US.

"The rapid rate of warming since 1976, approximately 0.2 degrees per decade, is consistent with the projected rate of warming based on humaninduced effects," the meteorologists say. "Scientists now say that they cannot explain this unusual warmth without including the effects of human-generated greenhouse gases and aerosols. Our new data and understanding now point to the critical situation we face: to slow future change, we must start taking action soon."

Global warming is believed to be caused by the increased emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide from motor vehicles and power stations, which retain more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere. As well as higher temperatures, its predicted consequences include increased climate instability and more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

At Kyoto in Japan in 1997, the international community agreed on an outline plan to cut back on "greenhouse gas" emissions, but progress on implementing it has been slow.

US, British specialists call on business to join fight against global warming
The Boston Globe, Reuters, Dec. 24, 1999

LONDON - US and British experts, adding a sense of urgency to warnings of global warming, said yesterday that humans have triggered rapid climate change and must act fast to help prevent environmental turmoil.

''It's important we take action now,'' said James Baker, undersecretary of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He urged businesses to boost energy efficiency and increase their use of renewable power sources.

''Ignoring climate change will surely be the most costly of all possible choices, for us and our children,'' said Baker and Peter Ewins, head of the British meteorological office, in a joint letter to London's Independent newspaper.

''Our climate is now changing rapidly,'' they wrote. ''Our new data and understanding now point to a critical situation we face.''

The letter warned of extreme weather like floods happening more frequently as the planet warms; greenhouse gas emissions have to be curbed to prevent catastrophes, the letter said.

''We're now coming clean and saying we believe the evidence is almost incontrovertible, that man has an effect and therefore we need to act accordingly,'' Ewins later told BBC Radio.

''We now need to persuade the business community that to act now is the responsible thing to do.''

Baker said flooding that has killed tens of thousands people in Venezuela was the kind of catastrophe global warming could trigger, although it was too early to state categorically that climate change was the cause of the Venezuelan disaster.

Experts say 1998 was the costliest year ever for insured losses from weather-related catastrophes. The storms, floods, droughts and fires around the world in 1998 exceeded all the weather-related losses of the 1980s.

''As the average temperature goes up we can expect more extreme events - floods, drought, more severe storms,'' Baker said.

''The fact is that if you add enough carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the laws of physics tell us that you're going to change the climate. It's only a question of how fast and exactly where it is going to happen.''

The senior scientists said this has been the hottest decade for the past 1,000 years in the Northern Hemisphere, according to indicators, including evidence from tree rings.

Humans now should brace themselves for ''rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, ecological and agricultural dislocations, and the increased spread of human disease,'' they said.

This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 12/24/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.