World Disasters Seen As Global Warming Outcome

1,000 page report by IPCC indicate poor will be less able to adapt and greatest climate change will take place in polar regions.

Published: 19-Feb-2001

GENEVA (Reuters) - Massive flooding, disease and drought could hit rich and poor countries around the world over coming decades if global warming is not halted, an authoritative U.N. scientific team warned Monday.

The scientists said they foresaw glaciers and polar icecaps melting, countless species of animals, birds and plant life dying out, farmland turning to desert, fish-supporting coral reefs destroyed, and small island states sunk beneath the sea.

The disaster scenario, with its major impact on the global economy, was set out in a 1,000-page report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which links nearly 3,000 experts in dozens of countries and has been studying the warming problem since 1990.

"Projected climate changes during the 21st century have the potential to lead to future large-scale and possibly irreversible changes in Earth systems, resulting in impacts on continental and global scales," the report said.

"Climate change in polar regions is expected to be among the greatest of any region on the Earth," declared a Summary for Policymakers agreed at a meeting of IPCC scientists and officials of over 100 governments in Geneva last week.

Hinting at sharper global social conflict to come, it said poorer countries, and the poorest people in rich countries, would suffer the most -- increasing the North-South divide and the poverty gap in the United States and Europe.


The effects of a surge in hurricanes, floods, higher temperatures and water shortages "are expected to fall disproportionately on the poor because they are less able to adapt," Harvard professor James McCarthy told a news conference.

McCarthy, one of the authors of the report, said farming in tropical and sub-tropical regions would be worst hit "and tens of millions of people will be at risk from sea-level rise."

The report is the second of four to be issued this year as governments gird up for a fresh effort to shape a pact on how to tackle the warming problem and avert disaster.

Last month the first report said the earth's atmosphere was warming faster than the IPCC initially thought and largely because of human activity -- use of carbon-based fossil fuels, industrial pollution and destruction of forests and wetlands.

Next month in Accra, Ghana, the body is to issue a third report looking at what can be done to slow the process and help people, animals and plant life to adapt to irreversible change.

In September, a final report will put the conclusions into one major document which the scientists and environmentalists -- as well as insurance companies and new, clean energy industries -- hope will prod political leaders to action.

In parts of the scientific community, the IPCC has critics who say there is no solid evidence for unusual global warming.

Producers and users of fuels like coal and oil also deny it, as do opponents of the U.N. who suggest the IPCC is part of a plot to install a world government of international bureaucrats.


Diplomats involved in last week's closed-door Geneva sessions said Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, and industrial giant China delayed approval of the Summary for Policymakers by arguing over almost every line of the text.

But mainstream scientists, even outside the wide embrace of the IPCC, say the work it has done over the past 10 years has ended debate on whether warming is taking place and moved it on to measures that need to be taken.

IPCC backers hope the reports will push governments to try harder after they failed at a meeting in the Hague last November to agree on reducing carbon, or "greenhouse gas," emissions.

That meeting focused on implementing a protocol negotiated in Kyoto in 1997 on cutting emissions from fossil fuel use. The governments meet again in Bonn in May.

Monday's report warned that the United States -- where skepticism about warming is strong in the new administration -- would not escape a rise in flooding and storms that have caused billions of dollars in damage in recent years.


In a comment on the report, the global conservation body WWF's Washington-based Climate Change Campaign director Jennifer Morgan said the IPCC findings showed that "it is time for governments such as the United States to get serious about reducing their carbon dioxide emissions."

The Dutch-based environmental group Greenpeace said the report revealed a "climate emergency" which the world's richest nations needed to tackle urgently.

The IPCC said northern hemisphere countries would probably become hotter, bringing a rise in deaths from heat stroke in cities and diseases until now restricted to tropical areas, like malaria and mortal viral infections.

Africa -- with its already severe economic and social problems -- would be most vulnerable. Disease levels could shoot up, especially in crowded cities along the continent's coasts which could also face inundation as sea levels rise.

In Asia, it said, mangrove forests that protect river and sea banks could be swamped, especially in Bangladesh. Forest fires could become more frequent and warmer conditions could increase the spread of infectious disease.


The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, which feed river systems providing water to around 500 million people, could cause huge flooding and then massive water shortages.

Much of Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, could see a decline in crop yields, deciduous tropical forests could shrink and new diseases spread, while renowned wildlife like the Central American quetzal bird could disappear.

Other animals that could vanish included the polar bear, penguins, the Bengal tiger and the central African mountain gorilla.

In Europe, southern countries were more likely to be affected, with an increased risk of water shortage and a deterioration in soil quality that would affect agriculture.

Australia, the report said, could face a major threat to agriculture as drought spread. In the Middle East, political tension could be heightened and slide into wars over water resources as rivers dried out.

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