A U.N. report released today indicated melting ice caps in polar regions could unleash climate changes that would continue for centuries.
The 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.
What is significant about the new reports, however, is the degree of precision about the extent and impact of climate change.
Some of the predictions:
"Freak" Weather Conditions and Enormous Loss of Life
"Projected climate changes during the 21st century have the potential to lead to future large-scale and possible irreversible changes in Earth systems," said the report.
The final message said the effects of manmade 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, taking into account smaller weather-related events, it said.
Changing rainfall patterns coupled with population growth would lead to huge pressure on water supplies, it predicted. It said that at present 1.7 billion people live in areas where water resources are tight. This will likely to increase to about 5.4 billion in the next 25 years.
The Geneva report followed one released last month in Shanghai, China, by the international climate change panel. That predicted the increase in climate change was much higher than expected and there was clear evidence that industrial pollution, including emissions from cars, was to blame.
The third volume, on solutions, will be released in March. But effective international action remains elusive, not least because of the reluctance of the United States to commit itself 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.
"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.
It 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 in densely populated coastal areas ranging from Egypt to Poland to Vietnam.
"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.