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Home arrow Blog arrow 4/5/07-Effects of warming could inundate planet

4/5/07-Effects of warming could inundate planet PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 April 2007
Climate Change is already harming many species, U.N. draft report says
Global warming could hit the entire world like a tsunami, wiping out thousands of species unable to adapt to a hotter climate and making billions of people vulnerable to water shortages and the inundation of coastal cities, says a draft summary of an authoritative UN sponsored report on climate change scheduled for release on Friday.

The summary also says there is a 90-per-cent likelihood that global warming is already beginning to change the world's rich biological heritage of fauna and flora, typified by such recently observed phenomena as the northward march of many animal and plant species. It says these types of changes are occurring almost everywhere scientists care to look, and are being caused by human activity.

"Many natural systems, on all continents and in some oceans, are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increase," the draft concluded.

It also forecasts a massive upheaval in the world's ecosystems, with as much as half the Arctic tundra being replaced by forest if warming reaches 4 degrees, a level of extreme heating that also has the potential to wipe out about 45 per cent of the Amazon's tree species.

The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the second instalment in a series of three widely anticipated studies on global warming to be issued this year by the body. The report is the collective work of more than 1,000 of the world's scientists, including many from Canada, and has a measured and cautious tone, despite its many dramatic conclusions.

This new instalment outlines the far-reaching impact that global warming is already having and expected to have over the next few centuries on the world's environment, ranging from freshwater fish to mangroves and boreal forests.

It also highlights the urgent need for countries to develop strategies for protecting their citizens against the adverse effects of living on a warmer planet, ranging from the instability a hotter world introduces to agriculture to having to deal with nuclear power plants built on coastlines that may end up underwater.

But it also concludes that some of the most dire potential results of climate change, such as an abrupt halt to the current responsible for the Gulf Stream that gives Northern Europe its temperate weather, are unlikely to occur during this century.

The draft is being reviewed this week in Brussels by policy makers from more than 100 countries, and a summary of its findings will be issued on Friday morning, followed early next week by details on changes scientists expect to see in major regions of the world.

In February, the IPCC issued the first instalment, a review of the science supporting global warming. It concluded that the evidence indicating climate change is occurring, and due to human activity, has become so strong it is "unequivocal."

One of the most striking findings in the summary, a compendium of all of the significant scientific research on global warming's possible impacts conducted over the past five years, is the sheer magnitude of the number of people estimated to be negatively affected.

Sea level rise, for instance, is likely to turn into a slow-moving human disaster if nothing is done to protect islands and coastal areas from flooding, and could be a major problem lasting for centuries that affects hundreds of millions of people.

Although most climate-change models predict that sea level won't increase by more than 0.6 metres this century, the summary warned that the rise could be anywhere from four to six metres over the following centuries and millennia if global warming destabilizes the ice cap on Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet. It said there is about a 50-per-cent chance that there would be a partial meltdown of ice in the two areas if temperatures rise anywhere from 1.1 degree to 3.8 degrees. It termed this melting as leading to "the worst case scenario of abrupt sea level rise."

"Very large sea level rises that would result from widespread deglaciation of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets imply major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas. . . . Relocating populations, economic activity and infrastructure would be costly and challenging," it said.

The summary said that by the end of this century, ecosystems are very likely to be exposed to the highest atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past 650,000 years and global average temperatures that are at least as high as any experienced in the past 740,000 years.

By 2100, such a significant amount of the carbon dioxide that humans have added to the atmosphere is likely to have been dissolved into the oceans that they'll be the most acidic they've been in the past 20 million years, threatening sea life, such as animals whose shells would dissolve in this harsher environment, the report states.

Although many changes due to climate change are unambiguously bad, the summary presented a number of outcomes for agriculture and forestry that are more ambiguous. For instance, there is about a 50-per-cent chance that in temperate regions, including Canada, moderate warming will benefit cereal crops and pasture yields, but even slight warming decreases yields in tropical and dry areas.

"This will increase hunger, malnutrition and consequent disorders, including child growth and development, in particular in those regions that are already most vulnerable to food insecurity, notably Africa," it said.

Satellite observations since the 1980s have found that one of the benefits of global warming for agriculture in northern regions is that there has been an earlier greening in spring, leading to a longer growing season.

The summary said there is uncertainty over what will happen to the world's forest industry because of global warming.

Depending on the amount of warming this century, the report predicted that anywhere from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the world's species will be at high risk of dying out with as little as a 1.5-degree increase, and "major extinctions around the globe" will occur if the temperature rise surpasses about 3 degrees.

"The resilience of many ecosystems [their ability to adapt naturally] is likely to be exceeded by 2100," it said, attributing this to "an unprecedented" combination of change in climate and disruptions warmer temperatures cause, such as increasing the number of insect pests and wildfires.

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