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Global warming: the final verdict
Source Dave Anderson
Date 07/01/21/22:12

from the London Observer

observer.guardian.co.uk

A study by the world's leading experts says global warming will happen faster
and be more devastating than previously thought

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday January 21, 2007
The Observer

GLOBAL WARMING IS DESTINED to have a far more destructive and earlier impact
than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on
climate change will warn next week.A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report
of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer,
shows the frequency of devastating storms - like the ones that battered Britain
last week - will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by
around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains;
deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral
reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to
flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas,
while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of
even the most affluent countries.'The really chilling thing about the IPCC
report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have
widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some
think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of
this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points
that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very
conservative document - that's what makes it so scary,' said one senior UK
climate expert.

Climate concerns are likely to dominate international politics next month.
President Bush is to make the issue a part of his state of the union address on
Wednesday while the IPCC report's final version is set for release on 2
February in a set of global news conferences.

Although the final wording of the report is still being worked on, the draft
indicates that scientists now have their clearest idea so far about future
climate changes, as well as about recent events. It points out that:

12 of the past 13 years were the warmest since records began;

ocean temperatures have risen at least three kilometres beneath the
surface;

glaciers, snow cover and permafrost have decreased in both hemispheres;

sea levels are rising at the rate of almost 2mm a year;

cold days, nights and frost have become rarer while hot days, hot nights
and heatwaves have become more frequent.

And the cause is clear, say the authors: 'It is very likely that [man-made]
greenhouse gas increases caused most of the average temperature increases since
the mid-20th century,' says the report.

To date, these changes have caused global temperatures to rise by 0.6C. The
most likely outcome of continuing rises in greenhouses gases will be to make
the planet a further 3C hotter by 2100, although the report acknowledges that
rises of 4.5C to 5C could be experienced. Ice-cap melting, rises in sea levels,
flooding, cyclones and storms will be an inevitable consequence.

Past assessments by the IPCC have suggested such scenarios are 'likely' to
occur this century. Its latest report, based on sophisticated computer models
and more detailed observations of snow cover loss, sea level rises and the
spread of deserts, is far more robust and confident. Now the panel writes of
changes as 'extremely likely' and 'almost certain'.

And in a specific rebuff to sceptics who still argue natural variation in the
Sun's output is the real cause of climate change, the panel says mankind's
industrial emissions have had five times more effect on the climate than any
fluctuations in solar radiation. We are the masters of our own destruction, in
short.

There is some comfort, however. The panel believes the Gulf Stream will go on
bathing Britain with its warm waters for the next 100 years. Some researchers
have said it could be disrupted by cold waters pouring off Greenland's
melting ice sheets, plunging western Europe into a mini Ice Age, as depicted in
the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.

The report reflects climate scientists' growing fears that Earth is nearing
the stage when carbon dioxide rises will bring irreversible change to the
planet. 'We are seeing vast sections of Antarctic ice disappearing at an
alarming rate,' said climate expert Chris Rapley, in a phone call to The
Observer from the Antarctic Peninsula last week. 'That means we can expect to
see sea levels rise at about a metre a century from now on - and that will have
devastating consequences.'

However, there is still hope, said Peter Cox of Exeter University. 'We are
like alcoholics who have got as far as admitting there is a problem. It is a
start. Now we have got to start drying out - which means reducing our carbon
output.'

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