Global Warming Timetable
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Global warming: scientists reveal timetable
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent
03 February 2005, The Independent
A detailed timetable of the destruction and distress that global
warming is likely to cause the world was unveiled yesterday.
It pulls together for the first time the projected impacts on
ecosystems and wildlife, food production, water resources and
economies across the earth, for given rises in global temperature
expected during the next hundred years.
The resultant picture gives the most wide-ranging impression yet of
the bewildering array of destructive effects that climate change is
expected to exert on different regions, from the mountains of Europe
and the rainforests of the Amazon to the coral reefs of the tropics.
Produced through a synthesis of a wide range of recent academic
studies, it was presented as a paper yesterday to the international
conference on climate change being held at the UK Met Office
headquarters in Exeter by the author Bill Hare, of the Potsdam
Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany's leading global
warming research institute.
The conference has been called personally by Tony Blair as part of
Britain's attempts to move the climate change issue up the agenda
during the current UK presidency of the G8 group of rich nations,
and the European Union. It has already heard disturbing warnings
from the latest climate research, including the revelation on
Tuesday from the British Antarctic Survey that the massive West
Antarctic ice sheet might be disintegrating - an event which, if it
happened completely, would raise sea levels around the world by 16ft
Dr Hare's timetable shows the impacts of climate change multiplying
rapidly as average global temperature goes up, towards 1C above
levels before the industrial revolution, then to 2C, and then 3C.
As present world temperatures are already 0.7C above the pre-
industrial level, the process is well under way. In the near future -
the next 25 years - as the temperature climbs to the 1C mark, some
specialised ecosystems will start to feel stress, such as the
tropical highland forests of Queensland, which contain a large
number of Australia's endemic plant species, and the succulent karoo
plant region of South Africa. In some developing countries, food
production will start to decline, water shortage problems will
worsen and there will be net losses in GDP.
It is when the temperature moves up to 2C above the pre-industrial
level, expected in the middle of this century - within the lifetime
of many people alive today - that serious effects start to come
thick and fast, studies suggest.
Substantial losses of Arctic sea ice will threaten species such as
polar bears and walruses, while in tropical regions "bleaching" of
coral reefs will become more frequent - when the animals that live
in the coral are forced out by high temperatures and the reef may
die. Mediterranean regions will be hit by more forest fires and
insect pests, while in regions of the US such as the Rockies, rivers
may become too warm for trout and salmon.
In South Africa, the Fynbos, the world's most remarkable floral
kingdom which has more than 8,000 endemic wild flowers, will start
to lose its species, as will alpine areas from Europe to Australia;
the broad-leaved forests of China will start to die. The numbers at
risk from hunger will increase and another billion and a half people
will face water shortages, and GDP losses in some developing
countries will become significant.
But when the temperature moves up to the 3C level, expected in the
early part of the second half of the century, these effects will
become critical. There is likely to be irreversible damage to the
Amazon rainforest, leading to its collapse, and the complete
destruction of coral reefs is likely to be widespread.
The alpine flora of Europe, Australia and New Zealand will probably
disappear completely, with increasing numbers of extinctions of
other plant species. There will be severe losses of China's
broadleaved forests, and in South Africa the flora of the Succulent
Karoo will be destroyed, and the flora of the Fynbos will be hugely
There will be a rapid increase in populations exposed to hunger,
with up to 5.5 billion people living in regions with large losses in
crop production, while another 3 billion people will have increased
risk of water shortages.
Above the 3C raised level, which may be after 2070, the effects will
be catastrophic: the Arctic sea ice will disappear, and species such
as polar bears and walruses may disappear with it, while the main
prey species of Arctic carnivores, such as wolves, Arctic foxes and
the collared lemming, will have gone from 80 per cent of their
range, critically endangering predators.
In human terms there is likely to be catastrophe too, with water
stress becoming even worse, and whole regions becoming unsuitable
for producing food, while there will be substantial impacts on
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