Global warming: scientists reveal timetable
- Global warming: scientists reveal timetable
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent
03 February 2005
Global warming: scientists reveal timetable
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
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 (4.9 metres).
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
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,
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 damaged.
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
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 global GDP.