Ominous forecast from U.N.
A new global warming report issued Friday by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth's future: more than 1 billion people in desperate need of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a blighted landscape ravaged by fires and...
A new global warming report issued Friday by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of Earth's future: more than 1 billion people in desperate need of water, extreme food shortages in Africa, a blighted landscape ravaged by fires and floods and millions of species sentenced to extinction.
And that's the conclusion of what many scientists consider to be a watered-down summary of the report issued after a night of wrangling among bureaucrats challenging the confidence level of the experts' predictions and their timelines for future catastrophes.
That debate reflects the uncertainties that come into play when scientists try to predict climate change and how it will affect localized regions -- as well as the ability of humans to adapt to those changes.
Often it was the U.S. delegation that stood with scientists and helped reach a compromise, said Stanford University scientist Stephen Schneider, a frequent critic of the Bush administration's global warming policies.
In particular, American negotiators managed to eliminate language in one section that called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, said Patricia Romero Lankao, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. who was one of the report's lead authors.
The report is the second issued this year by U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which marshaled more than 2,500 scientists to give their best predictions of the consequences of a few degrees increase in temperature. The first report, released in January, characterized global warming as a runaway train that is irreversible but can be moderated by societal changes.
The new report, issued in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, says warming will produce devastating effects in all regions of the world and all levels of society, and people without the resources to adapt to the coming changes will suffer the greatest impact, the report said.
"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.
North America can expect more hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, the report said, and the coasts will be flooded by rising sea levels. Crop production will increase initially as the growing season gets longer, but climbing temperatures and water shortages ultimately will lead to sharp reductions.
Africa will suffer the most extreme effects, with one-quarter billion people losing most of their water supplies. Food production will fall by half in many countries, and governments will have to spend 10 percent of their budgets or more to adapt to climate changes, the report said.
Asia will suffer from unprecedented flooding as the rising temperatures melt Himalayan glaciers and rock avalanches will wipe out many villages. The same will happen in the European Alps and the South American Andes.
Rising temperatures and drying soil will replace the rain forest of the eastern Amazon with drier savanna, eliminating much of the habitat that supports the greatest diversity of species in the world.
At least 30 percent of the world's species will disappear if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees above the average levels of the 1980s and 1990s, the report said.
"Don't be poor in a hot country, don't live in hurricane alley, watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic, and it's a bad idea to be on a high mountain," said Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, one of the scientists who contributed to the report.
Many of the worst effects aren't locked into the future, the report said in its final pages. People can build better structures, adapt to future warming threats and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists said.
"There are things that can be done now, and it's much better if it can be done now rather than later," said David Karoly of the University of Oklahoma, one of the report authors.
"We can fix this," Schneider said.