Global Warming Wreaking
Havoc Around The World
Floods in Yorkshire. Millions facing drought in China. Permafrost melting in Russia. Malaria spreading across Africa. And that's just the start. Guardian writers on how global warming is wreaking havoc around the world.
Britain will be a warmer place in future, with drier summers and more frequent droughts, but with wetter autumns and winters. In other words: more rain and more river flooding.
And there is a double jeopardy. The coastal areas are pinched - in danger of fresh water flooding from within, in danger of high tides from without.
Higher sea levels as a result of global warming, combined with the fact that southern England is sinking by about 30 centimetres a century, means that tides will become more threatening. One pessimistic estimate puts the average sea level rise around the coast of East Anglia at 80cm in 50 years' time.
One of the greatest threats to Britain is a storm surge - a gigantic wave of low pressure sweeping across the Atlantic from Canada and funnelling down the North Sea which raises the ocean by 30cm and sends it crashing into the English east coast. The west coast is vulnerable to similar surges in the Irish Sea.
The surge tide of February 1953 killed more than 300 people in eastern England.
It was to prevent such disasters happening again that defences such as the Thames barrier were built.
Detailed regional studies of climate change impacts across the UK show a patchwork of consequences, some dramatic, some sad, some welcome.
In the south-east, average annual temperatures are expected to increase by 1.2 to 3.4C; winter rainfall to go up by 6%-22%, summer rainfall to drop by 8%-22%.
Tracts of country like the Surrey Hills, Kent's "garden of England" and the Hampshire downs could experience invasion by alien species. Faster coastal erosion will hasten the end for coastal landmarks like Hurst Castle Spit, Selsey Bill and East Head. New crops like grapes, soya, maize, sunflowers and navy beans could spread. Milder weather is good news for species such as the Adonis Blue butterfly, sand lizard and smooth snake; bad for the likes of the mole cricket, marsh gentian and shallow-rooted beech.
In the north-west, 95,000 people, and much of the region's industry and tourism, lie in the coastal plain. Hundreds of miles of sea defences protect them, and local authorities reckon existing and planned new works should keep towns like Morecambe and Blackpool safe for 50 years.
There is concern over biodiversity and wildlife habitats. Mudflats and saltmarshes used by species like the knot, curlew, oystercatcher, pink-footed goose, godwit and sanderling may disappear; in upland areas like the Cumbrian mountains, the Pennines and the Peak District, Arctic species like the arctic char, a fish, and plants such as Alpine Lady's Mantle will be put under pressure. James Meek
The permafrost - permanently frozen subsoil - which covers 65% of Russia is becoming less permanent. A gradual melting process has already begun in developed areas of Siberia and scientists have warned that if temperatures continue to rise, the southern permafrost frontier could retreat by around 150 miles over the next 25 years.
In places like the diamond-producing town Mirny, in Yakutia, a quarter of the population have been evacuated because their homes, built on permafrost foundations, have begun to slide into the melting soil.
Services along the newer Trans-Siberian railway track have been suspended for days, as parts of the track twist and sink. Roads and bridges have buckled, while oil and gas pipelines have been damaged by the gradual shifting movement. Villagers in the northern extremities of Russia, who have traditionally stored their food in pits cut into the permafrost, have returned to find their stocks destroyed.
Were the upper section of permafrost to melt, scientists believe 12 times the level of CO2 normally in the atmosphere would be released, and 2,500 times the normal level of methane, worsening the greenhouse effect. Amelia Gentleman
China sighed with relief this summer because the Yellow River, for the first time since 1997, did not run dry before reaching the sea. But scientists are under no illusions that the threat from climate change is growing.
Nearly 400m people in north China live under conditions of "absolute water scarcity". Hundreds of cities face regular restrictions, with flows as little as one hour a day. The water table on the north China plain is falling by 1.5 metres a year.
Glaciers and lakes have shrunk with alarming speed on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau over the past 15 years. The average annual temperature on the Tuotuo River, one of the Yangtze's three sources, has risen from -4.6C to -3.9C since the 1960s - enough to disturb the critical balance between evaporation and precipitation.
Marshlands are drying up while grasslands disappear. China loses nearly 2,500 sq km of cultivated land annually.
Scientists see the Qinghai-Tibet plateau as an early warning system for the world, and admit that the blame must be shared. Energy consumption has grown by 50% in the past decade and will at least double again by the year 2050. John Gittings
The movie horror-fantasy of the sea engulfing east coast cities could become reality this century if nothing is done to halt global warming, scientists believe.
Take, as they project, temperatures increasing by between 1.5C and 6C (2.7F and 11F), causing the sea to expand and rise by as much as 60cm (2ft); add stronger storms and greater precipitation causing more extreme downpours and cities such as New York and Boston might be in jeopardy.
Phenomena already attributed to global warming include: 196,000 hectares (485,000 acres) in Florida burned and 300 homes and other structures destroyed by fires two years ago, and an ice storm that killed 44 in New England the same year.
The other impact is the spread of infectious diseases. West Nile disease, borne by mosquitos, has been identified in the greater New York region, killing about 10 people in the past two summers. Higher temperatures allow insects and rodents that would otherwise have died in the winter to survive and breed.
Cases of malaria have been recorded for the first time in Queens, New York. Michael Ellison
Southern Africa
For some, the massive floods which forced tens of thousands of Mozambicans to seek refuge in trees this year provided the final confirmation that global warming is braced to ravage southern Africa. They fear that climate change will lead to prolonged drought and widespread food shortages. What rain does fall will evaporate faster. There are signs of dessication in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, while water consumption in the cities continues to rise sharply.
In the 1990s, southern Africa was blighted by two of the five driest years of the 20th century. The result was crop failures and water shortages, starving wildlife and desperate humans. Drought hit Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
Global warming is also being blamed for the spread of mosquitoes carrying malaria, dengue and yellow fever to parts previously untouched by such diseases. Malaria, which already kills 2m people a year in Africa, is reaching higher altitudes, where people have little resistance to the disease. Chris McGreal
The people of Japan live with volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons and tidal waves. But global warming could make previous disasters pale into insignificance, forcing 15m people out of their homes and punching a £2.4 trillion hole in the world's second biggest economy.
Japan is at particular risk, says the national institute for environmental studies (NIES), because most of its population and resources are concentrated in the narrow and exposed strip of coastline between Tokyo and Osaka. The greatest threat is posed to the capital, where millions live below sea level or on reclaimed land that will be engulfed if the worst fears of scientists are realised.
Shuzo Nishioka, head of NIES, predicts that a one-metre rise in sea level would force millions from the coastal plains into the mountains, which make up 70% of the country's land mass.
Health problems would increase along with the rising temperatures, which would suck Japan into the malaria zone and push up cases of heat stroke and food poisoning. Jonathan Watts

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