- The global warming danger threshold for the world is
clearly marked for the first time in an international report to be published
tomorrow - and the bad news is, the world has nearly reached it already.
- The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt
out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics
from around the world - and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10
years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with
global warming may have been reached.
- The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at
policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been
timed to coincide with Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate
change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries
and the European Union.
- And it breaks new ground by putting a figure - for the
first time in such a high-level document - on the danger point of global
warming, that is, the temperature rise beyond which the world would be
irretrievably committed to disastrous changes. These could include widespread
agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease,
sea-level rise and the death of forests - with the added possibility of
abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global warming,
the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf
- The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade
above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial
revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste gases
such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat in the atmosphere
- first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average
temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises
already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree
of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.
- More ominously still, it assesses the concentration of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after which the two-degree rise will become
inevitable, and says it will be 400 parts per million by volume (ppm) of
- The current level is 379ppm, and rising by more than
2ppm annually - so it is likely that the vital 400ppm threshold will be
crossed in just 10 years' time, or even less (although the two-degree temperature
rise might take longer to come into effect).
- "There is an ecological timebomb ticking away,"
said Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary, who co-chaired the
task force that produced the report with the US Republican senator Olympia
Snowe. It was assembled by the Institute for Public Policy Research in
the UK, the Centre for American Progress in the US, and The Australia Institute.The
group's chief scientific adviser is Dr Rakendra Pachauri, chairman of the
UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- The report urges all the G8 countries to agree to generate
a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to double
their research spending on low-carbon energy technologies by 2010. It also
calls on the G8 to form a climate group with leading developing nations
such as India and China, which have big and growing CO2 emissions.
- "What this underscores is that it's what we invest
in now and in the next 20 years that will deliver a stable climate, not
what we do in the middle of the century or later," said Tom Burke,
a former government adviser on green issues who now advises business.
- The report starkly spells out the likely consequences
of exceeding the threshold. "Beyond the 2 degrees C level, the risks
to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly," it says.
- "It is likely, for example, that average-temperature
increases larger than this will entail substantial agricultural losses,
greatly increased numbers of people at risk of water shortages, and widespread
adverse health impacts. [They] could also imperil a very high proportion
of the world's coral reefs and cause irreversible damage to important terrestrial
ecosystems, including the Amazon rainforest."
- It goes on: "Above the 2 degrees level, the risks
of abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change also increase. The possibilities
include reaching climatic tipping points leading, for example, to the loss
of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (which, between them, could
raise sea level more than 10 metres over the space of a few centuries),
the shutdown of the thermohaline ocean circulation (and, with it, the Gulf
Stream), and the transformation of the planet's forests and soils from
a net sink of carbon to a net source of carbon."
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.