Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, April 14, 2006

Stark warning over climate change

by Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Correspondent

BBC NEWS (April 14 2006)

The world is likely to suffer a temperature rise of more than three degrees Celsius, says the UK government's chief scientist.

That would cause drought and famine and threaten millions of lives, said Professor David King in a report based on computer predictions.

Tony Blair wants a global consensus on stabilising greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for climate change. The government shares the EU's two degrees Celsius limit.

The US refuses to cut emissions and those of India and China are rising.

The government report says a three degrees Celsius rise would cause:

# A drop worldwide of between 20 and 400 million tonnes in cereal crops

# About 400 million more people at risk of hunger

# Between 1.2 billion and 3 billion more people at risk of water stress

At such a temperature, it said, few ecosystems (like natural forests) could adapt; half of nature reserves would cease to be worthwhile and a fifth of coastal wetlands would be lost.

Agreement 'unlikely'

Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently in New Zealand he wanted the world to agree a level for stabilising greenhouse gas emissions.

He wants to stabilise the climate at an increase of no more than two degrees Celsius, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Downing Street.

But he said: "We don't have to succumb to a state of despondency where we say that there is nothing we can do so let's just carry on living as per usual.

"It is very important to understand that we can manage the risks to our population.

"What we are talking about here is something that will play through over decades - we are talking 100 years or so. We need to begin that process of investment."

He said it would be a major challenge for developing countries, in particular.

He warned that even if international agreement could be reached on limiting emissions - for carbon dioxide at 550 parts per million in the atmosphere - this was forecast to bring an estimated temperature rise of three degrees celsius or more.

His comments define the scale of the mis-match between climate science and climate politics and highlight a discrepancy between the government's stated goals and the figures on which its policies are based.

The government's domestic ambition to cut carbon dioxide by sixty percent from 1990 levels by 2050 was founded on a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution that assumed, given the level of knowledge at the time, that 550 parts per million was a safe level.


The forecast effects of a three degrees Celsius temperature rise are made in Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, a report based on computer modelling by the UK's Hadley Centre, a world leader in climate projection.

To hold temperature rise below two degrees Celsius with a high degree of certainty, it says, global levels of carbon dioxide should be kept below 400 parts per million.

The 550 parts per million level envisaged by Professor King is almost double the pre-industrial level of two centuries ago.

He said it might be unavoidable, given the refusal of the US to cut emissions and the need for China and India to increase their economies to tackle poverty.

The scientists making the predictions admit that the Earth's mechanisms are so complicated that their calculations are necessarily uncertain.

This uncertainty has led critics to accuse them of either exaggerating the threats to the planet, or under-playing them.

The government's favourite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has criticised Professor King for being prepared to countenance global temperatures rising above two degrees Celsius.

Environment specialist Tony Grayling said the government should be doing much more at home to tackle emissions - which have risen under the Labour government - and pushing for stricter targets internationally.

Environmentalists argue the government has no right without public debate to settle on a figure so important and so controversial.

So far, the US, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been unwilling to enter a debate on a threshold for carbon dioxide.

President Bush's chief climate adviser James Connaughton said recently that he did not believe anyone could forecast a safe carbon dioxide level.

He said cutting greenhouse gas emissions could harm the world economy, which would have damaging effects of its own.


Bill Totten


  • The US is NOT refusing to cut emmissions. We just do not have the obvious rules that others are looking for.
    We DO have the EPA and car emmission standards - always getting tighter, industry is charged to reduce pollution.
    I live in California where there are always new laws and standards to be met.
    Pollution is being reduced here - and yes we must do more.
    Just because we are not in the Kyoto (political mess) does "not" mean we are not doing anything!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:30 AM, April 15, 2006  

  • I found time for another comment.

    In my opinion we should clean up our air - not because it is "politically correct' to do so - but becasue we like to have clean air to breath! We should clean up our water - for the same reasons!
    If that helps the climate too - well great! If the climate cycle goes on of it's own accord - oh well - that is how the earth operates - really big cycles! There are some things we CAN do and should do for our own sakes, politics aside.
    Keep in mind that at least 98% of the grenhouse effect is vital to our existence on this planet. Without it we would burn up in the daytime, and freeze at night. - Balance is the desire.
    There is way too much politising going on in the world - common sense must prevail!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:50 AM, April 15, 2006  

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