UN issues stark climate change warning
By Fiona Harvey in Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 6 2007 07:50 | Last updated: April 6 2007 17:17
The world must begin to adapt to the effects of climate change urgently or face a bill of many billions of dollars and a heavy toll in human suffering within a few decades, leading climate scientists warned on Friday.
They said actions to adapt to climate change, such as sea defences and new forms of agriculture, must take priority over efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, which would take years to have any impact.
Climate change could lead to 50m people becoming refugees as soon as 2010, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. Adapting to climate change will cost at least 5 to 10 per cent of gross domestic product in Africa.
Actions to help poor countries adapt to higher temperatures, rising sea levels and an increase in storms, droughts and floods could help to reduce the number of climate change refugees, whose migration from the worst affected areas is expected to become a source of serious conflicts within a few decades.
Martin Parry, who co-chairs the panel, said: “In the near term, adaptation is vital. The sooner we get on with that the better.”
Yvo de Boer, secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said it was impossible to accurately measure the costs of adaptation, which are expected to run to many billions, but that most of it would have to come from the private sector rather than governments. It was a “huge opportunity” for business.
For the first time, the world’s top climate scientists agreed there was clear evidence that climate change was occurring across the globe. And, contrary to the widespread expectation that climate change would not be felt for a generation, they found serious effects, such as increasing drought in southern Africa, were already happening.
The scientists were meeting in Brussels to finalise the second section of the biggest and most authoritative report on climate change. Friday’s section dealt with the impacts of climate change; the first section, published in February, predicted a temperature rise of three degrees worldwide by 2100. A further section, to be published in Bangkok in May, will make recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gases.
The report comes at a crucial time in international negotiations over climate change, which will be the main subject of discussion at the Group of Eight meeting of leading industrial nations in June. At an international meeting this December, the UN hopes to begin work on a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.
Friday’s report showed that poor countries would be worst hit by climate change, while some rich countries such as northern Europe and Canada will see benefits in 10 to 15 per cent higher agricultural yields.
But rich countries will not escape the effects, as climate change will also damage industrial infrastructure, and will lead to heatwaves, and an increase in plant, animal and human diseases.
Separately, another scientific report published yesterday predicted the south-west of the US would become a dust bowl because of climate change.