Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Climate change choices will shapeshift the world: report
First half 2010 hottest ever, but is it climate change?
Paris (AFP) July 20, 2010 - The first six months of 2010 brought a string of warmest-ever global temperatures, but connecting these dots to long-term climate change patterns remains frustratingly difficult, experts say. Not only was last month the hottest June ever recorded, it was the fourth consecutive month in which the standing high mark was topped, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Indeed, 2010 has already surpassed 1998 for the most record-breaking months in a calendar year.
As a block, the January-to-June period registered the warmest combined global land and ocean surface temperatures since 1880, when reliable temperature readings began, NOAA said. Arctic ice cover -- another critical yardstick of global warming -- had also retreated more than ever before by July 1, putting it on track to shrink beyond its smallest area to date, in 2007. On the face of it, these numbers would seem to be alarming confirmation of climate models that put Earth on a path towards potentially catastrophic impacts.
Without steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the global thermometer could rise by 6.0 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels, making large swathes of the planet unlivable, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned. Voluntary national pledges made after the Copenhagen climate summit in December would likely cap that increase at 3.5 C to 4.0 C (6.3 F to 7.2 F), still fall far short of the 2.0 C (3.6 C) limit that most scientists agree is the threshold for dangerous warming. But making a direct link between year-on-year variations in the weather and changes in climate -- best measured in centuries -- is simply not possible, scientists say.
"When we are looking at the scale of a season or a few months, we can't talk about trends related to climate change," Herve Le Treut, head of France's Laboratory of Dynamical Meteorology, said by phone. "The problem is knowing whether these numbers fit into a long-term evolution, and that only becomes apparent over at least two or three decades." For scientists, he said, it would be like trying to figure out which way the tide is moving by watching only a few waves lapping at the shoreline. A hotter-than-average 2010 is due at least in part to the influence of periodic El Ninos, which disrupt weather patterns in the equatorial Pacific, Le Treut and other experts point out.
"We now know that the year following an El Nino will be globally unusually warm," said Andrew Watson, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain. "1998 was such a year. It's clear that 2010 will be very close to 1998 and quite possibly it will beat it," he said in an e-mail exchange. At the same time the long-term trend of warming is unmistakable, and at least one figure from last month can be said to add to the mounting evidence that climate change is firmly upon us. June was the 304th consecutive month with a global surface temperature above the 20th-century average, the NOAA reported.
The most recent month to dip below that average was February 1985, more than a quarter century ago. "Taken in isolation these figures say nothing about climate change," said Barry Gromett, spokesman for Britain's national weather and climate centre, the Met Office. "But if taken in the context of 2000-2010 being the warmest decade on record, and this set be another near record or record warm year, then this is further evidence that the climate is warming," he told AFP.
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) July 20, 2010
Global efforts to beat back chronic hunger and disease afflicting more than a billion people could come to naught unless merged with the fight against climate change, says a report released Tuesday.
The choices governments and businesses make today on how to confront global warming will determine what the world looks like in 2030, warns the report, laying out four scenarios for the future.
"Without urgent action, climate change threatens to undo years of work tackling poverty in the developing world," said Stephen O'Brien, Britain's international development minister.
Entitled "The Future Climate for Development," the government-backed study predicts low-income nations will be hit first and hardest by climate-related impacts no matter how major economies evolve.
The four visions elaborated in the report all seem plausible, and none are wholly wretched or rosy.
But for the planet's most vulnerable denizens, the wrong decisions now in Washington, Beijing and Brussels could spell the difference between relative prosperity and abject misery 20 years hence.
In the first scenario, some resource-rich poor nations prosper by 2030 as the world continues down the path of smoke-stack, carbon-intensive development.
But when slashing greenhouse gas emissions becomes a planetary imperative, these fragile economies suffer most.
A 2026 climate treaty calls for severe sanctions -- even military intervention -- for countries belching too much C02, and the UN makes finding a technical fix for rising temperatures a top priority.
African nations that followed in the West's development footsteps now demand that rich countries -- including China -- pay a "carbon debt." The world is teeming with climate refugees.
Another "business as usual" scenario, called "coping alone," sees the global community come unglued amid economic stagnation after a Middle East war has driven oil above 400 dollars a barrel.
The effort to slow global warming has been abandoned and development aid has largely collapsed, leaving the poorest, resource-starved countries to fend for themselves.
Some states have merged into regional blocs, while others have disintegrated into warring factions.
Food security is a worldwide concern, and vegetarianism a global moral movement.
"The greater good" vision presents a world in which scarcity has led to state-run resource management in poor countries not just for energy, but for water, food and access to fertile soil.
When done equitably, most people are getting enough to get by.
But the cost in individual liberties is high: birth control is mandatory, identity cards monitor individual resource consumption, companies sell services to help people stay within carbon quotas.
Products boasting "ecosystem integrity" are no longer a trend but a necessity.
In Africa and Eurasia, insects have replaced meat as a key source of protein for hundreds of millions of people.
Tensions between rival resource blocs, redrawn from the post-colonial boundaries, are intense, spilling over into violent conflict.
Finally, there is the "age of opportunity," the only scenario in which low-income countries could be said to prosper.
Boosted by a 0.05 percent levy on international financial transactions, once-poor nations have spearheaded a low-carbon revolution and leapfrogging high-carbon technologies.
Sun-drenched Africa and parts of central Asia provide 40 percent of the world's solar energy.
Many multinationals have moved operations to low-income countries, attracted by cheap labour and low-carbon energy.
High-consumption Western lifestyles have become less attractive, and in many states power has devolved to regions and communities, sometimes bringing benefits, but also leading to control by local mafia and warlords.
Smallholder cooperatives linked to global supply chains have become the dominant agricultural model.
Culture in Africa is thriving -- the Mali Film Festival gets as much Web coverage as Cannes.
Drawing from more than 100 experts worldwide, the report was prepared by the NGO Forum for the Future.
Posted by Michele Kearney at 10:57 PM