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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 16:16 GMT
Greenhouse gases 'at record levels'
Storm on Dover seafront   PA
Stormy weather: Feedbacks mean increasing uncertainty

British scientists say greenhouse gases are at the highest background levels ever recorded in the atmosphere.

They say stabilising the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) will be harder, because a warming world will trigger feedback mechanisms.

Their report says the UK exceeded its international target for cutting greenhouse emissions by 2000.

The UK Government says the scientists' findings show much more needs to be done to reduce emissions.

The report, the Global Atmosphere Research Programme 2000-2002, is published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

More to do

It provides the results of Defra's research programme on climate change and stratospheric ozone, based at the UK's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

Lambs gambolling   PA
Climate will affect animal health
Launching the report the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, said: "This report does show that the UK is making good progress to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions.

"But much more needs to be done if we are to stabilise concentrations in the atmosphere at a safe level.

"However, this report does also show that the UK more than met our target under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to return emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

"And we are on track to exceed our Kyoto Protocol target of a 12.5% cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2008-12."

The report's key findings include:

  • atmospheric concentrations of many greenhouse gases reached their highest-ever levels in 2001
  • the three hottest years on record were 1998, 2001 and 2002
  • positive carbon cycle feedbacks from forests and vegetation could sharply speed up future warming. A positive feedback occurs when warming sets off a further warming trend - when thawing permafrost, for example, releases a greenhouse gas
  • action being taken in the UK could reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions to 23% below 1990 levels by 2010
  • the world's protective ozone layer should recover by mid-century.

Mr Meacher said the world faced "a serious wake-up call". A second report says Defra has already made adaptation to climate change a reality in some areas, but needs to include it in long-term policy development.

Car in flood   PA
Defra is adapting flood policy
The report, Climate Change: The Implications for Defra, is an audit carried out by a unit of the UK Department of Transport.

It praises Defra for including climate change as a factor in flood management and water resources policies.

But it says: "Climate change will need to be factored into the long-term development of a wide range of Defra's polices, including on agriculture, biodiversity and animal health."

Caught in crossfire

Mr Meacher's acknowledgement that the UK - government, industry, and the whole of society - needs to do much more to face up to climate change will be welcomed by scientists who argue for cuts of more than half in CO2 emissions over the next 50 years.

Many of them remain doubtful that the UK will achieve its demanding target of cutting carbon emissions to 20% below their 1990 levels by 2010.

His comments will provoke scepticism as well from those scientists and their supporters who argue that climate change remains unproven.

See also:

15 Jan 03 | Science/Nature
01 Jan 03 | Science/Nature
23 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
28 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
27 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
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