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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK


Tell-tale signs of climate change

Cairngorm ski passes will be an indicator of climate change

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Birds, butterflies and the Scottish skiing industry are among a range of official climate "pointers" to be used by the UK Government in the battle against global warming.

The move reflects ministers' concerns that the UK may not meet its ambitious targets on tackling global warming.

The indicators include the number of floods, sales of Scottish ski passes, the time when birds lay their eggs, and the abundance of butterflies.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "Last year was the warmest on record"
The European Union agreed under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to cut emissions of the main pollutant gases by eight per cent, compared with their 1990 levels, within 15 years. The UK is responsible for achieving 12.5% of the EU's cuts.

Additionally, the government has committed itself to achieving a cut of 20% in carbon dioxide emissions by 2012.

In the report that launches the indicators, the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, says he is convinced that climate change is real.

Showing the wider impact

Environment Secretary Michael Meacher: "This is beginning to look like it has quite serious impacts"
"Globally, 1998 was the hottest year ever recorded, and seven out of the 10 hottest years ever recorded have fallen in the last decade," he says.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Meacher said there would be a need for greater use of irrigation .

"Perhaps the most serious is the number of closures of the Thames flood barrier over the last 14 years which has certainly increased.

"I think the barrier can take the strain but the risks because of flooding are certainly increasing," he said.

The indicators are intended to highlight the effect of the changes, not simply through phenomena like temperature and rainfall, but through their wider environmental and economic impact.

One set of indicators assesses the growing risk of flooding in some parts of the UK, caused by increased rainfall.

Another will examine the times when birds lay their eggs. Any evidence that they are laying and hatching sooner will suggest that the temperature is rising.

There will be similar studies of the abundance of certain butterflies and of the appearance of new leaves on trees in the spring.

[ image: More abundant butterflies will suggest a rise in temperature]
More abundant butterflies will suggest a rise in temperature
The report on the indicators says the relationship between leafing dates and early spring temperatures suggests a one degree Celsius increase is associated with a six-day advance in leaf appearance.

Commenting on the report, Tony Juniper, Policy and Campaigns Director at Friends of the Earth, said: "We welcome the publication of these new indicators, they are important in helping us to gauge the impact of climate change on the environment.

"Unfortunately they appear to tell us what we already feared - climate change is already happening, and unless urgent action is taken the impacts may be severe on us all.

"It is absolutely essential that the government stands firm on its commitments to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010, and resist the clamour from those who have a financial interest in pushing for policies that will help to wreck the planet."

Useful indicator

The government will also study the fortunes of the Scottish skiing industry.

It says the number of ski-lift and tow passes sold each year at the five main centres - Cairngorm, Glenshee, the Nevis range, Lecht, and Glencoe - will form a useful indicator.

"In future, we would expect that warming will reduce the number of days with snow lying, and hence the viability of the skiing industry.

"However, a more active hydrological cycle in the early years of global warming might lead to more snow days."

The government plans to publish annual reports on the picture shown by the different indicators.

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