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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 18:20 GMT
Climate worries surface in Florida
walker in hurricane
Hurricane Georges hits the Keys
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

In what is being described as "a groundbreaking move for local government", politicians in the Florida Keys have recognised that climate change is likely to threaten their reefs and beaches with severe damage.

The Keys are a string of islands stretching about 150 kilometres into the Gulf of Mexico off the southern tip of Florida, from Key Largo to Key West.

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners, the Keys' representative body, has passed a resolution acknowledging the likely impact of global warming, and agreeing to work with the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) to try to reduce the threat to their communities.

Acknowledging the risks

Aosis is a grouping of 42 countries, with the consequences of climate change high on its list of concerns.

George Neugent, one of the five Monroe county commissioners, said: "Global warming is an important issue here in the Keys.
fish on reef
Damaged coral would hurt tourism
"Our environment, property, lives and future are all in jeopardy if we do not act."

Kara Saul Rinaldi, of the World Wildlife Fund-US, told BBC News Online: "This resolution is sending an important message to policymakers in Washington, who appear not to see that there could be dramatic impacts if climate change is not stemmed."

The US, with 4% of the world's population, accounts for about 25% of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas caused by human activity.

Although the Clinton administration is convinced of the soundness of the science which says there is a perceptible human responsibility for climate change, there is a vocal and influential lobby urging the contrary view.

Attending the summit

Tourism is central to the economy of the Keys and one worry is that rising water temperatures may cause bleaching of the remarkable coral reefs.

The resolution says that a delegate from the Keys will attend the United Nations climate summit, to be held in the Netherlands in November 2000.
christmas island from air
Aosis members like Kiribati are worried
The meeting is intended to be the occasion where the Kyoto Protocol is made into an effective instrument for tackling climate change.

The protocol is the international agreement on limiting the greenhouse gases which many scientists believe are increasingly to blame for global warming.

The chairman of Aosis is Neroni Slade, Samoa's ambassador to the UN and the US.

All welcome

He said: "As small islands, we are at the mercy of the environment and its changing climate. We invite the world's communities to join in our fight for international efforts to stem global warming.

"There is much to be lost in a warmer world, for members of Aosis and for other low-lying and vulnerable areas like the Florida Keys."

Possible consequences he cited included not only reef damage but sea level rise, beach erosion, habitat and species loss, the loss of tourism income and an increased frequency of hurricanes and storms.

Contrary view

However, there are some researchers who believe these concerns may be overstated.

They say the science that underpins the theory that man is inducing rapid climate change is weak.

They highlight the inconsistencies between the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface which show warming over the last two decades and the data produced by satellite and balloon studies which show little or no warming higher in the atmosphere over the same period.

These scientists argue that our understanding of climate processes is still very limited, meaning that any models of future change must be treated with extreme caution.

Those sceptics who do accept that some human-induced warming is taking place believe its effects will be limited and possibly beneficial to plants and animals.

See also:

15 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Planet faces 'abrupt changes'
15 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
Coral's worsening crisis
06 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Grim future for reefs
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