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The BBC's Senior weather forecaster, Helen Young
"We can't do anything to prevent it now"
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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Warming climate 'means worse weather'
snow on dome of the rock
Snow in Jerusalem - and the weather has more surprises in store
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says global warming is happening, and is probably already affecting the weather.

The report says human activities are at least partly responsible for what is happening to the climate.

It expects more extreme weather as climate change intensifies, and says the costs will outweigh the benefits.

It does not rule out the possibility of fundamental destabilisation of the global climate.

The report, a review of much of the recent literature on climate change, was written for WWF by Pier Velinga and Willem van Verseveld, of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

More frequent storms

They write: "We conclude with reasonable confidence that we are now experiencing the first effects of the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"A further rise in the concentrations of greenhouse gases will lead to further changes in the global climate.

waves under golden gate
Stormier weather will affect many countries
"The consequences now expected are further rise of the mean global temperature, an increase in extreme rainstorms, a substantial rise of sea level, and changing ocean/atmosphere circulation patterns."

These would lead to "changing patterns, frequencies and intensities of extreme weather events."

The authors are cautious on the causes of climate change.

They say: "The recently-observed series of extreme weather events must have been influenced by the higher average temperatures.

"This implies that at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human-induced climate change.

"We draw this conclusion with reasonable but not absolute confidence, as the observed changes could, with low probability, still be attributed to natural climate variability."

They say some regions will gain from changing weather patterns, while others will lose.

"Climate change brings about a global redistribution of the costs and benefits of the weather. The costs will be greater than the benefits, as ecological and societal systems will have difficulty adapting.

"Global society does not have the instruments and institutions that could help to compensate the losers."

The report concludes it is countries south of the equator, which have less infrastructure to cope with the demands of disaster, that will see much of the extreme weather.

Rapid change possible

It suggests these will probably include an increase in the frequency of conditions like those caused by El Nino, the periodic temperature fluctuation in the Pacific, with shorter and stronger La Ninas.

It expects that during the summer months southern Europe will become drier, while the north of the continent will probably be wetter.

car on icy road
The costs are likely to outweigh the benefits
The authors say "a major additional risk" is the possible destabilisation of the global climate "by fast, flip-flop changes" if any of several unlikely things happens.

One is the stagnation of the ocean conveyor belt, which transports huge amounts of warm water northwards in the Atlantic, warming northwestern Europe by about eight degrees Celsius.

If too much fresh water enters the north Atlantic, the report says, "the conveyor could stop within 100 to 300 years from now.

"The total shutdown of the conveyor will probably take less than 10 years."

Unlikely but worrying

Other contingencies it reviews include the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet, which it says could cause a global sea level rise of between four and six metres, and the release in a warmer world of carbon dioxide or methane from soils and oceans.

It notes: "Destabilisation of the global climate has low probability, but far-reaching consequences.

"As climate is a very complex and relatively unknown and unique system, one should take such low-probability, high-impact phenomena into account."

The idea that humans are inducing rapid climate change is not universally accepted among scientists.

Some researchers are not convinced the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface in recent decades are accurate. They believe the rises seen in the data could simply be the result of urbanisation - heat in cities and towns might be skewing temperature trends.

This appears to be supported by satellite studies which show no warming in the lower troposphere over the past 20 years.

The disparity between surface and satellite data was examined in a recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academies, US. It said a better system of climate monitoring was needed to ensure continuity and quality in data collection.

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07 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
The dangers of climate change
28 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Red Cross warns on climate
24 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
West warned on climate refugees
20 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
'Climate change cancels debt'
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