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Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Global warming 'worse than feared'
India AP
Experts say flooding will get worse as warming takes hold
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A draft report prepared for the world's governments says that the Earth may heat up much more than current forecasts suggest.

The report, by scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says average global temperatures could rise twice as much as they thought earlier.

Antarctic BBC
Polar icecaps could melt, raising sea levels
It foresees a possible rise of 6C above 1990 levels. Five years ago, the IPCC was predicting a probable maximum increase of 3C.

Scientists believe the level of carbon dioxide emissions being forecast in the report could trigger the mass death of forests and significant rises in sea levels, as well as crop failures and extreme weather.

Fossil fuels

The report is only a draft, and it is liable to be altered before publication next May.


There's been no massive breakthrough in climate science in the last five years

Climate researcher Dr Mike Hulme
But it is bound to loom large at next month's meeting in the Netherlands of the countries which have signed the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on tackling climate change.

That commits signatories to collective cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 5.2% below their 1990 levels by some time between 2008 and 2012.

Many scientists say Kyoto is only a modest start, and that cuts in emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), will have to reach 60% or more in the next half-century to keep climate change within tolerable bounds.

Climate science

The draft IPCC report concludes that the burning of fossil fuels and other forms of pollution caused by human activities have "contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years".

Cambodia AP
Coastal areas could be lost to the seas
Dr Mike Hulme, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia in the UK, told BBC News Online: "This draft is consistent with what the IPCC has been saying all along - there's been no massive breakthrough in climate science in the last five years."

He says forecasting techniques have been refined, allowing for a wider range of scenarios to be predicted.

"The IPCC thinks the minimum amount of warming likely over the next century is just over 1C," he said.

Deadly consequences

"But the upper temperature range is significantly higher, because we now think we could be emitting 35 to 40 gigatonnes of CO2 a year by 2100" (a gigatonne is 1bn tonnes).

At present CO2 emissions are about 6.8 gigatonnes (Gt) annually.

In 1999, another IPCC draft suggested a probable upper limit of 29 Gt by the end of the century, about 75% of the maximum mentioned in this latest draft.

Lewes PA
The UK has not been immune from flooding
An annual emission level of 29 Gt of CO2 would probably mean the mass death of forests, with the trees releasing the CO2 they had stored up, adding to global warming instead of restraining it.

It would be likely to make the eventual collapse of the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica inevitable.

That, in turn, could trigger a significant global sea-level rise, and the loss of huge and densely-populated coastal areas.

Other probable consequences of climate change on the scale suggested include crop failures, and much more extreme weather.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
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Nature's lethal weapons
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