Tue, Jan 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Global warming faster than expected, report says

DANGER SIGNS A meeting in Shanghai has said that average temperatures are increasing more rapidly than predicted, and warned that action must be taken soon


In the most emphatic warning yet about the danger of global warming, a meeting of scientists from 99 nations issued a report yesterday that sharply increased projected climate change blamed on air pollution and warned of drought and other disasters.

The report, meant to spur stalled talks on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, said global temperatures could rise by up to 5.8 degrees Celsius over the next century.

"This adds impetus for governments of the world to find ways to live up to their commitments ... to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases," said Robert Watson, chairman of the UN-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which organized the Shanghai meeting.

International talks ended in November without agreement on how to carry out a 1987 agreement by industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

Talks resume in May in Bonn, Germany.

The Shanghai report, meant to be the most comprehensive study to date on global warming, says new evidence shows more clearly than ever that temperature increases are caused mostly by pollution, not by changes in the sun or other natural factors.

The report is the one of the most authoritative pieces of evidence yet to support warnings that air pollution threatens to wreak environmental havoc by causing the atmosphere to trap more of the sun's heat. The findings were unanimously approved by the some 150 scientists and 80 members of environmental and industry groups who attended the meeting.

Rising temperatures could lead to drastic shifts in weather, scientists at the meeting said. They said drought could strike farming areas, while melting polar ice could raise sea levels, flooding densely populated coastal areas of China, Egypt and other countries.

"The poor in developing countries will be the most affected," said Watson, an American who is chief science adviser to the World Bank.

In the most extreme projections, the report said, melting Antarctic ice could raise sea levels by up to 3m over the next 1,000 years.

China is already suffering, said Ding Yihui, a co-chairman of the Shanghai meeting and former director of the China National Climate Center. Last year, the country suffered its worst drought in decades and grain production fell 10 percent.

China is the second-biggest producer of greenhouse gases, after the US. Beset by smog from its heavy reliance on coal, China has begun a massive effort to shift to natural gas and other cleaner fuels.

A key conflict in climate negotiations is a US-led effort to reduce the impact of cuts. Washington wants to count carbon dioxide absorbed by forests and farmland against a country's reduction commitments. Some European governments oppose that.

US cars, factories and power plants put out a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, which also include nitrous oxide and methane. Other opponents of drastic cuts include oil companies and major coal producers such as Australia.

"The United States is way off meeting its targets," said Watson. "A country like China has done more, in my opinion, than a country like the United States to move forward in economic development while remaining environmentally sensitive."

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