Fri, Dec 12, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Global warming is here now, say delegates

FRAGILE PLANET Both developed and developing countries were already suffering from the greenhouse effect, conference delegates said, pointing to financial losses


Leaders at a UN conference on climate change, backed by fresh data from the insurance industry, said on Wednesday that global warming was already kicking in, years ahead of most scientific predictions.

But the vehicle designed to combat the threat, the Kyoto Protocol, remained deep in the mire, awaiting a clear sign from Russia that it would transform the draft deal into an international treaty to cut greenhouse-gas pollution.

The meeting of environment ministers, gathered under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), heard many delegates say the flurry of droughts, storms and floods of the past few years pointed to a planetary weather system that was already being disrupted.

"Climate change is already having an impact on mankind, especially in developing countries," said chief Chinese delegate Liu Jiang, whose country was hit by catastrophic flooding this year.

"The effects of climate change are already evident," said Environment Minister Altero Matteoli of Italy, current chairman of the EU, which in 2003 suffered its hottest summer on record.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in an address read to the meeting, also suggested the first impacts of global warming could be felt today.

"The heightened frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and associated natural disasters that we have seen in recent years -- such as the serious droughts this summer in India and Europe, and the storms that devastated parts of North America -- is consistent with this conclusion," Annan said.

"There is growing concern that this trend is likely to continue," he said.

According to details from an annual estimate compiled by re-insurance giant Munich Re, natural disasters, most of them caused by extreme weather, cost the world more than US$60 billion this year, up from $55 billion last year.

Europe's heatwave was the biggest single item, at US$10 billion in agricultural losses alone, while flooding on China's Huai and Yangtze rivers cost US$8 billion.

The biggest single insured loss was in the US, where tornado damage in the Midwest cost insurers US$3 billion, according to the figures, released by the UN Environment Program.

"Climate change is not a prognosis, it is a reality that is and will increasingly bring human suffering and economic hardship," said program chief Klaus Toepfer.

Evidence that the uncontrol-led burning of fossil fuels is trapping solar heat, creating the "greenhouse" effect, has progressively strengthened over the past decade.

But when, where and how bad the impact would be on the planet's fragile climate system were unknowns, according to the usual scientific consensus.

Most projections suggested the first could be felt perhaps a decade or more from now.

In the past few years, though, more and more scientists have come to embrace the view that climate change may have already started.

Others remain unconvinced, insisting that longer-term data is needed and pointing out that ever-higher losses can also derive from building more homes in places exposed to natural disasters.

As for the Kyoto Protocol, Russia on Wednesday left ministers wondering whether, as it has promised, it will ratify the pact, therefore pushing it over a threshold that will turn it into an international treaty.

Russian delegation chief Aleksander Bedritsky called for "coordinated efforts from all the international community" to combat climate change, but made no reference at all to ratification.

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