OF CLIMATE IMPACTS
For the first time, governments have accepted the stunning scale of climate change impacts and stated with "high confidence" that recent changes in the world's climate have had "discernible" impacts on physical and biological systems. WWF, the conservation organization believes that they must now take the logical next step and respond by urgently finalizing the Kyoto Protocol and adopting tougher measures to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.
Over a hundred governments represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concluded their meeting in Geneva by accepting a report which states that climate change is already having a "widespread and coherent impact" on the planet, and that it is occurring in all environments and on all continents. Representing humanity's combined knowledge on the impacts of climate change, and based on observations in around 3,000 scientific studies, the 1000-page scientific report puts an end to debate over whether climate change is occurring and finds that the results could be dramatic and far reaching. WWF believes that governments must use the G8 Environment Ministers meeting in 2 weeks time in Trieste, Italy to show that they have taken on board the results of the IPCC's work.
"Governments have accepted that global warming is already happening, it is getting worse and nature is bearing the brunt of it, " said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "The next step is to finalize the Kyoto Protocol and urgently reduce global warming pollution."
According to the IPCC, firm evidence of change is already visible over 420 different physical and biological systems - from the shrinkage of glaciers on all continents and the decline in Arctic sea-ice to the lengthening of frost-free seasons and the increased frequency of extreme rainfall. Already species of mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and insects are being affected. The report also states with greater confidence than ever before that "expected changes in climate extremes would have major consequences" and includes a table of representative examples.
The report says that coral reefs in most regions could be wiped out within 30-50 years by warming oceans as temperatures reach levels at which coral bleaching becomes an annual event. Three-quarters of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, in India and Bangladesh, could be inundated by a sea-level rise of 45 cm (18 inches) putting the Bengal tiger at risk of extinction. The Cape Floral Kingdom, in South Africa, which is exceptionally rich in species that occur nowhere else, could be wiped out as a result of temperature changes expected this century. Also under threat is the polar ice edge ecosystem that provides habitat for polar bears, walrus, seals and penguins. Other species under threat from climate change are forest birds in Tanzania, the mountain gorilla in Africa, the spectacled bear of the Andes, and the resplendent quetzal in Central America.
The report shows that the worst impacts will hit developing countries, which have the least capacity to adapt. Africa is "highly vulnerable" to climate change affecting water resources, food production, the expansion of deserts and causing more frequent outbreaks of diseases of cholera. The report lists a string of small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans and the Caribbean, threatened by climate change and where unique cultural and conservation sites have already been destroyed. Glaciers in tropical regions such as the Himalayas are particularly threatened by climate change according to the IPCC. Himalayan glaciers are the major source of water for the rivers Ganges and Indus on which 500 million people, just under one-tenth of the world's population, depend.
Industrialized nations can also expect significant impacts. The United States, Canada and Australia could well see an expansion in diseases such as malaria, tick-borne Lyme disease, Ross River virus and Murray Valley encephalitis respectively. Many regions of the world will experience heat waves that will compound the effects on health in polluted cities. Much of Europe will have to endure increased hazards of floods.
In January, governments accepted an IPCC report on climate science that contained the first internationally-agreed acknowledgement of the human footprint on global climate. The report said, "most of the warming trend over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."
"Last month's IPCC report on climate science identified the smoking gun," said Jennifer Morgan, "This week we're seeing what's in the firing line. It's time for governments such as the United States to get serious about reducing their carbon dioxide emissions."
Written by: World Wildlife Fund
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