INTERVIEW - Expert warns world is warming faster than forecast
Author: Eva Sohlman
Dying forests, expanding deserts and rising sea levels would wreak havoc to human and animal lives sooner than anticipated as global warming was accelerating, said Geoff Jenkins, head of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.
"It looks like it will be warmer by the end of the century than what we have predicted," he told Reuters in an interview.
Jenkins said recent revisions showed much greater output of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) than earlier estimated. These gases are blamed for global warming.
Warmer weather will generate more droughts, floods and rising sea levels which many fear will create millions of refugees from drowning island-nations and possible wars over increasingly scarce fresh water.
Economies are also likely to take a blow as farming, fishing and business will be affected by the change in climate.
A 2001 United Nations' report on climate change forecast that global temperatures will rise two to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
But recent data suggest temperatures could rise even higher as a worst case scenario shows four times as much emitted CO2 in the atmosphere from today's levels which Jenkins said is significantly higher than previously expected.
Carbon dioxide is blamed for two thirds of all global warming and is largely produced when burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
NATURE'S DEFENCES WEAKENING
Despite efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990's levels during 2008-12 under a global Kyoto pact, the amount in the atmosphere is set to rise as warmer temperatures will curb nature's capacity to absorb the gases, Jenkins said.
Half of all CO2 emissions last in the atmosphere for about 100 years, while the rest is soaked up by seas, land and vegetation.
But the opposite effect may kick in as warmer weather and less rainfall in some places will dry out and kill trees which emit CO2 as they decompose, Jenkins said.
CO2-absorbing microbes in the soil are also set to boost emissions as higher temperatures will fuel their activities which produce the greenhouse gas.
"Instead of helping, they will make global warming worse," Jenkins said.
He echoed a warning from the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, that present measures to cut greenhouse gases were not sufficent to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
He said temperatures in the UK could rise by seven to eight degrees by 2080 compared with an expected four degree increase.
"We would have to cut emissions by 60-70 percent by the end of the century to stabilise CO2 levels," Jenkins said.
The European Union has said it will ratify the Kyoto treaty this summer and if Russia and Japan also do so the treaty can come into force without the world's largest producer of man-made CO2 emissions - the United States.
The U.S., which has the world's biggest economy, rejected the pact in 2001 over worries it would harm its industry.