Global Warming Now Critical -- Reuters 24DEC99

Global Warming Now Critical

Reuters

11:32AM Fri Dec 24 1999 NZDT

William Maclean

LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - US and British experts sounded a fresh global warming alert on Thursday, saying humanity had triggered rapid climate change and must now act fast to help prevent environmental turmoil.

"It's important we take action now," James Baker, undersecretary of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Reuters. He urged business to boost energy efficiency and increase its use of renewable power sources.

"Ignoring climate change will surely be the most costly of all possible choices, for us and our children," Baker and British Meteorological Office head Peter Ewins said in a joint letter to London's Independent newspaper.

"Our climate is now changing rapidly...Our new data and understanding now point to a critical situation we face." The letter's frank tone breaks with the conservative approach normally adopted in public by climate change scientists traditionally reticent about venturing into the political arena.

Extreme weather like floods would happen increasingly frequently as the planet warmed and greenhouse gas emissions had to be curbed to prevent worse catastrophes, the letter said.


EVIDENCE IS STRONG

"We're now coming clean and saying we believe the evidence is almost incontrovertible, that man has an effect and therefore we need to act accordingly," Ewins later told BBC Radio.

"We now need to persuade the business community that to act now is the responsible thing to do."

Baker said flooding that killed an estimated 30,000 people in Venezuela this month was the kind of catastrophe global warming could trigger, although it was too early state categorically that climate change was the sole cause of the Venezuelan disaster.

"As the average temperature goes up we can expect more extreme events -- floods, drought, more severe storms," he said.

"The fact is that if you add enough carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the laws of physics tell us that you're going to change the climate. It's only a question of how fast and exactly where it is going to happen."

Baker said expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy like solar and wind presented profitable opportunities for businesses trying to pump less carbon dioxide into the air.

He said he wanted to see big developing countries like China and India leapfrog old energy technologies and adopt solar and wind power to reduce reliance on burning hydrocarbons like coal and oil.


HOT DECADE

The senior scientists said the 1990s had been the hottest decade for the past 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere, according to a indicators including evidence from tree rings.

Humanity now should brace itself for "rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, ecological and agricultural dislocations, and the increased spread of human disease", they said.

Experts say 1998 was the costliest year ever for insured losses from weather-related catastrophes. The storms, floods, droughts and fires around the world in 1998 exceeded all the weather related losses of the 1980s.

Governments had pointed policy in the right direction, Ewins said, but in contrast "industry and in particular some of the bigger invested interests are saying that until there is clear evidence of global warming they don't wish to act because it's not in their interest".

Baker praised as a welcome exception Ford Motor Co for quitting the industry-funded US Global Climate Coalition, which lobbies against measures to curb greenhouse gases. Ford said this month the lobbying group was standing in the way of the automaker's own efforts to make progress on the environment.


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