Slim chance of averting climatic catastrophe

Humanity has only an outside chance of avoiding a dangerous degree of climate change and targets we have set to save ourselves are unrealistic.

This is the rather doom laden conclusion of a book published by the Government this week analysing the evidence of some of the world’s top climatic scientists.

Based on the findings of a high-level symposium hosted by the Met Office to mark the start of the UK’s G8 presidency in February 2005, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change looks at the current situation and makes forecasts about future developments.

It says in no-nonsense language that there is a likelihood of large-scale, irreversible problems such as widespread flooding, drought and extinctions if global temperatures rise by more than 3C and that such a rise is well within projections for the coming century.

The book will not give those familiar with the subject too many surprises, beyond perhaps the urgency of the issue, but once again increases the profile of climate change.

In an introduction to the book Tony Blair writes: “It is clear from the work presented that the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought.

“At the Gleneagles meeting the leaders of the G8 were able to agree on the importance of climate change, that human activity does contribute to it and that greenhouse gas emissions need to slow, peak and reverse.”

But the book suggests existing measures in place to combat climate change will not be enough to achieve this in the remaining time frame.

Scientists attending the Met Office symposium last February agreed we were likely to see a rise of 1.4C to 5.8C over the coming century.

“In general, surveys of the literature suggest increasing damage if the globe warms about 1C or 3C above current levels,” says the book.

“Serious risk or large-scale, irreversible system disruption…is more likely above 3C.”

And, it argues, this is not all crystal ball gazing – the effects are already plain to see.

“The impacts of climate change are already being observed in a variety of ecosystems are already showing the effects of climate change.

“Changes to polar ice and glaciers and rainfall regimes have already occurred.”

It says a global temperature rise of about 2C above pre-industrial levels – a 1.5C increase on today’s – would probably trigger the melting of the Greenland ice cap which would begin a slow but unstoppable seven metre rise in sea levels.

Globally, says the book, poor nations and those where the rule of law is weak will likely be hit hardest and the ability to adapt – and therefore survive – will be closely linked to available levels of technology, wealth and political will.

There is a note of optimism among the bleak outlook, however, with a fairly upbeat section claiming that technology has the potential to avert an eco-apocalypse, if not completely then at least in part.

“Technological options for significantly reducing emissions over the long term already exist,” it says.

“Large reductions can be attained, using a portfolio of options whose costs are likely to be smaller than previously considered.”

However, it warns, “There are no magic bullets; a portfolio is needed and excluding any options will increase costs.”

It argues that the way forward will include a mix of emissions trading, fuel efficiency measures, low emission fuels for transport, carbon capture, clean gas and coal and nuclear energy.

By Sam Bond

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