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Greatest Alarm Yet on Global Warming

by Joe McDonald, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - January 23, 2001

Blame is placed squarely on industrial pollution

SHANGHAI, China -- Global temperatures could rise by as much as 10 1/2 degrees over the next century, triggering droughts, floods and other disasters from shifts in weather patterns, a U.N. report said yesterday.

The projected rise in average worldwide temperatures is sharply higher than the 2 1/2-5 1/2 degrees previously thought, said Robert Watson, chairman of the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which organized the meeting in Shanghai.

The U.N. report, by scientists from 99 countries, said new evidence shows more clearly than ever that rising temperatures are the fault of industrial pollution, not changes in the sun or from other natural causes.

Yet, few countries are meeting commitments to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, scientists said.

"Only a few countries such as Britain and Germany are on track to meet their targets," said Watson, an American who is chief science adviser to the World Bank. "The United States is way off meeting its targets."

The report is intended to add urgency to world climate negotiations that ended in November when countries couldn't agree on how to reduce greenhouse gases under a commitment by industrialized countries in 1997.

It is the most authoritative evidence yet to support warnings that air pollution threatens to wreak environmental havoc by causing the atmosphere to retain more of the sun's heat.

The United States is the biggest of producer of greenhouse gases, accounting for a quarter of the world total. China is No. 2, but has recently begun a far-reaching effort to shift coal-fired factories and power plants to natural gas and cleaner fuels.

The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide -- the most common greenhouse gas -- will be higher in the next century than it has been for 420,000 years, Sir John Houghton, co-chairman of the Shanghai meeting, told reporters.

"The rate of climate change this century is expected to be greater than it has been in the past 10,000 years," said Houghton, former director of Britain's weather agency.

New climate talks are to begin in May in Germany.

A key sticking point is the U.S.-led effort to reduce the cost of emissions cuts. Washington and its allies want to subtract carbon dioxide absorbed by forests and farmland from a country's reduction quota -- a stance that some European governments oppose.

Negotiations also could be complicated by the new administration of President Bush, a former oil man who has expressed reluctance about U.S. commitments to curb greenhouse gases.

The Shanghai conference was the start of a series of meetings under U.N. auspices to gather evidence for climate negotiators. Other gatherings will focus on the social and economic costs of global warming and how to reduce it. The series ends in April with the release of a climate report in Nairobi, Kenya.

The scientists warned that rising temperatures threaten to disrupt fishing, farming and forestry and kill much of the globe's coral reefs. Rising seas could flood heavily populated coastal areas of China, Bangladesh or Egypt.

The most extreme projections say melting Antarctic ice could raise sea levels by up to 10 feet over 1,000 years.

China is already feeling the impact of changing weather, said Ding Yihui, the meeting's other co-chairman and former director of the China National Climate Center. He said global warming may be to blame for a record drought that cut China's grain harvest by 10 percent.

Joe McDonald, Associated Press
Greatest Alarm Yet on Global Warming
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 23, 2001

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