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Correction: Scientists Criticize U.S. Reluctance To Acknowledge Climate Change

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story contained a paragraph about a recent report on global warming. The contained information proved to be unsubstantiated by the report. DW-WORLD regrets this.

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Going, going, gone: In 1990, this Swiss glacier reached the sign.

The future of the Kyoto protocol on global warming may still be uncertain, but scientists at a Milan conference said this summer’s heat wave showed that climate change is fast becoming a reality.

Evidence of global warming is mounting: The last decade was the warmest in a century, 1998 went down as the hottest year in recorded memory and the trend continues. Scientists estimate that the globe’s average temperature has risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.08 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

“It’s very difficult to link each single event and each single variable with actions carried out by human society,” said Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “But I think the scientific basis is strong enough for us to take action.”

Melting glaciers, rising oceans

The melting of glacial ice would be one result of warmer temperatures. It’s already happening: Alaskan glaciers melted twice as fast during the past five to seven years as before, according to the environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Scientists are also alarmed by the situation in the European alps. There, glacial ice has shrunk by 10 to 20 percent during the last two decades.

“We’re talking about disappearing glaciers,” said Jennifer Morgan, WWF’s climate director, adding that according to her organization’s estimates, glaciers would be a thing of the past should temperatures rise by another 4 degrees Celsius. “That’s significant,” Morgan said. “I don’t think that the politicians here have yet come to grasps with what that means.”

According to recent scientific studies, many humans alive today will witness the melting of glaciers in their lifetime unless climate change can be stopped. IPCC scientists predict that temperatures will have risen by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Developing countries hit first and hardest

Coral reefs would die as a result of the rising water temperatures, numerous species would become extinct because they could not move to cooler areas quickly enough. Heat waves, droughts and floods would occur more frequently. Tropical diseases such as malaria, West Nile Virus and dengue fever would appear in regions where they have not been known so far.

Northern and Central Europe will remain relatively untouched by all of this -- at least in the beginning. Poor countries in Africa and Asia will have to bear the brunt of the change.

There is an equity issue that is involved over here,” Pachauri said. “The bulk of the problem in increased concentration of greenhouse gases has come from the past patterns of development of the developed countries and unfortunately the worst impacts are likely to be felt by the developing countries.”

Calls for more research an excuse not to act?

The United States, responsible for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, remains sceptical, however. The Bush administration has not only rejected the Kyoto protocol but also doubts that humans should be held responsible for climate changes. Washington’s official position on the matter is that more research is needed before drawing any conclusions.

“WWF believes that the Bush administration lives in a different century as far as climate change is concerned,” Morgan said, adding that Japan, China, Russia and the European Union all have recognized IPCC research linking human action to climate change. “I believe that the Bush administration just wants to avoid taking action by calling for additional research,” she said.

  • Date 18.12.2003
  • Author Johannes Beck
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4Skw
  • Date 18.12.2003
  • Author Johannes Beck
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4Skw