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Global Warming Could
Flood Manhattan, Tokyo


By Environment News Service

newyorkcity.jpg - 13.08 K GLAND, Switzerland, (ENS) - The consequences of global warming for the United States include the flooding of New York City, Boston and Miami, the World Wide Fund For Nature warns. The Japanese cities Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya also face the risk of flooding.

The international conservation organisation released a report predicting the effects of climate change on 15 countries or regions in advance of the next round of climate negotiations opening October 25 in Bonn, Germany.

"Evidence for the warming of our planet over the last 200 years is now overwhelming," said lead author of the study, Dr. Mike Hulme. "We're increasingly seeing the unmistakable fingerprint of human influence on global climate. With no action to curb emissions, the climate on Earth over the next century could become warmer than any the human species has lived through."

The reports, called "National and Regional Climate Change Scenarios," were commissioned by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and produced by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in England, home to some of the world's leading climate experts. They span 90 per cent of likely future climates, and show how increasing emissions of carbon dioxide would change temperature, precipitation and sea-levels around the world over the next 90 years.

The WWF study warns of the loss of much of the Everglades, North America's most important area for breeding waterfowl species. Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the longest reef in the world, is at risk of deadly bleaching along its entire length. In Latin America, large areas of the Amazon would become more susceptible to forest fires. Drought would also affect the midwest of Argentina, southern Mexico and Central America.

In Russia and Canada, rapid warming will threaten large expanses of vast northern boreal forests and increase the risk of forest fires and pest attack.

The boreal forest plays a significant role in the earth's environmental balance. Besides being a producer of oxygen, the boreal forest absorbs and stores carbon dioxide and so plays a critical role in mitigating global warming. The distribution of the boreal forest is closely related to climate. The climate of the boreal forest is characterised by long, extremely cold, dry winters and short, cool, moist summers.

flood.jpg - 11.91 K Ten percent of mammals in China are already threatened with extinction and climate change could make protected areas unsuitable for many species, including the giant panda. Among wetlands at risk from global warming are Spain's Coto Dońana, habitat for the endangered Iberian lynx, the enormous Pantanal wetlands in Brazil.

International efforts to tackle the problem of global climate change will continue at a major United Nations conference in Bonn, Germany from October 25 to November 5. Some 5,000 participants from 150 countries are expected to attend.

Ministers and senior government officials face a full agenda of political and technical issues that will determine how the international community goes about minimizing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases over the critical first decade of the 21st century.

Emissions of six greenhouse gases responsible for trapping the Sun's rays continue to rise around the world, UN climate change scientists say. Emissions from developed countries are expected to increase 18 percent above 1990 levels by around 2010 unless effective action is taken.

An agreed plan for taking action to limit these greenhouse gases is set out in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which would commit developed countries to individual emissions targets for the period 2008-2012. The overall result would be a decline of over five percent in developed country emissions compared to 1990 levels.

Developed countries are concerned about the economic implications of this rapid transition to a lower emissions economy, including the potential impact on trade competitiveness, both among themselves and with relation those developing countries that are now industrializing.

The Protocol was signed by 83 countries plus the European Community during a one-year signature period that concluded March 15, 1999. Governments that did not sign the Protocol during the signatory period may still become Parties through the procedures of acceptance, approval or accession. In the meantime, governments will continue to carry out their commitments under the Climate Change Convention.

The Kyoto Protocol will only enter into force and become legally binding when at least 55 countries, including developed countries accounting for at least 55 percent of developed country emissions, have ratified.

So far, only 14 countries - all from the developing world - have ratified the Protocol.

traffic.jpg - 17.43 K The Bonn negotiations will define the rules by which developed countries could lower the costs of meeting their targets by reducing emissions in other countries through the so-called flexibility mechanisms. A related issue will be determining the consequences for a country of failing to comply with the Protocol targets. The talks may also open the way for key developing countries to become more involved in addressing climate change in the future.

The negotiations are scheduled to conclude at the next major conference, to be held in The Hague, The Netherlands, possibly in November 2000.

"The crunch will come in The Hague," said Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the Convention. "The final results will have to satisfy the major industrial countries, trigger their ratification of the Protocol, and offer incentives to developing countries to take further action in the future. The Bonn conference must build confidence in a successful outcome at The Hague by adopting important technical decisions, sending positive signals to business and industry, and engaging Ministers fully in the task of focusing and speeding up the negotiations."

The Protocol’s three flexibility mechanisms still need to be made fully operational. Priority will be given to finalizing the clean development mechanism (CDM). The CDM will promote sustainable development by encouraging investments in developing-country projects that use clean technologies.

Developed countries will receive credit against their targets for emissions avoided by these projects. A levy on the CDM will fund projects that help countries to adapt to future climate change impacts.

A joint implementation programme will offer credits for contributing to projects in other developed countries including the countries of Central/Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

An international emissions trading regime will allow developed countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves.

Credibility demands that there be procedures regarding compliance with the emissions targets. This is a difficult issue and, in the case of legally binding consequences for non-compliance, would eventually require an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. Also essential is an agreement on how to measure and account for emissions cuts.

"These scenarios show us future climates that we must avoid," added Adam Markham, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "The future of our planet hangs in the balance but every ton of carbon pollution we can prevent from entering the atmosphere will help to lighten the load."

© Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.


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