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Governments Recognize Stunning Scale of Climate Impacts

WASHINGTON - New scientific findings that global warming is already having a "discernible" and serious impact on species and their habitats underscore the urgent need to implement the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and adopt real measures to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, World Wildlife Fund said Monday.

More than 100 governments represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded a meeting in Geneva Monday by endorsing a report which states that climate change is already having a "widespread and coherent impact" on the planet, and that it is occurring in all environments and on all continents. Based on observations from some 3,000 scientific studies, the 1000-page report represents the strongest scientific consensus yet on global warming and its future impacts.

"This should once and for all put to rest the debate over whether global warming is real," said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "Governments have accepted that global warming is happening and is getting worse.The next step in the United States is for President Bush to support the Kyoto Protocol and propose a wiser and more climate-friendly national energy strategy. Oil is not the answer to America's energy crisis. It is the problem."

The nearly 700 scientists who contributed to the IPCC report said firm evidence of change is already visible in more than 420 different physical and biological systems - from melting glaciers on all continents and the decline in Arctic sea ice to the lengthening of frost-free seasons and the increased frequency of extreme rainfall. Many species of mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and insects are already being affected, the report noted.

The report says that coral reefs in most regions could be wiped out within 30-50 years by warming oceans as temperatures reach levels at which coral bleaching becomes an annual event. Three-quarters of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, in India and Bangladesh, could be inundated by a sea-level rise of 18 inches-a catastrophe that could drive the Bengal tiger into extinction. The Cape Floral Kingdom, in South Africa, which is exceptionally rich in species that occur nowhere else, could be wiped out as a result of temperature changes expected this century. Also under threat is the polar ice edge ecosystem that provides habitat for polar bears, walrus, seals and penguins. Other species threatened by climate change include forest birds in Tanzania, the mountain gorilla in Africa, the spectacled bear of the Andes, and the resplendent quetzal of Central America.

The report includes a table of key concerns for different regions across the globe. Impacts on North America include:

  • "Unique natural ecosystems such as prairie wetlands, alpine tundra, and cold water ecosystems will be at risk and effective adaptation is unlikely;
  • Sea-level rise would result in enhanced coastal erosion, coastal flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, and increased risk from storm surges, particularly in Florida and much of the US Atlantic coast;
  • Weather-related insured losses and public sector disaster relief payments in North America have been increasing; insurance sector planning has not yet systematically included climate change information, so there is potential for surprise
  • Some crops would benefit from modest warming accompanied by increasing CO2, but effects would vary among crops and regions, including declines due to drought in some areas of Canada's Prairies and the U.S. Great Plains, potential increased food production in areas of Canada north of current production areas, and increased warm-temperate mixed forest production. However, benefits for corps would decline at an increasing rate and possibly become a net loss with further warming."

In January, governments accepted an IPCC report on climate science that contained the first internationally-agreed acknowledgement of the human footprint on global climate. The report said, "most of the warming trend over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

"Last month's IPCC report on climate science identified the smoking gun," said Morgan. "This week we're seeing what's in the firing line. It's time for governments such as the United States to get serious about reducing their carbon dioxide emissions."

For more information:
Jennifer Morgan, Director
WWF Climate Change Campaign
Tel: 202 359 2734 (mobile)

Notes to editors:
Imja glacier lake VNR available.
WWF has prepared a video news release (and supporting B-roll footage) on the receding Imja glacier in the Himalayas. The recession of glaciers on all continents over the past century is a key piece of observational evidence on global warming cited in the IPCC's report. The IPCC describes tropical glaciers as providing an "early warning" of the impact expected in other regions.
See the footage online.

The recession of the Imja glacier, 10 km (6 miles) to the east-south-east of Mount Everest, has created a vast lake held back only by an unstable natural dam formed by the boulder debris that once marked the extreme end of the glacier. This dam threatens to collapse, sending a wall of water up to 100 metres high surging down the valley that is inhabited by the Sherpas who have assisted climbing expeditions in their ascents of Mount Everest. The valley is also the main approach route to the Everest Base Camp.

Broadcast quality footage can be ordered by calling World Television on tel: +44 117 930 4099 or +44 207 436 8555