New research, based on state-of-the-art climate modelling, suggests that global warming will have a severe impact on the United States over the next century as temperatures rise more rapidly than the global average, causing increasing precipitation and flooding and threatening key ecosystems such as Florida's Everglades and Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.
The finding is one of a series of assessments contained in a detailed set of climate change scenarios compiled for the World Wildlife Fund by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, one of the world's leading climate research centers, in Norwich, England.
Drawing upon the latest climate data and the results of the most recent Global Climate Model experiments, the WWF-commissioned scenarios predict the impact of global warming on 15 major countries and regions around the world, with particular emphasis on how biodiversity will be affected by rising temperatures.
"This research marks the first time that a system of scientific scenarios have been prepared to assess the impact of global warming on specific countries and regions of the world," noted Adam Markham, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "While our primary focus is on biodiversity, the scenarios also offer a disquieting forecast of what life is most probably going to be like for our children and grandchildren unless we act now to curb the carbon emissions and other pollution that cause global warming," Markham added.
Each country and regional study examines four different scenarios that together cover more than 90 percent of the range of possible climates that could result if no action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Examining the impact of this range of emissions on temperatures, sea level rise and precipitation, the CRU scientists, in consultation with WWF's global biodiversity experts, identify a number threats to ecosystems and species posed by global warming. These include:
Coral bleaching in Australia, Central America and the Philippines. Forest fires in the Amazon, Alaska, Canada and Russia. Flooding in the Pantanal (Brazil), the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. Drought in parts of China, southern Africa and Central and South America. Loss of wildfowl habitat in North Dakota and other parts of the Northern Great Plains, Canada and Europe.
In Canada, the duration of the Arctic sea-ice melt season will be extended, while precipitation will increase by between 15 and 45 percent by the year 2080. Sea ice melt will reduce the habitat available to the polar bear and could lead to its extinction. Thawing permafrost and forest cover loss will threaten species like the woodland caribou and the grey wolf.
Natural ecosystems will not be the only habitats at risk, however. Sea levels -- which are projected to rise between three quarters to four inches per decade -- will threaten low lying coastal cities such as New York, Boston, Baltimore and Miami with flooding.
"Evidence for the warming of our planet over the last 200 years is now overwhelming," said Dr. Mike Hulme, senior CRU climatologist and lead author of the WWF-sponsored study.
"Increasingly we are 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 latest in a series of impact reports examining the effects of global warming on biodiversity, the WWF-CRU studies cover Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Spain and Portugal, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Russia, Mesoamerica and the Northern Andes. A global overview completes the set of 15 case studies.
Their release comes as environment ministers prepare to meet in Bonn next week to discuss the operating rules for the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement in which industralized countries agreed to reduce their CO2 emissions by five percent starting in 2008. Nearly two years after its adoption, however, the protocol remains unratified by any of the major signatories.
WWF wants the ministers meeting in Bonn Oct. 25 to guarantee that rules for the Kyoto Protocol will be agreed within a year and to lay out concrete plans for cutting domestic emissions of CO2.
"The scenarios show us the future climates we must avoid," Markham said. "But that will only happen if governments realize that they need to do more now to reduce levels of carbon pollution."
For more information, contact:
- Adam Markham, WWF Climate Change Campaign, Tel: (202) 861 8382; mobile: (703) 623 3093
- Dr. Mike Hulme, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Tel: +44 1603 593162
- Michael Ross, WWF Program Communications, Tel: (202) 778-9565.