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World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists

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The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6C by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation. We are headed for it, the scientists said, because the carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and deforestation which are responsible for warming the atmosphere have increased dramatically since 2002, in a way which no one anticipated, and are now running at treble the annual rate of the 1990s.

This means that the most extreme scenario envisaged in the last report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007, is now the one for which society is set, according to the 31 researchers from seven countries involved in the Global Carbon Project.

Although the 6C rise and its potential disastrous effects have been speculated upon before, this is the first time that scientists have said that society is now on a path to meet it.

Their chilling and remarkable prediction throws into sharp relief the importance of next month's UN climate conference in Copenhagen, where the world community will come together to try to construct a new agreement to bring the warming under control.

The 6C rise now being anticipated is in stark contrast to the C rise at which all international climate policy, including that of Britain and the EU, hopes to stabilise the warming – two degrees being seen as the threshold of climate change which is dangerous for society and the natural world.
The study by Professor Le Quéré and her team, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, envisages a far higher figure. "We're at the top end of the IPCC scenario," she said.

Professor Le Quéré said that Copenhagen was the last chance of coming to a global agreement that would curb carbon-dioxide emissions on a time-course that would hopefully stabilise temperature rises to within the danger threshold. "The Copenhagen conference next month is in my opinion the last chance to stabilise climate at C above pre-industrial levels in a smooth and organised way," she said.

"If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5C or 3C we will get: it's 5C or 6C – that is the path we're on. The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at C," she said.


6C rise: The consequences

If two degrees is generally accepted as the threshold of dangerous climate change, it is clear that a rise of six degrees in global average temperatures must be very dangerous indeed, writes Michael McCarthy. Just how dangerous was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.
His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude "would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe".
He said: "It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles."
Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. "With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean.
"As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges.
"The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly."

Source: the Independent 
 

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