Global warming could bring hunger, melt Himalayas

The Seattle Times / Associated Press

OSLO, April 1 (Reuters)– Global warming could cause more hunger in Africa and melt most Himalayan glaciers by the 2030s, according to a draft U.N. report due on Friday which also warns that the poorest nations are likely to suffer most.

The U.N. climate panel, giving the most authoritative study on the regional impact of climate change since 2001, also predicts more heatwaves in countries such as the United States, and damage to coral including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“We are talking about a potentially catastrophic set of developments,” Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Environment Programme, said of the likely impact of rising temperatures, widely blamed on greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

“Even a half metre (20 inch) rise in sea levels would have catastrophic effects in Bangladesh and some island states,” he told Reuters.

Scientists and officials from more than 100 countries meet in Belgium from Monday to review and approve a 21-page summary for policymakers in the report amid disputes on some findings, including on how far rising temperatures may contribute to spreading disease.

Among the gloomy forecasts, the report predicts that glaciers in the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, will melt away, affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“If current warming rates are maintained, Himalayan glaciers could decay at very rapid rates, shrinking from the present 500,000 square kilometres to 100,000 square kilometres by 2030s,” according to a draft technical summary.

And disruptions are likely to be felt hardest in poor nations, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where millions more could go hungry because of damage to farming and water supplies.

Still, some nations will see some benefits, according to the draft by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which draws on work by 2,500 scientists.

Global farm potential might increase with a rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) in temperatures, before sinking worldwide, it says. Crops might grow better in nations far from the tropics such as Canada, Russia, New Zealand or Scandinavia.

But warming will hit rich nations in other ways. The Mediterranean region might become arid. In the United States, rising seas and storm surges could “severely affect transportation along the Gulf, Atlantic and Northern coasts”, it says.

The United Nations reckons the report, together with one in February that concluded it was more than 90 percent likely that recent warming had a predominantly human cause, will add pressure on governments to do more to head off damaging change.

“We’ve passed the tipping point,” Steiner said, adding that the public, governments and businesses seemed convinced that global warming was a major threat and not some vague theory about which scientists disagreed.

“It’s no longer about whether (climate change) is happening but about how we deal with it,” he said.

Even so, talks on a global treaty to extend the Kyoto Protocol on restricting greenhouse gases after 2012 are stalled. Of the world’s top emitters — the United States, China, Russia and India — only Russia is bound by caps under Kyoto.

Talks in Brussels are likely to last long and late, according to James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University who was co-chair the last time the IPCC made a similar report in 2001.

He predicted disagreements would be overcome. “I think it would be very unlikely that final agreement would not be reached in Brussels,” he said. “It would be unprecedented.”

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