Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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climate change > factfile > climate change - the big picture

Climate change - the big picture

Posted: 30 Mar 2006

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that global temperatures will rise by somewhere between 1.4 to 5.8�C during this 21st century. Obviously, the impacts - on weather patterns, sea levels, food production and the distribution of wildlife - will be very different if the upper forecast becomes a reality than if the lower one does.

Polar bears are under threat due to::early melt of sea ice in the Arctic::� Thomas D. Mangelsen/Still Pictures
Polar bears are under threat due to
early melt of sea ice in the Arctic
� Thomas D. Mangelsen/Still Pictures

  • Studies into the die-back of tropical rainforests by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the UK suggests that most of the Amazon rainforest could disappear if, as the Hadley Centre predicts, temperatures by the end of this century are as much as 8�C higher than in 1850. Rainforest die-off would release millions more tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, the Centre stresses that these are "preliminary findings", and urges caution in interpreting them.

  • The four most devastating hurricanes with landfalls in the Caribbean and the United States in 2004 � Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne � presented the insurance industry with a new peak loss from tropical cyclones in the Atlantic of around US$ 30bn, according to Munich Re - the world's largest reinsurer.

  • The natural catastrophe year of 2005 was marked by more record losses from hurricanes in the North Atlantic, with insured losses exceeding US$ 83bn, according to Munich Re. Two aspects in particular marked the year 2005: a mega-loss caused by Hurricane Katrina and a succession of moderate hurricane losses, which altogether claimed more than 3,000 lives in Central America and the United States.

  • According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2005 was one of the two warmest years in the temperature record since 1850, and the last 10 years, 1996-2005, with the exception of 1996 and 2000, are the warmest years on record.

  • By the end of September 2005, the Arctic sea-ice extent dropped far below the average for the fourth consecutive year. It was about 20 per cent less than the 1979-2004 average, the lowest extent ever observed during the satellite record since 1979, according to WMO.

  • Scientists in Russia are warning that the permafrost could retreat by around 150 miles over the next 25 years as a result of global warming. Already communities have been evacuated from their houses as the permafrost begins to thaw. Roads and bridges have buckled, and oil pipelines have been damaged.

  • In Northern China nearly 400 million people live under conditions of "absolute water scarcity", and in many areas the water table is falling. Elsewhere in the country glaciers have been melting and marshlands drying up. If these changes are a result of human-induced global warming, China must share the blame. Over the past decade its energy consumption has doubled and will more than double again by 2050.

  • Many of the world's glaciers are shrinking. In the Russian Caucasus half of all glacier ice disappeared in the past 100 years. 92 per cent of Mount Kenya's largest glacier has melted in the last 100 years. At current rates of retreat all the glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park will be gone by 2070.

  • In the United States climate changes have led to migratory birds arriving up to three weeks earlier in the spring. Spruce forests are advancing into the tundra, and the reduction in extent of pack ice and decline of the seal population - possibly climate-related - threatens the survival of the polar bear.

  • Other species under threat as a result of climate change, according to WWF, include the collared lemming in Canada, the spectacled bear in the Andes, the resplendant quetzal in Central America, the Siberian tiger in Russia and the dotterel in Scotland.

  • Warmer weather will be a boon to some species. The exceedingly rare lizard orchid is likely to become more common in Britain, and birds like the nightingale and Cetti's warbler are likely to extend their northern range.

  • A report commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change warns that if the planet heats up, terrestrial ecosystems will change. The eastern United States, for example, could lose many of its deciduous forests, and habitats found at high elevation are likely to shrink.

  • Global warming could prove disastrous for cold-water fish. A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency asserts that a significant temperature rise would devastate trout populations.

Related links:

This site on Climate Change contains many interesting articles and news items on the impact on climate change on the global environment, including the following:

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