- Floods in Yorkshire. Millions facing drought in China.
Permafrost melting in Russia. Malaria spreading across Africa. And that's
just the start. Guardian writers on how global warming is wreaking havoc
around the world.
- Britain will be a warmer place in future, with drier
summers and more frequent droughts, but with wetter autumns and winters.
In other words: more rain and more river flooding.
- And there is a double jeopardy. The coastal areas are
pinched - in danger of fresh water flooding from within, in danger of high
tides from without.
- Higher sea levels as a result of global warming, combined
with the fact that southern England is sinking by about 30 centimetres
a century, means that tides will become more threatening. One pessimistic
estimate puts the average sea level rise around the coast of East Anglia
at 80cm in 50 years' time.
- One of the greatest threats to Britain is a storm surge
- a gigantic wave of low pressure sweeping across the Atlantic from Canada
and funnelling down the North Sea which raises the ocean by 30cm and sends
it crashing into the English east coast. The west coast is vulnerable to
similar surges in the Irish Sea.
- The surge tide of February 1953 killed more than 300
people in eastern England.
- It was to prevent such disasters happening again that
defences such as the Thames barrier were built.
- Detailed regional studies of climate change impacts across
the UK show a patchwork of consequences, some dramatic, some sad, some
- In the south-east, average annual temperatures are expected
to increase by 1.2 to 3.4C; winter rainfall to go up by 6%-22%, summer
rainfall to drop by 8%-22%.
- Tracts of country like the Surrey Hills, Kent's "garden
of England" and the Hampshire downs could experience invasion by alien
species. Faster coastal erosion will hasten the end for coastal landmarks
like Hurst Castle Spit, Selsey Bill and East Head. New crops like grapes,
soya, maize, sunflowers and navy beans could spread. Milder weather is
good news for species such as the Adonis Blue butterfly, sand lizard and
smooth snake; bad for the likes of the mole cricket, marsh gentian and
- In the north-west, 95,000 people, and much of the region's
industry and tourism, lie in the coastal plain. Hundreds of miles of sea
defences protect them, and local authorities reckon existing and planned
new works should keep towns like Morecambe and Blackpool safe for 50 years.
- There is concern over biodiversity and wildlife habitats.
Mudflats and saltmarshes used by species like the knot, curlew, oystercatcher,
pink-footed goose, godwit and sanderling may disappear; in upland areas
like the Cumbrian mountains, the Pennines and the Peak District, Arctic
species like the arctic char, a fish, and plants such as Alpine Lady's
Mantle will be put under pressure. James Meek
- The permafrost - permanently frozen subsoil - which covers
65% of Russia is becoming less permanent. A gradual melting process has
already begun in developed areas of Siberia and scientists have warned
that if temperatures continue to rise, the southern permafrost frontier
could retreat by around 150 miles over the next 25 years.
- In places like the diamond-producing town Mirny, in Yakutia,
a quarter of the population have been evacuated because their homes, built
on permafrost foundations, have begun to slide into the melting soil.
- Services along the newer Trans-Siberian railway track
have been suspended for days, as parts of the track twist and sink. Roads
and bridges have buckled, while oil and gas pipelines have been damaged
by the gradual shifting movement. Villagers in the northern extremities
of Russia, who have traditionally stored their food in pits cut into the
permafrost, have returned to find their stocks destroyed.
- Were the upper section of permafrost to melt, scientists
believe 12 times the level of CO2 normally in the atmosphere would be released,
and 2,500 times the normal level of methane, worsening the greenhouse effect.
- China sighed with relief this summer because the Yellow
River, for the first time since 1997, did not run dry before reaching the
sea. But scientists are under no illusions that the threat from climate
change is growing.
- Nearly 400m people in north China live under conditions
of "absolute water scarcity". Hundreds of cities face regular
restrictions, with flows as little as one hour a day. The water table on
the north China plain is falling by 1.5 metres a year.
- Glaciers and lakes have shrunk with alarming speed on
the Qinghai-Tibet plateau over the past 15 years. The average annual temperature
on the Tuotuo River, one of the Yangtze's three sources, has risen from
-4.6C to -3.9C since the 1960s - enough to disturb the critical balance
between evaporation and precipitation.
- Marshlands are drying up while grasslands disappear.
China loses nearly 2,500 sq km of cultivated land annually.
- Scientists see the Qinghai-Tibet plateau as an early
warning system for the world, and admit that the blame must be shared.
Energy consumption has grown by 50% in the past decade and will at least
double again by the year 2050. John Gittings
- The movie horror-fantasy of the sea engulfing east coast
cities could become reality this century if nothing is done to halt global
warming, scientists believe.
- Take, as they project, temperatures increasing by between
1.5C and 6C (2.7F and 11F), causing the sea to expand and rise by as much
as 60cm (2ft); add stronger storms and greater precipitation causing more
extreme downpours and cities such as New York and Boston might be in jeopardy.
- Phenomena already attributed to global warming include:
196,000 hectares (485,000 acres) in Florida burned and 300 homes and
other structures destroyed by fires two years ago, and an ice storm that
killed 44 in New England the same year.
- The other impact is the spread of infectious diseases.
West Nile disease, borne by mosquitos, has been identified in the greater
New York region, killing about 10 people in the past two summers. Higher
temperatures allow insects and rodents that would otherwise have died in
the winter to survive and breed.
- Cases of malaria have been recorded for the first time
in Queens, New York. Michael Ellison
- Southern Africa
- For some, the massive floods which forced tens of thousands
of Mozambicans to seek refuge in trees this year provided the final confirmation
that global warming is braced to ravage southern Africa. They fear that
climate change will lead to prolonged drought and widespread food shortages.
What rain does fall will evaporate faster. There are signs of dessication
in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, while water consumption in the
cities continues to rise sharply.
- In the 1990s, southern Africa was blighted by two of
the five driest years of the 20th century. The result was crop failures
and water shortages, starving wildlife and desperate humans. Drought hit
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
- Global warming is also being blamed for the spread of
mosquitoes carrying malaria, dengue and yellow fever to parts previously
untouched by such diseases. Malaria, which already kills 2m people a year
in Africa, is reaching higher altitudes, where people have little resistance
to the disease. Chris McGreal
- The people of Japan live with volcanoes, earthquakes,
typhoons and tidal waves. But global warming could make previous disasters
pale into insignificance, forcing 15m people out of their homes and punching
a £2.4 trillion hole in the world's second biggest economy.
- Japan is at particular risk, says the national institute
for environmental studies (NIES), because most of its population and resources
are concentrated in the narrow and exposed strip of coastline between Tokyo
and Osaka. The greatest threat is posed to the capital, where millions
live below sea level or on reclaimed land that will be engulfed if the
worst fears of scientists are realised.
- Shuzo Nishioka, head of NIES, predicts that a one-metre
rise in sea level would force millions from the coastal plains into the
mountains, which make up 70% of the country's land mass.
- Health problems would increase along with the rising
temperatures, which would suck Japan into the malaria zone and push up
cases of heat stroke and food poisoning. Jonathan Watts
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