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Climate change: A Factfile

Climate Change

FYI: Skywatch Informational Source

PARIS, (AFP) Nov 02, 2006

The Following is a factfile on climate change:

WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE? Climate change is the phenomenon caused by global warming. Natural cycles of warming and cooling have occurred many times in Earth's history, and indeed the rise of Homo sapiens is attributed to the end of the last Ice Age some 11,000 years ago. What worries scientists is man-made global warming -- when oil, gas and coal, which are carbon-rich fuels that have stored for aeons beneath the ground, are extracted and burned. This releases billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. CO2 is a "greenhouse gas": it traps the Sun's heat in the atmosphere instead of letting it radiate out to space. As a result the Earth's surface is warming, disrupting the planet's delicate climate system.

WHAT DO SCIENTISTS SAY? The UN's top expert authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has predicted a temperature rise of 1.4 to 5.8 C (2.5 to 10.4 F) from 1990-2100, according to scenarios of CO2 levels ranging from 540 to 970 parts per million (ppm). That compares with 280ppm for pre-industrial times and more than 380ppm today, which is already the highest concentration of CO2 for 650,000 years. But that prediction was made in 2001, and the science has made many leaps forward since then. New aspects about global warming are being uncovered almost every month, but the news is almost always bad. The next IPCC report is due in 2007, and it is expected to confirm that climate change is now visible, in such forms of melting glaciers, the shrinking icesheet in Greenland, retreating permafrost in northern latitudes and a dramatic loss in Arctic ice cover.

HOW BAD WILL CLIMATE CHANGE BE? The more CO2, the higher the temperature; and the higher temperature, the bigger the impact. At the lower range of the IPCC estimates, there will be a tiny increase in global sea levels and some increased water stress, and some cold regions in higher latitudes may in fact benefit for farming and human settlement. At the higher temperature range, droughts, floods and storms will become more violent and more frequent, mean sea levels could rise by up to 88 centimetres (2.9 feet) by 2100, Changed rainfall patterns could devastate agriculture, mosquito-borne diseases could spread and many species, their habitat wrecked, would become extinct and tens of millions of people could become "climate refugees". Almost all of the world's population will be affected, but poor tropical countries -- the nations least to blame for the problem -- will be hit worst.

HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT FOR ACTION? Perhaps 15 years or as little as 10 years are left, according to the viewpoint. Experts generally say that if the world wants to keep to the bottom end of the IPCC temperature estimates, global emissions of CO2 will have to peak in 2020 and then fall to half of today's levels by 2095 -- a tall order, given that developing countries and the United States are gobbling up fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that on current trends CO2 emissions will surge by 63 percent over 2002 levels by 2030. According to a British report published on October 30 by former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern, taking action now to tackle global warming will cost 1 percent of global GDP by 2050. Doing nothing will carry a bill of between five and 20 percent -- forever.

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS? The obvious answer: to stop using fossil fuels and use clean energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro and hydrogen. But this is far easier said than done. Oil, gas and coal are the world's long-established energies. They have big advantages in cost and efficiency over technologies that are still in their infancy and need tax breaks or regulatory help to make headway. And the fossil-fuel lobby is fighting a fierce rearguard action to keep its crown, particularly in Washington. Over the next couple of decades, the best hopes may lie in a panoply of interim solutions such as better fuel efficiency, promoting hybrid cars and storing CO2 underground from coal as the fuel is burned rather than letting the damaging gas escape into the air.

WHAT'S THE KYOTO PROTOCOL? The UN treaty is the only global deal that specifies cuts in greenhouse gases. It requires industrialised countries that have ratified it to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases by a 2012 timeframe as compared to a 1990 benchmark. The accord took effect in February 2005, surviving abandonment by the US, which opposed binding targets as too expensive for its economy, and footdragging by Russia. But Kyoto remains in a bad way. Even its European champions are struggling to meet their pledges. The treaty is under fire for making only timid cuts (just one or two percent at best, after the US walkout), for being full of complex and untested ideas and for not including India and China, now big polluters, in the present targets for emissions cuts. UN talks in Nairobi, running from November 6-17, mark the next phase in attempts to sketch the post-2012 Kyoto format.
This Informational Source is Provided by Skywatch & Earth Frenzy Radio

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