International scientists focus on global warming and climate change
More than a hundred of the world’s top climate scientists are meeting in Auckland next month to prepare their latest United Nations report on global warming and climate change.
It will be the first time that the science working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has met in the Southern Hemisphere.
New Zealand IPCC Convenor, NIWA Senior Climate Scientist Dr Jim Salinger, said the IPCC was established by mandate of the United Nations General Assembly in 1988 to investigate potential global warming and climate change. It has already reported twice, in 1990 and 1995 and its third assessment report is due to be presented next year.
"In 1995, the IPCC report that human activities have had a discernible effect on the world’s climate" Dr Salinger said. "The 2001 report is expected to contain more details of how the climate will change as the planet continues to warm."
Dr Salinger said 120 climate researchers from the world’s leading scientific institutions and universities would spend three days in Auckland carefully reviewing the latest data and research that will form the basis of the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report.
"Global and regional changes in climate are already affecting New Zealand economically, environmentally and socially," Dr Salinger said. "For example, it is known that when climate is warmer, rainfall tends to be heavier because there is more moisture in the atmosphere."
"As the climate changes we can expect substantial changes to rainfall patterns. In many areas heavy rainfall will tend to become heavier, and it is expected that while some semi-arid regions will receive less rainfall, there will be more frequent and intense floods and droughts, especially in sub-tropical areas" Dr Salinger said.
Dr Salinger said the IPCC had already established that sea levels were likely to rise by approximately half a metre by 2100, partly because as the oceans warm, they expand, and partly because glaciers and snow will continue to melt at an accelerating rate as temperatures rise.
"Sea defences will have to be improved in many places. But adaptation to such change may well prove impossible for many low-lying island states in the Pacific and in regions with large river deltas such as those in southern China, Egypt and Bangladesh."
"Floods and droughts are well known as the natural disasters that cause the most deaths, misery and economic damage. When you couple the impact of these – such as last year’s South Island droughts and Lake Districts flood -- with the impact of the rise in sea levels it becomes apparent that there are grounds for considering soundly based global, regional and national programmes for action."
"A recent assessment has suggested that the overall impact of these two developments could lead by 2050 to some 150 million environmental refugees."
"It is analyses such as these that emphasise the critical nature of the work of the IPCC, its scientific assessments group and related groups dealing with likely socio-economic impacts."
Dr Salinger said the IPCC’s 2001 report would set the stage for intensified world-wide action aimed at dealing with the impacts of global warming and climate change. "This means the Auckland conference will play a pivotal role in progress toward a balanced assessment of what the world can expect from climate change through this century."
He said that although there was a lot of uncertainty over the details of how global warming affected climate, the basic science underlying global warming and climate change was well understood.
"It is known that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps the sun’s heat and warms the planet, changing climate. Scientific records show that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by more than 30 percent since 1750. If no action is taken to stem the increase it will reach double its pre-industrial value during the second half of the 21st century. As a result, the average rate of warming of the climate is expected to be greater than at any time during the past 10,000 years.
"Some communities will benefit. But many ecosystems and people will find it difficult, if not impossible, to adapt."
Two separate IPCC working groups study the impacts of climate change, and possible steps which the nations of the world can take to reduce global warming and slow the rate of climate change. Their research is based on the findings of the science working group.
The IPCC science working group will meet in Auckland from February 15 – 17. It will be opened by Environment Minister Marian Hobbs. Leading scientists attending the meeting will hold a press conference on 17 February to provide some details of the latest science. Before the meeting, on 14 February, Sir John Houghton, the chair of the science working group and a former head of the United Kingdom Meteorological Office will give a public lecture on climate change.
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