The heat is on – climate change gathers pace faster than scientists expected

Posted on 21 October 2008

Global warming is accelerating at a faster rate than climate change experts had previously predicted, according to a new compendium of scientific research released today by WWF.
Brussels, Belgium – Global warming is accelerating at a faster rate than climate change experts had previously predicted, according to a new compendium of scientific research released today by WWF.

In 2007, the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Fourth Assessment Report – a study of global warming that involved nearly 4,000 scientists from more than 150 countries.

However, the science of climate change has moved on in the year since this respected report was published. WWF’s new report, “Climate change: faster, stronger, sooner”, amalgamates this new scientific data and reveals that global warming is accelerating beyond the IPCC’s forecasts.

The report has received the support of climate change experts including Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, and newly elected Vice Chair of the IPCC, who said: “It is clear that climate change is already having a greater impact than most scientists had anticipated, so it’s vital that international mitigation and adaptation responses become swifter and more ambitious. The last IPCC report has shown that the reasons for concern are now stronger, and this should lead the EU to plead for a lower temperature target than the 2°C they adopted in 1996. But even with a 2°C target, the IPCC says that emission reductions between 25 and 40% compared to 1990 are needed by 2020 from developed countries. Reductions by 20% are therefore insufficient."

The latest science shows that the Arctic Ocean is losing sea ice up to 30 years ahead of IPCC predictions. It is now predicted that the summer sea ice could completely disappear between 2013 and 2040 – something that hasn’t occurred in more than a million years.

Based on recent scientific studies, the number and intensity of extreme cyclones over the British Isles and the North Sea are projected to increase, leading to increased wind speeds and storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe. The level of ozone, an air pollutant, is projected to be similar to that in the 2003 heat-wave, with major increases over England, Belgium, Germany and France. Annual maximum rainfall is also projected to increase in most parts of Europe, with associated flood risks and economic damages.

Marine ecosystems in the North and Baltic Sea are being exposed to the warmest temperatures measured since records began, while the Mediterranean is expected to experience increases in the frequency of long-term droughts. Glaciers in the Swiss Alps will continue to decrease, with reduction of hydropower production.

At a global level, sea level rise is expected to reach more than double the IPCC’s maximum estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century, putting vast coastal areas at risk. Rising temperatures have already led to a reduction in global yields of wheat, maize and barley.

“If the European Union wants to be seen as leader at UN talks in Copenhagen next year, and to help secure a strong global deal to tackle climate change after 2012, then it must stop shirking its responsibilities and commit to real emissions cuts within Europe,” says Dr. Tina Tin, Climate Scientist and author of the report.

WWF calls on the EU to adopt an emission reduction target of at least 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, to be delivered within the boundaries of the EU rather than relying heavily on offsetting overseas. The global conservation organisation also asks the EU to commit to providing substantial support and funding for developing countries, in order to help them tackle future climate change and adapt to those impacts that are already unavoidable.

“Climate change is a major challenge to the future of mankind and the environment, and this sobering overview highlights just how critical it is that EU Environment Ministers discussing the EU legislations against climate change today commit to a strong climate and energy package, in order to ensure a low carbon future,” said Dr. Tina Tin.

For further information:
Delia Villagrasa, Senior Advisor to WWF
Tel: +32 486 440 223

Claudia Delpero, Communications Manager at WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 740 09 25

Bering Sea, Arctic Ocean, Arctic.