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UN panel issues stark climate change warning

By Jeff Mason (Reuters) - April 6, 2007

Climate experts issued their starkest warning yet about the impact of global warming, ranging from hunger in Africa to a fast thaw in the Himalayas, in a report on Friday that increased pressure on governments to act.

More than 100 nations in the U.N. climate panel agreed a final text after all-night talks during which some scientists accused governments of watering down conclusions that climate change was already under way and damaging nature.

“Conflict is a hard word, tension is a better word,” Gary Yohe, one of the lead authors, said of the mood at the talks.

The report said warming, widely blamed on human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, would cause desertification, droughts and rising seas and would hit hard in the tropics, from sub-Saharan Africa to Pacific islands.

“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“This does become a global responsibility in my view.”

The IPCC, which groups 2,500 scientists and is the world authority on climate change, said all regions of the planet would suffer from a sharp warming.

Its findings are approved unanimously by governments and will guide policy on issues such as extending the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan for capping greenhouse gas emissions, beyond 2012.

CUT, ADAPT

Friday’s study said climate change could cause hunger for millions with a sharp fall in crop yields in Africa. It could also rapidly thaw Himalayan glaciers that feed rivers from India to China and bring heatwaves for Europe and North America.

“This further underlines both how urgent it is to reach global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how important it is for us all to adapt to the climate change that is already under way,” said European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

“The urgency of this report…should be matched with an equally urgent response by governments,” said Hans Verolme of the WWF conservation group.

Scientists said China, Russia and Saudi Arabia raised most objections overnight and sought to tone down the findings, including those about the likely pace of extinctions.

Other participants said the United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001 and denounced it as too costly, also opposed a suggested text that parts of North America could suffer “severe economic damage” from climate change.

China, the second largest source of greenhouse gases after the United States, insisted on cutting a reference to “very high confidence” that climate change was already affecting “many natural systems, on all continents and in some oceans”.

But delegates sharpened other sections, including adding a warning that some African nations might have to spend 5 to 10 percent of gross domestic product on adapting to climate change.

Overall, the report was the strongest U.N. assessment yet of the threat of climate change, predicting water shortages that could affect billions of people and a rise in ocean levels that could go on for centuries.

Its review of the regional impact of change built on an IPCC report in February saying that human greenhouse gas emissions were more than 90 percent sure to have stoked recent warming.

That report also forecast that temperatures could rise by 1.8 to 4.0 Celsius (3.2 to 7.2 F) this century.