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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 16:12 GMT

The global impact of climate change

Climate change could cause serious problems for us all

Although there is great uncertainty about exactly how climate change will affect us, researchers who have prepared reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlight the following possibilities:

Sea level rises: At present some 46m people live in areas at risk of flooding due to storm surges. Scientists estimate that a 50cm rise in sea level would increase this number to 92 million and a one-metre rise would put 118 million in peril.

If the global ocean level went up by one metre

  • Egypt would lose 1% of its land area

  • The Netherlands would lose 6%

  • Bangladesh would lose 17.5%

  • Some 80% of the Majuro Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands would disappear under water

Crops and productivity: It is thought that total global crop production would be unchanged but regional effects would vary widely.

  • Those most at risk from famine would be people relying on isolated agricultural systems in arid and semi-arid regions

  • Populations particularly under threat live in sub-Saharan Africa, south east Asia and tropical areas of Latin America

  • Climate change could also alter the range of agricultural pests

Disease: Extensions of the geographical range and season for some organisms could result in increases of diseases like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.

  • If the temperature increases by 3-5 degrees Centigrade the number of people potentially exposed to malaria could go up from 45% to 60% of the world population and result in an extra 50-80 million cases a year

  • Air pollution and exposure to greater extremes in temperature could lead to a greater frequency of asthma and respiratory diseases

Ecosystems: Scientists predict that composition and range of many ecosystems will shift as species respond to climate change

  • Research models project that a substantial fraction of the world's forests, and possibly up to two thirds, will undergo major changes. They say the species composiiton will change and some forest may disappear all together

  • Deserts are likely to become more extreme, resulting in increased soil erosion

  • Mountain glaciers could retreat and inland wetlands would be affected by global warming with resultant changes in habitat for the current species

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