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Measurement of recent sea level rise from 23 long tide gauge records in geologically stable environments
Measurement of recent sea level rise from 23 long tide gauge records in geologically stable environments
The predicted effects of global warming are many and various, both for the environment and for human life. The primary effect is an increasing global average temperature. From this flow a variety of secondary effects, including rising sea levels, altered patterns of agriculture, increased extreme weather events, and the expansion of the range of tropical diseases. In some cases, the effects may already be being experienced, although it is generally difficult to attribute specific natural phenomena to long-term global warming.The extent and likelihood of these consequences is a matter of considerable political controversy; and in the details, a matter of some scientific uncertainty. A summary of possible effects and our current understanding can be found in the report of the IPCC Working Group II [1]; a discussion of projected climate changes is found in WG I [2].

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Effects of Global Warming

Effects of Global Warming - Contents

Increasing temperature is very likely to continue to lead to increasing precipitation [3] but the effects on storms are less clear. Extratropical storms partly depend on the temperature gradient, which is predicted to weaken in the northern hemisphere as the polar region warms more than the rest of the hemisphere [4].Choi and Fisher, writing in Climate Change, vol. 58 (2003) pp. 149, predict that each 1% increase in annual precipitation would enlarge the cost of catastrophic storms by 2.8%.Wind produced from differences in barometric pressure has increased as radiative forcing increases the relative amount of daytime thermal expansion of air, and is also expected to continue to increase. [ citation needed]

More extreme weather

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) third annual assessment report "Climate Change 2001" stated "there is no compelling evidence to indicate that the characteristics of tropical and extratropical storms have changed." [5] There is, however, limited evidence from a relatively short time period that storm strength is increasing, such as the Emanuel (2005) "power dissipation index" of hurricane intensity [6]. Worldwide, the proportion of hurricanes reaching categories 4 or 5 – with wind speeds above 56 metres per second – has risen from 20% in the 1970s to 35% in the 1990s. [7] Precipitation hitting the US from hurricanes increased by 7% over the twentieth century [8]. See also Time Magazine's "Global Warming: The Culprit?".A substantially higher risk of extreme weather does not necessarily mean a noticeably greater risk of slightly-above-average weather [9]. However, the evidence is clear that severe weather and moderate rainfall are also increasing.Stephen Mwakifwamba, national co-ordinator of the Centre for Energy, Environment, Science and Technology - which prepared the Tanzanian government's climate change report to the UN - says that change is happening in Tanzania right now. "In the past, we had a drought about every 10 years", he says. "Now we just don't know when they will come. They are more frequent, but then so are floods. The climate is far less predictable. We might have floods in May or droughts every three years. Upland areas, which were never affected by mosquitoes, now are. Water levels are decreasing every day. The rains come at the wrong time for farmers and it is leading to many problems" [10].
Increasing water vapor at Boulder, Colorado.
Increasing water vapor at Boulder, Colorado.
As the climate grows warmer, evaporation will increase. This has been shown to cause, and is expected to continue to cause heavier rainfall and more erosion, and in more vulnerable tropical areas (especially in Africa), desertification due to deforestation. Many scientists think that it could result in more extreme weather as global warming progresses. The IPCC Third Annual Report says: " average water vapour concentration and precipitation are projected to increase during the 21st century. By the second half of the 21st century, it is likely that precipitation will have increased over northern mid- to high latitudes and Antarctica in winter. At low latitudes there are both regional increases and decreases over land areas. Larger year to year variations in precipitation are very likely over most areas where an increase in mean precipitation is projected" [11] [12].The cost of extreme weather is rising rapidly. The Association of British Insurers has stated that limiting carbon emissions would avoid 80% of the projected additional annual cost of tropical cyclones by the 2080s. The cost is also increasing partly because of building in exposed areas such as coasts and floodplains. The ABI claims that reduction of the vulnerability to some inevitable impacts of climate change, for example through more resilient buildings and improved flood defences, could also result in considerable cost-savings in the longterm. [13]

Destabilization of local climates

The first recorded South Atlantic hurricane, "Catarina", which hit Brazil in 2004
The first recorded South Atlantic hurricane, "Catarina", which hit Brazil in 2004
The total surface area of glaciers worldwide has decreased by 50% since the end of the 19th century [14]. Currently glacier retreat rates and mass balance losses have been increasing in the Andes, Alps, Himalaya's, Rocky Mountains and North Cascades. As of March 2005, the snow cap that has covered the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for the past 11,000 years since the last ice age has almost disappeared [15]. The loss of glaciers not only directly causes landslides, flash floods and glacial lake overflow [16], but also increases annual variation in water flows in rivers. Glacier runoff declines in the summer as glaciers decrease in size, this decline is already observable in several regions [17]. Glaciers retain water on mountains in high precipitation years, since the snow cover accumulating on glaciers protects the ice from melting. In warmer and drier years, glaciers offset the lower precipitation amounts with a higher meltwater input [18].In the northern hemisphere, the southern part of the Arctic region (home to 4,000,000 people) has experienced a temperature rise 1° to 3° Celsius over the last 50 years. Canada, Alaska and Russia are experiencing initial melting of permafrost. This may disrupt ecosystems and by increasing bacterial activity in the soil lead to these areas becoming carbon sources instead of carbon sinks [19]. A study (published in Science) of changes to eastern Siberia's permafrost suggests that it is gradually disappearing in the southern regions, leading to the loss of nearly 11% of Siberia's nearly 11,000 lakes since 1971 [20]. At the same time, western Siberia is at the initial stage where melting permafrost is creating new lakes, which will eventually start disappearing as in the east. Western Siberia is the world's largest peat bog, and the melting of its permafrost is likely to lead to the release, over decades, of large quantities of methane—creating an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions [21]. Hurricanes were thought to be an entirely north Atlantic phenomenon. In April 2004, the first Atlantic hurricane to form south of the Equator hit Brazil with 40 m/s (144 km/h) winds; monitoring systems may have to be extended 1,600 km (1000 miles) further south [22].


Sea level rise

Main article: sea level rise
With increasing average global temperature, the water in the oceans expands in volume, and additional water enters them which had previously been locked up on land in glaciers and the polar ice caps. An increase of 1.5 to 4.5 °C is estimated to lead to an increase of 15 to 95 cm (IPCC 2001).The sea level has risen more than 120 metres since the peak of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago. The bulk of that occurred before 6000 years ago. From 3000 years ago to the start of the 19th century, sea level was almost constant, rising at 0.1 to 0.2 mm/yr; since 1900, the level has risen at 1–2 mm/yr [23]; since 1992, satellite altimetry from TOPEX/Poseidon indicates a rate of about 3 mm/yr [24].

Temperature rise

The temperature of the Antarctic Southern Ocean rose by 0.17 °C (0.31 °F) between the 1950s and the 1980s, nearly twice the rate for the world's oceans as a whole [25]. As well as effects on ecosystems (eg by melting sea ice, affecting algae that grow on its underside), warming could reduce the ocean's ability to absorb CO2.More important for the United States may be the temperature rise in the Gulf of Mexico. As hurricanes cross the warm Loop Current coming up from South America, they can gain great strength in under a day (as did Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005), with water above 85 degrees F seemingly promoting Category 5 storms. Hurricane season ends in November as the waters cool.


The world’s oceans soak up much of the carbon dioxide produced by living organisms, either as dissolved gas, or in the skeletons of tiny marine creatures that fall to the bottom to become chalk or limestone. Oceans currently absorb about one metric tonne of CO2 per person per year. It is estimated that the oceans have absorbed around half of all CO2 generated by human activities since 1800 (120,000,000,000 tonnes or 120 petagrams of carbon) [26].But in water, carbon dioxide becomes a weak carbonic acid, and the increase in the greenhouse gas since the industrial revolution has already lowered the average pH (the laboratory measure of acidity) of seawater by 0.1 units on the 14-point scale, to 8.2. Predicted emissions could lower it by a further 0.5 by 2100, to a level not seen for millions of years. [27]There are concerns that increasing acidification could have a particularly detrimental effect on corals [28] (16% of the world's coral reefs have died from bleaching since 1998 [29]) and other marine organisms with calcium carbonate shells. Increased acidity may also directly affect the growth and reproduction of fish as well as the plankton on which they rely on for food [30].

Shutdown of thermohaline circulation?

There is some speculation that global warming could, via a shutdown or slowdown of the thermohaline circulation, trigger localised cooling in the North Atlantic and lead to cooling, or lesser warming, in that region. This would affect in particular areas like Scandinavia and Britain that are warmed by the North Atlantic drift. The chances of this occurring are unclear.Heat is transported from the equator polewards mostly by the atmosphere but also by ocean currents, with warm water near the surface and cold water at deeper levels. The best known segment of this circulation is the Gulf Stream, a wind-driven gyre, which transports warm water from the Caribbean northwards. A northwards branch of the gulf stream, the North Atlantic Drift, is part of the thermohaline circulation (THC), transporting warmth further north to the North Atlantic, where its effect in warming the atmosphere contributes to warming Europe. The evaporation of ocean water in the North Atlantic increases the salinity (relative saltiness) of the water as well as cooling it, both actions increasing the density of water at the surface. The formation of sea ice further increases the salinity. This dense water then sinks and the circulation stream continues in a southerly direction. Global warming could lead to an increase in freshwater in the northern oceans, by melting glaciers in Greenland and by increasing precipitation, especially through Siberian rivers [31]. It is by no means clear that sufficient freshwater could be provided to interrupt thermohaline circulation — climate models indicate not, but research continues.
The red end of the spectrum indicates slowing in this presentation of the trend of velocities derived from NASA Pathfinder altimeter data from May 1992 to June 2002. Source: NASA.
The red end of the spectrum indicates slowing in this presentation of the trend of velocities derived from NASA Pathfinder altimeter data from May 1992 to June 2002. Source: NASA.
Some even fear that global warming may be able to trigger the type of abrupt massive temperature shifts which occurred during the last glacial: a series of Dansgaard-Oeschger events — rapid climate fluctuations — may be attributed to freshwater forcing at high latitude interrupting the THC. The Younger Dryas event may have been of this sort too. (See the discussion of chaos theory for related ideas.) However, these events are believed to have been triggered by massive freshwater discharges from the Laurentide ice sheet, rather than from the melting of polar sea-ice and precipitation changes associated with the increased open water in global warming. Also, in coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models the THC tends to weaken somewhat rather than stop, and the warming effects outweigh the cooling, even locally: the IPCC Third Annual Report notes that even in models where the THC weakens, there is still a warming over Europe [32].In April 2004, the hypothesis that the Gulf Stream is switching off received a boost when a retrospective analysis of U.S. satellite data seemed to show a slowing of the North Atlantic Gyre, the northern swirl of the Gulf Stream. [33]In May 2005, Peter Wadhams reported to The Times about the results of investigations in a submarine under the Arctic ice sheet measuring the giant chimneys of cold dense water, in which the cold dense water normally sinks down to the sea bed and is replaced by warm water, forming one of the engines of the North Atlantic Drift. He and his team found the chimneys to have virtually disappeared. Normally there are seven to twelve giant columns, but Wadhams found only two giant columns, both extremely weak. [34] [35]Bryden measurements reported late 2005The news service [36] reported on 30 November 2005 that the Southampton Oceanography Centre in the UK found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream from the last such measurement in 1992. However, the North Atlantic is currently warmer than in the earlier measurements [37], possibly explaining lack of evidence of the expected cooling in Scandinavia and the British isles. The authors note that currently the observed changes are "uncomfortably close" to the uncertainties in the measurements, although the structure of the flows is consistent with what would be expected, increasing confidence in the results.The New Scientist article was based on an article by Harry L. Bryden et al published in Nature (438, 655-657) on 1 December 2005. ( [38]: subscription required). In News and Views in the same issue of Nature (438, 565-566, [39]), Detlef Quadrasel reinforces the point that the uncertainty of the estimates of Bryden et al is high, but says other factors and observations do support their results. Quadrasel continues by pointing out the significance of the possible implications, wth palaeoclimate records showing drops of air temperature up to 10°C within decades, linked to abrupt switches of ocean circulation when a certain threshold is reached. He concludes that further observations and modelling are crucial for providing early warning of a possible breakdown of the circulation, noting that if ths occurs, it would have devastating social and economic effects.For another contemporary commentary on the Bryden measurements, see Decrease in Atlantic circulation? by Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann on the RealClimate website ( [40]).On 6 December 2005 Michael Schlesinger, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, leading a research team, said “The shutdown of the thermohaline circulation has been characterized as a high-consequence, low-probability event. Our analysis, including the uncertainties in the problem, indicates it is a high-consequence, high-probability event.” [41]. This remains a minority opinion based on unpublished research.On 19 January 2006, a News Feature Climate change: A sea change by Quirin Schiermeier appeared in Nature, detailing reactions to the Bryden results (439, 256-260, [42] requiring subscription; see also RealClimate [43]). Points made by Schiermeier include the following:
  • The results are a surprise to scientists in the field.
  • Modelling suggests that increase of fresh water flows large enough to shut down the thermohaline circulation would be an order of magnitude greater than currently estimated to be occurring, and such increases are unlikely to become critical within the next hundred years; this is hard to reconcile with the Bryden measurements.
  • The Bryden results could be caused by natural variation, or "noise", that is, coincidence.
  • If the results are correct, perhaps thermohaline circulation reductions will not have the drastic effects that have been predicted on European cooling.
  • While previous shutdowns (e.g. the Younger Dryas) have caused cooling, the current overall climate is different; in particular sea-ice formation is less because of overall global warming.
  • However, a thermohaline circulation shutdown could have other major consequences apart from cooling of Europe, such as: increase in major floods and storms; collapse of plankton stocks; or warming or rainfall changes in the tropics or Alaska and Antarctica.

Rising temperatures are beginning to impact on ecosystems. Butterflies have shifted their ranges northward by 200 km in Europe and North America. Plants lag behind, and larger animals' migration is slowed down by cities and highways. In Britain, spring butterflies are appearing an average of 6 days earlier than two decades ago [44]. In the Arctic, the waters of Hudson Bay are ice-free for three weeks longer than they were thirty years ago, affecting polar bears, which do not hunt on land [45].Two 2002 studies in Nature (vol 421) [46] surveyed the scientific literature to find recent changes in range or seasonal behaviour by plant and animal species. Of species showing recent change, 4 out of 5 shifted their ranges towards the poles or higher altitudes, creating " refugee species". Frogs were breeding, flowers blossoming and birds migrating an average 2.3 days earlier each decade; butterflies, birds and plants moving towards the poles by 6.1 km per decade [47]. A 2005 study concludes human activity is the cause of the temperature rise and resultant changing species behaviour, and links these effects with the predictions of climate models to provide validation for them [48]. Grass has become established in Antarctica for the first time. [49]Forests potentially face an increased risk of forest fires. The 10-year average of boreal forest burned in North America, after several decades of around 10,000 km² (2.5 million acres), has increased steadily since 1970 to more than 28,000 km² (7 million acres) annually. [50].

Ecological productivity

Increasing average temperature and carbon dioxide may have the effect, up to a point, of improving ecosystems' productivity. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is rare in comparison to oxygen (less than 1% of air compared to 21% of air). This carbon dioxide starvation becomes apparent in photorespiration, where there is so little carbon dioxide, that oxygen can enter a plant's chloroplasts and takes the place where carbon dioxide normally would be in the Calvin Cycle. This causes the sugars being made to be destroyed, badly suppressing growth. Satellite data shows that the productivity of the northern hemisphere has increased since 1982 (although attribution of this increase to a specific cause is difficult).IPCC models predict that higher CO2 concentrations would only spur growth of flora up to a point, because in many regions the limiting factors are water or nutrients, not temperature or CO2; after that, greenhouse effects and warming would continue but there would be no compensatory increase in growth.

Glacier Retreat
In historic times, glaciers grew during the Little Ice Age, a cool period from about 1550 to 1850. Subsequently, until about 1940, glaciers around the world retreated as climate warmed. Glacier retreat declined and reversed, in many cases, from 1950 to 1980 as a slight global cooling occurred. Since 1980, glacier retreat has become increasingly rapid and ubiquitous, so much so that it has threatened the existence of many of the glaciers of the world. This process has increased markedly since 1995, leading to such bizarre steps as covering sections of Austrian alpine glaciers with plastic to retard melting. [51]
Lewis Glacier, North Cascades, WA USA is one of five glaciers in the area that melted away
Lewis Glacier, North Cascades, WA USA is one of five glaciers in the area that melted away
The recession of mountain glaciers, notably in Western North America, Franz-Josef Land, Asia, the Alps, Indonesia and Africa, and tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America, has been used to provide qualitative support to the rise in global temperatures since the late 19th century. Many glaciers are being lost to melting further raising concerns about future local water resources in these glacierized areas. The Lewis Glacier, North Cascades pictured at right after melting away in 1990 is one of the 47 North Cascade glaciers observed and all are retreating [52].Despite their proximity and importance to human populations, the mountain and valley glaciers of temperate latitudes amount to a small fraction of glacial ice on the earth. About 99% is in the great ice sheets of polar and subpolar Antarctica and Greenland. These continuous continental-scale ice sheets, 3 km (1.8 miles) or more in thickness, cap the polar and subpolar land masses. Like rivers flowing from an enormous lake, numerous outlet glaciers transport ice from the margins of the ice sheet to the ocean.Glacier retreat has been observed in these outlet glaciers, resulting in an increase of the ice flow rate. In Greenland the period since the year 2000 has brought retreat to several very large glaciers that had long been stable. Three glaciers that have been researched, Helheim, Jakobshavns and Kangerdlugssuaq Glaciers, jointly drain more than 16% of the Greenland Ice Sheet.Satellite images and aerial photographs from the 1950s and 1970s show that the front of the glacier had remained in the same place for decades. But in 2001 it began retreating rapidly, retreating 7.2 km (4.5 miles) between 2001 and 2005. It has also accelerated from 20 m (65 ft)/day to 32 m (104 ft)/day. [53]Jakobshavns Isbrae in west Greenland is generally considered the fastest moving glacier in the world. It had been moving continuously at speeds of over 24 m (78 ft)/day with a stable terminus since at least 1950. In 2002, the 12 km (7.5 mile) long floating terminus entered a phase of rapid retreat. The ice front started to break up and the floating terminus disintegrated accelerating to a retreat rate of over 30 m (98 ft)/day.The acceleration rate of retreat of Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier is even larger. Portions of the main trunk that were flowing at 15 m (49 ft)/day in 1988-2001 were flowing at 40 m (131 ft)/day in summer 2005. The front of the glacier has also retreated and has rapidly thinned by more than 100 m (328 ft). [54]
Glacier retreat and acceleration is also apparent on two important outlet glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Pine Island Glacier, which flows into the Amundsen Sea thinned 3.5 ± 0.9 m (11.5 ± 3 ft) per year and retreated five kilometers (3.1 miles) in 3.8 years. The terminus of the glacier is a floating ice shelf and the point at which it is afloat is retreating 1.2 km/year. This glacier drains a substantial portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and has been referred to as the weak underbelly of this ice sheet. [55] This same pattern of thinning is evident on the neighboring Thwaites Glacier.

Further global warming ( positive feedback)
Some effects of global warming themselves contribute directly to further global warming.

Methane release from melting permafrost peat bogs

Climate scientists reported in August 2005 that a one million square kilometer region of permafrost peat bogs in western Siberia is starting to melt for the first time since it was formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. This will release methane, an extremely effective greenhouse gas, possibly as much as 70,000 million tonnes, over the next few decades. An earlier report in May 2005 reported similar melting in eastern Siberia [56].This positive feedback was not known about in 2001 when the IPCC issued its last major report on climate change. The discovery of permafrost peat bogs melting in 2005 implies that warming is likely to happen faster than was predicted in 2001.

Carbon cycle feedbacks

There have been predictions, and some evidence, that global warming might cause loss of carbon from terrestrial ecosystems, leading to an increase of atmospheric CO2 levels. Several climate models indicate that global warming through the 21st could be accelerated by the response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to such warming [57]. The strongest feedbacks in these cases are due to increased respiration of carbon from soils throughout the high latitude boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere. One model in particular ( HadCM3) indicates a secondary carbon cycle feedback due to the loss of much of the Amazon rainforest in response to significantly reduced precipitation over tropical South America [58]. While models disagree on the strength of any terrestrial carbon cycle feedback, they each suggest any such feedback would accelerate global warming.Observations show that soils in England have been losing carbon at the rate of four million tonnes a year for the past 25 years [59] according to a paper in Nature by Bellamy et al. in September 2005, who note that these results are unlikely to be explained by land use changes. Results such as this rely on a dense sampling network and thus are not available on a global scale. Extrapolating to all of the United Kingdom, they estimate annual losses of 13 million tons per year. This is as much as the annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions achieved by the UK under the Kyoto Treaty (12.7 million tons of carbon per year). [60]

Forest Fires

Rising Global temperature may cause forest fires to occur on larger scale, and more regularly. This releases more stored carbon into the atmosphere than the carbon cycle can naturally re-absorb, as well as reducing the overall forest area on the planet, creating a positive feedback loop. Part of that feedback loop is more rapid growth of replacement forests and a northward migration of forests as northern latitudes become more suitable climates for sustaining forests. There is a question of whether the burning of renewable fuels such as forests should be counted as contributing to global warming.
( Climate Change and Fire)
( Climate Roulette: Loss of Carbon Sinks & Positive Feedbacks)
( EPA: Global Warming: Impacts: Forests)
([ Feedback Cycles linking forests, climate and landuse activities])

Consequences - Contents


Decline of agriculture

For some time it was hoped that a positive effect of global warming would be increased agricultural yields, because of the role of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis, especially in preventing photorespiration, which is responsible for significant destruction of several crops. In Iceland, rising temperatures have made possible the widespread sowing of barley, which was untenable twenty years ago. Some of the warming is due to a local (possibly temporary) effect via ocean currents from the Caribbean, which have also affected fish stocks [61].Whilst local benefits may be felt in some regions (such as Siberia), recent evidence is that global yields will be negatively affected. "Rising atmospheric temperatures, longer droughts and side-effects of both, such as higher levels of ground-level ozone gas, are likely to bring about a substantial reduction in crop yields in the coming decades, large-scale experiments have shown" ( The Independent, April 27, 2005, "Climate change poses threat to food supply, scientists say" - report on this event).Moreover, the region likely to be worst affected is Africa, both because its geography makes it particularly vulnerable, and because seventy per cent of the population rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Tanzania's official report on climate change suggests that the areas that usually get two rainfalls in the year will probably get more, and those that get only one rainy season will get far less. The net result is expected to be that 33% less maize—the country's staple crop—will be grown [62].


An industry very directly affected by the risks is the insurance industry; the number of major natural disasters has trebled since the 1960s, and insured losses increased fifteen-fold in real terms (adjusted for inflation) [63]. According to one study, 35–40% of the worst catastrophes have been climate change related (ERM, 2002). Over the past three decades, the proportion of the global population affected by weather-related disasters has doubled in linear trend, rising from roughly 2% in 1975 to 4% in 2001 (ERM, 2002).A June 2004 report by the Association of British Insurers declared "Climate change is not a remote issue for future generations to deal with. It is, in various forms, here already, impacting on insurers' businesses now". It noted that weather risks for households and property were already increasing by 2-4 % per year due to changing weather, and that claims for storm and flood damages in the UK had doubled to over £6 billion over the period 1998–2003, compared to the previous five years. The results are rising insurance premiums, and the risk that in some areas flood risk insurance will become unaffordable for some.In the United States, insurance losses have also greatly increased, but according to one study those increases are attributed to increased population and property values in vulnerable coastal areas.(Science, 284, 1943-1947).


Roads, airport runways, railway lines and pipelines, (including oil pipelines, sewers, water mains etc) may require increased maintenance and renewal as they become subject to greater temperature variation, and, in areas with permafrost, subject to subsidence [64].

Flood defense

For historical reasons to do with trade, many of the world's largest and most prosperous cities are on the coast, and the cost of building better coastal defenses (due to the rising sea level) is likely to be considerable. Some countries will be more affected than others - low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Netherlands will be worst hit by any sea level rise, in terms of floods or the cost of preventing them.In developing countries, the poorest often live on flood plains, because it is the only available space, or fertile agricultural land. These settlements often lack infrastructure such as dykes and early warning systems. Poorer communities also tend to lack the insurance, savings or access to credit needed to recover from disasters [65].


Some Pacific Ocean island nations, such as Tuvalu, are concerned about the possibility of an eventual evacuation, as flood defense may become economically inviable for them. Tuvalu already has an ad hoc agreement with New Zealand to allow phased relocation [66].In the 1990s a variety of estimates placed the number of environmental refugees at around 25 million. (Environmental refugees are not included in the official definition of refugees, which only includes migrants fleeing persecution.) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which advises the world’s governments under the auspices of the UN, estimated that 150 million environmental refugees will exist in the year 2050, due mainly to the effects of coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural disruption. (150 million means 1.5 percent of 2050’s predicted 10 billion world population.) [67]

Northwest Passage

Melting Arctic ice may open the Northwest Passage in summer, which would cut 5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km) from shipping routes between Europe and Asia. This would be of particular relevance for supertankers which are too big to fit through the Panama Canal and currently have to go around the tip of South America. According the Canadian Ice Service, the amount of ice in Canada's eastern Arctic Archipelago decreased by 15 percent between 1969 and 2004 [68].


The combined effects of global warming may impact particularly harshly on people and countries without the resources to mitigate those effects. This may slow economic development and poverty reduction, and make it harder to achieve the Millennium Development Goals [69], [70].In October 2004 the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, a coalition of development and environment NGOs, issued a report Up in Smoke on the effects of climate change on development. This report, and the July 2005 report Africa - Up in Smoke? predicted increased hunger and disease due to decreased rainfall and severe weather events, particularly in Africa. These are likely to have severe impacts on development for those affected.

Secondary evidence of global warming — reduced snow cover, rising sea levels, weather changes — provides examples of consequences of global warming that may influence not only human activities but also ecosystems. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems may change; some species may be forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others may flourish. Few of the terrestrial ecoregions on Earth could expect to be unaffected.Increasing carbon dioxide may (up to a point) increase ecosystems' productivity; but the interaction with other aspects of climate change, means the environmental impact of this is unclear. An increase in the total amount of biomass produced is not necessarily all good, since biodiversity can still decrease even though a smaller number of species are flourishing.

Water scarcity

Eustatic sea level rises threaten to contaminate groundwater, affecting drinking water and agriculture in coastal zones. Increased evaporation will reduce the effectiveness of reservoirs. Increased extreme weather means more water falls on hardened ground unable to absorb it - leading to flash floods instead of a replenishment of soil moisture or groundwater levels. In some areas, shrinking glaciers threaten the water supply [71].Higher temperatures will also increase the demand for water for cooling purposes.In the Sahel, there has been on average a 25 per cent decrease in annual rainfall over the past 30 years [72].


Direct effects of temperature rise

Rising temperatures have two opposing direct effects on mortality: higher temperatures in winter reduce deaths from cold; higher temperatures in summer increase heat-related deaths. The distribution of these changes obviously differs. Palutikof et al calculate that in England and Wales for a 1 °C temperature rise the reduced deaths from cold outweigh the increased deaths from heat, resulting in a reduction in annual average mortality of 7000.In August 2003 a heatwave in Europe killed 22,000–35,000 people, based on normal mortality rates (Schär and Jendritzky, 2004). It can be said with 90% confidence that past human influence on climate was responsible for at least half the risk of the 2003 European summer heat-wave (Stott et al 2004).If average temperatures increase by 1 degree Celsius, there will be an estimated 24,000 additional murders in the U.S. each year (as the additional heat stress leads to more frequent rage). (New Scientist 11/5/02, review of Body Heat by Mark Blumberg.)

Spread of disease

Global warming is expected to extend the favourable zones for vectors conveying infectious disease such as malaria [73]. In poorer countries, this may simply lead to higher incidence of such diseases. In richer countries, where such diseases have been eliminated or kept in check by vaccination, draining swamps and using pesticides, the consequences may be felt more in economic than health terms, if greater spending on preventative measures is required [74].
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