Climate chiefs issue severe weather warning

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Global warming is now changing the world's climate rapidly, and humanity faces a "critical" situation because of it, the chief meteorologists of Britain and the United States warn today in a remarkable joint statement.

Global warming is now changing the world's climate rapidly, and humanity faces a "critical" situation because of it, the chief meteorologists of Britain and the United States warn today in a remarkable joint statement.

Peter Ewins, head of the UK Meteorological Office, and James Baker, his US counterpart, confront climate-change sceptics head on with their assertion in a letter to newspapers, including The Independent, that the world is warming rapidly and human actions are responsible. The statement from such senior figures breaks a tradition of caution by scientists involved in climate research, who have been providing evidence for a decade of global warming, but have left the conclusions to politicians.

Their statement will be seen in the context of recent climate-related catastrophes, from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch last year to the recent disastrous mudslides in Venezuela brought about by extreme weather conditions consistent with predictions of what global warming may cause.

The two meteorologists attack the sceptical view, still prevalent in the American business community, that fears of global warming are exaggerated. They say in their letter that data on global temperatures over the last year "confirms that our climate is now changing rapidly". And they add: "These new observations, when combined with our improving understanding of the climate system, increasingly point to human influences as the cause of these climate changes."

As revealed in The Independent a week ago, 1999 is likely to prove the warmest year in England since records began in 1659 - despite the recent icy conditions - and the fourth warmest year the world has known. It is likely to be the second-warmest year recorded for the US.

"The rapid rate of warming since 1976, approximately 0.2 degrees per decade, is consistent with the projected rate of warming based on humaninduced effects," the meteorologists say. "Scientists now say that they cannot explain this unusual warmth without including the effects of human-generated greenhouse gases and aerosols. Our new data and understanding now point to the critical situation we face: to slow future change, we must start taking action soon."

Global warming is believed to be caused by the increased emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide from motor vehicles and power stations, which retain more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere. As well as higher temperatures, its predicted consequences include increased climate instability and more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

At Kyoto in Japan in 1997, the international community agreed on an outline plan to cut back on "greenhouse gas" emissions, but progress on implementing it has been slow.

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