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Global warming 'will last centuries'

GLOBAL warming has already begun in earnest and is certain to continue for centuries, the world's leading experts have concluded, writes Geoffrey Lean. After years of caution, they have decided that pollution is at least partly to blame for an unprecedented heating of the world's climate over the past century, and that it will get even hotter as emissions build up.

Previously, the scientists were reluctant to view the undoubted increases in world temperatures as the result of anything more than natural climatic variation. Now, they say that, as a result of global warming, droughts and floods will increase; one-third of the world's forests will be threatened; and tropical diseases such as malaria and yellow fever will spread. They warn that sea levels are already rising and that snow cover in the northern hemisphere has decreased by a tenth since the mid-1970s. However, Britain and the rest of northern Europe could suddenly becomecolder, because the change in the climate may weaken the warming Gulf Stream.

The verdict is contained in two confidential draft documents obtained by the Independent on Sunday after they had been circulated on the Internet. They represent the conclusions of more than 2,000 top meteorologists and other experts. They were drawn together by the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change and are likely to be endorsed by the world's governments in December.

So far, rich countries have agreed to freeze their emissions of "greenhouse gases". The scientists warn that, even if dramatic cuts are made now, the world's systems respond so slowly that warming will inevitably continue for centuries.

Full story, page 5