Growing threat of 'water wars'

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS SCHOON

Environment Correspondent

In the next century millions of refugees are likely to flee from floods and famines caused by man-made climate change, a top scientist warned yesterday.

Sir John Houghton, the former director of the Meteorological Office, said that unless the threat of global warming was addressed promptly large areas of densely populated land were set to be invaded by the sea.

The threat of "water wars" between nations would rise as crucial irrigation supplies dwindled, Sir John told Britain's leading scientific society, the Royal Society, last night.

Such warnings are nothing new; what is interesting about these is the authority of the source. Sir John is chairman of the Government's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, an adviser to the Prime Minister and chair of the United Nations advisory panel on climate change.

Late last year the panel agreed that a build up of heat-trapping pollutant gases in the atmosphere was probably to blame for rising global temperatures.

"Since the 1970s there has been a relatively steady global average warming totalling about 0.3C," he said. If emissions of gases - chiefly carbon dioxide and methane - were not drastically lowered . . . then the earth would warm more quickly than at any time since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

Melting glaciers and expanding oceans would raise sea levels by some two feet by 2100. "Adaptation will be very difficult . . . in some particularly vulnerable areas such as the delta regions of large rivers in Bangla- desh, Egypt and Southern China and the many low lying islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans."

Climate change would increase rainfall where there are heavy downpours and reduce it in dry, drought-prone areas. Sir John said the total amount of food grown might change little but distribution would.

The key ways to reduce the danger of climate change was to curb the use of fossil fuels, stop the destruction of forests and plant trees.

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