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Study to offer first full view of global warming

WILL global warming be good for Essex, one thing weighed against another? We may soon have a shrewd idea. For the full picture of what climate change may do to Britain is to be assembled in what the Government says is the first study of its kind in the world.

The pluses and the minuses of the greenhouse effect - warmer days to sunbathe in, say, but drier soil that hinders crop growth - will be put together with all their various trade-offs so that local authorities, business leaders and other decision makers can plan strategically for the effects of climate change as it starts to impact upon us over the next twenty to thirty years.

The study is to be launched today, World Environment Day, by the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, and it is the integrated aspect of it which the Government is stressing is new.

Previous research into climate change impacts has been conducted sector by sector - looking at the effects of rising temperatures on agriculture, for instance, or on health, or on the threat to low-lying coasts from sea-level rise which global warming will bring with it. But hitherto there have been no integrated studies looking at how all these impacts may interact.

Take Essex. Will global warming be good for its beaches and its tourism if that freezing North Sea gets a little warmer? Perhaps. But what if much of that coastline disappears because of sea-level rise? And what if malaria-bearing mosquitoes start to breed in the warm waters of the marshlands that have been created?

What if the county's market gardeners find they can no longer grow potatoes? Will they be able to grow alternative crops, such as sunflowers?

Essex is likely to find out soon, because East Anglia is one of the two areas that have been chosen to start the inquiry (the other being the North-West) and now all those possible effects, which have already been considered individually, will be assembled into a larger picture.

The study of the two initial regions is likely to last two to three years and will be carried out by scientists of the UK Climate Impacts Programme based at the Environmental Change Unit at Oxford, under Dr Merylin McKenzie Hedger.

Government scientists have already indicated, in a report two years ago, that climate change impacts in the UK are likely to be considerable.

For the decades of the 2020s to the 2050s, they said:

Average temperatures were likely to rise at a rate of about 0.2 degrees C, and will be nearly a full degree warmer than the average of 1961-1990 by the 2020s, and 1.6 degrees warmer by the 2050s;

Extremely warm seasons and years are expected to occur more frequently;

Sea level is expected to rise by five centimetres per decade.

Harmful effects are likely to include an increase in insect species from the continent, a greater demand and lesser supply of water, a decrease in crop yields in the south and increased damage from more violent storms.