GLOBAL WARMING is now changing the world's climate rapidly, and humanity faces a "critical" position because of it, the chief meteorologists of Britain and the US 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. Today's statement will be seen in the context of recent climate-related catastrophes, from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch last year to this month's 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.
"The rapid rate of warming since 1976, approximately 0.2 degrees per decade, is consistent with the projected rate of warming based on human- induced 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." Global warming is believed to be caused by the increased emissions of industrial gases such as carbon dioxide from motor vehicles and power stations. The international community agreed on an outline plan to cut back on "greenhouse gas" emissions at Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, but progress on implementing it has been slow.
The letter from Mr Ewins and Mr Baker is the most definitive statement yet by senior scientists on global warming.
Letters, Review, page 2;
Review, page 3
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