Martin Parry on Worsening Climate Change Impacts

by Joydeep Gupta

Poznan (Poland), Dec 14. An extra billion people will face water shortage, cereal production in developing countries will drop and coastal regions will face more damage from floods and storms because of delay in combating climate change, says a leading expert.

The world should be prepared to face far worse effects of global warming than it is facing now, Martin Parry, a professor at the Imperial College in London, said in the backdrop of little substantial progress at the Dec 1-12 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit here.

Parry is also former co-chair of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group and lead author of its seminal 2007 report.

In the report, the IPCC had said worldwide greenhouse gas emissions had to peak by 2015 and then decrease if global warming was to be kept within two degrees Celsius. Starting with the European Union, governments around the world have talked of this as a desirable target.

Parry has put together from his own research and from studies around the world the effect of delay on this goal in areas such as water supply, food, health, coastal areas and other ecosystems.

Even if the world manages to reach an emission peak at 2015 and then cuts 80 percent of its emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 - a very ambitious target, since it will mean an annual six percent emission reduction - 0.4 to 1.7 billion people will face water shortage due to the climate change already taking place, something that Parry calls "inevitable damage".

But if the world cuts its emissions after 2015 by three percent per year instead of six percent - reaching 50 percent reduction by 2050 instead of 80 percent - one to two billion people will face water shortage, Parry has calculated.

If the year of greenhouse gas emissions peak is pushed back to 2035, and then cut at three percent per year, the number of people facing water shortages will go up to 1.1-3.2 billion.

Crop productivity is already being affected by climate change, largely through more frequent and more severe droughts and also through more floods and storms.

Parry said that with a 2035 emissions peak year and three percent per year cut after that, "all cereal production will decrease" and the worst would be faced in Africa.

Climate change is already leading to increased healthcare costs in developing countries like India, as more people fall ill from water-borne diseases and mosquitoes carrying malaria and dengue germs spread their range in a warmer world.

Parry expected this situation to worsen if the emissions peak year was pushed back by 10 years, from 2015 to 2025. He also expected "increased morbidity and mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts".

Even if world emissions peaked at 2015, but then decreased at only three percent per year instead of six percent, Parry expected up to three million more people living in coastal areas would face "increased damage from floods and storms".

The effect of climate change is particularly severe on other species, with many amphibians, particularly frogs, already facing extinction in a warmer and drier world. The result has already been seen in India in the last two years, where many insect populations have exploded in the absence of their natural predators, the frogs.

Parry said if governments pushed back the emissions peak year to 2025 and then cut back at three percent per year instead of six percent, 20-30 percent of all species on earth would be at "increasingly high risk of extinction".

Climate change was already leading to the bleaching of corals in the world's oceans. Parry said most corals would face this fate if the reduction in emissions after 2015 was at three percent per year rather than six percent.

One of the most frightening consequences of climate change that has started already is the melting of the ice sheet in the arctic and western Antarctica. If countries push back the emissions peak year to 2035 and then cut at only three percent per year, the world would have to be "prepared for a long-term commitment to several metres of sea level rise due to ice sheet loss", Parry warned.

Despite the rhetoric at the close of the summit here, global financial crisis has ensured that this time industrialised countries pull back on their commitments to either cut their own emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere, or help developing countries do so or cope with climate change effects.