Thursday, October 20, 2011

Climate change to spark more floods, says UK adviser

Karen Kissane, London 
The Age, October 21, 2011   

AUSTRALIA can expect more frequent devastating floods similar to those in Queensland last year, and the world is facing decades of unprecedented hardship as a result of climate change, according to the chief scientific adviser to the British government.

''We are facing what I believe will be unprecedented difficult times over the next 20, 30, 40 years,'' warned Professor Sir John Beddington. He was speaking as chairman of a panel of scientists launching a major international report about the effects of climate change on people.

The report predicts that migration will increase markedly; that millions will move into, rather than away from, environmentally vulnerable areas; and millions more will be affected but will not be able to move.

The report says that by 2060, up to 179 million people will be trapped in low-lying coastal floodplains subject to extreme weather events such as floods, storm surges, landslides and rising sea levels, unable to migrate because they are too poor or ill-equipped, or because they are restricted by political or geographic boundaries.

Two-thirds of the world's cities with populations of more than 5 million are at least partially located in coastal zones, including rapidly growing urban centres in Asian and African ''mega-deltas'', the report said.
Other large cities would suffer water shortages, with 150 million people already living in cities where water is limited.

Migration and Global Environmental Change is the result of a two-year peer-reviewed project by 350 specialists in 30 countries. Speaking after the launch yesterday, Sir John told The Age that Australia should not expect the La Nina phenomenon that triggered the Queensland floods to be a once-in-a-generation event. The next one could not be predicted but it would return much more frequently than in the past.

''We know that climate change is happening,'' he said. ''We know that the greenhouse gases already in the upper atmosphere will determine the climate over the next 30 years [and there will be] more droughts, floods and extreme weather such as tropical storm surges.''

The World Bank said it will meet in December to assess the report's implications. The International Organisation for Migration said it would organise an international meeting in Geneva to discuss action.

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