Climate change ‘will raise risks for millions’

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Millions of people across the world are likely to face increased risks of hunger, water shortage, malaria and coastal flooding as a result of higher temperatures caused by man-made global warming, even if curbs on carbon emissions are put into effect, according to new research.

“Our figures tell a clear story: there will be more millions at risk as time progresses,” says Martin Parry from the UK-based Jackson Environment Institute, who led the research into the human impact of climate change in 2050 and 2080.

If no efforts are made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Parry estimates that by 2050 climate change will put an extra 250 million people at risk of malaria, an additional 25 million people at risk of hunger, and as many as 3 billion at risk of water shortage.

Curbing greenhouse gas emissions so that carbon dioxide levels stabilise at 500 parts per million (ppm) would decrease — but not eliminate — the potential impact. For example, the additional number at risk of malaria would decrease to 220 million people, with those at risk of water shortage due to climate change falling to around 2 billion.

A similar story is shown for 2080, although the number of people at risk is larger. For example, with no constraints on carbon emissions, hunger would threaten an additional 85 million people, an extra 300 million would be at risk of malaria and those placed at risk of water shortage by climate change may exceed 3.5 billion.

And even if carbon dioxide stabilised at 500 ppm, the numbers at risk in 2080 would be 50 million from hunger, 200 million from malaria and 2.5 billion from water shortage.

Parry says that his research, which was based on a climate model from the UK’s Hadley Centre, could help in the selection of climate change targets. “Thus far these targets, such as [those agreed in] Kyoto, have been chosen in broadly a top-down manner, without clear knowledge of the impacts that would be avoided,” he writes in the journal Global Environmental Change, which published the research.

But he admits that his global estimates mask a great deal of regional variation. “Most of the impact is at the social, political and economic margins. It has as much to do with vulnerability as anything else,” he said on 12 December when presenting his results to a Royal Society climate change meeting held in London.

© SciDev.Net 2001

Click here for graph showing additional millions of people at risk globally due to climate change, from Global Environment Change 11:3 (2001):1-3