European agency warns of weather meltdown

Thursday, August 19, 2004

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers in the Alps and more deadly heat waves are coming for Europeans because of global warming, Europe's environmental agency warned Wednesday.

The European Environment Agency said much more needs to be done -- and fast. Climate change "will considerably affect our societies and environments for decades and centuries to come," its 107-page report said.

It said rising temperatures could eliminate three-quarters of the Alpine glaciers by 2050 and bring repeats of Europe's mammoth floods two years ago and the heat wave that killed thousands and burned up crops last summer. The rise in sea levels along Europe's coasts is likely to accelerate, it added.

Global warming has been evident for years, but the problem is becoming acute, Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the Copenhagen-based agency, told The Associated Press. "What is new is the speed of change," she said.

"It takes a long time to see these changes in the glaciers, at the sea level, so like big tankers turning around, they take a long time to change. But now that we see them changing direction, then it means that there are warning signals in many parts of our life," she added.

McGlade said action is needed at all levels in Europe -- continental, regional, national and local. She said, for example, that European nations should insist climate change be on the agenda of international free-trade talks.

Greenpeace welcomed the report. Flooding, heat waves and melting glaciers "make people become more and more aware of the consequences of global warming," Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace International told AP.

Global warming is believed to be intensified by human activities, in particular emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

The European Union has been a leader in pushing for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, a U.N. pact drawn up in 1997 to combat climate change by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions worldwide in 2010 to 8 percent below 1990 levels.

So far 123 countries, including all 25 EU members, have ratified the pact, but it isn't in effect because it hasn't reached the required level of nations accounting for 55 percent of the industrialized world's emissions. The United States, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has refused to ratify, arguing the agreement would hurt its economy, and Russia also hasn't signed.

Wednesday's report, "Impacts of Europe's Changing Climate," urges that the Kyoto Protocol be adopted, saying climate changes "will considerably affect our societies and environments for decades and centuries to come."

It said the 1990s were the warmest decade on record, and the three hottest years recorded -- 1998, 2002 and 2003 -- occurred in the last six years, with the average global temperature now rising at almost 0.36 degrees per decade.

The report singled out floods across Europe two summers ago and last summer's heat wave in western and southern Europe as examples of destructively extreme weather caused by global warming.

The flooding killed about 80 people in 11 countries, affected more than 600,000 and caused economic losses of at least $18.5 billion, the report said. More than 20,000 deaths, many of them elderly, were recorded during the 2003 heat wave, which also caused up to 30 percent of harvests in many southern countries to fail, it said.

The report said melting shrank glaciers in the Alps by 10 percent in 2003 alone and predicted three-quarters of them could be gone altogether by 2050. European sea levels have been rising by 0.03-0.12 inches a year over the last century, it said, and the rate of increase could be two to four times faster during this century.

The agency is sponsored by the 25 EU countries as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

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