A recent report prepared for the British government is warning that many people alive today will see dangerous levels of warming. According to scientists at the Met Office in the UK, climate change will be a problem for our children, not our great-grandchildren, with 4°C (7°F) rises in temperature expected by 2060 if emissions are not cut significantly. A temperature increase of this magnitude could threaten the water supply of half the world’s population, wipe out up to half of animal and plant species, and swamp low-lying coastal areas. Local impacts, in places like Africa and the Arctic, could be even more severe, leading to much greater temperature increases.

“We’ve always talked about these very severe impacts only affecting future generations, but people alive today could live to see a 4°C rise,” said Dr. Richard Betts, the Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre. “People will say it’s an extreme scenario, and it is an extreme scenario. But it’s also a plausible scenario.”

The landmark 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report included scenarios that predicted more rapid warming, but these predictions were considered less likely to occur. Global warming is barreling along, and GHG emissions continue to rise faster than predicted in the worst-case IPCC projections. That’s why Met Office scientists used new computer models to update the IPCC predictions — models which included carbon feedbacks that occur when warmer temperatures release more carbon, such as methane, from melting tundra. That, too, is already occurring, decades earlier than expected.

The scientists are quick to dismiss claims that the planet is doomed. If the world’s nations reach an international climate change agreement, and emissions peak sometime in the next decade, we still have a shot at keeping the rise in temperatures to below 2°C (3.6°F). (Source: The Guardian, September 28, 2009)

Contact: Dr. Richard Betts, the Head of Climate Impacts, Met Office Hadley Centre, +44 (1) 392 885-680, www.metoffice.gov.uk