Brussels/New Delhi, April 6: The world’s leading climate experts today issued their bleakest forecasts of the impacts of global warming, predicting glacier melt in the Himalayas and reduced crop yields and cholera outbreaks in South Asia.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said heavily-populated megadelta regions in South and East Asia will be among areas at “greatest risk” of flooding from the sea as well as from the rivers.
Delegates from more than 100 nations agreed on a final text of the report after four days and a night of dispute in Brussels during which some scientists accused governments of watering down forecasts about threats.
The report said melting glaciers in the Himalayas will initially increase flooding, rock avalanches within two or three decades and then lead to decreased river slows as glaciers recede. Freshwater in large river basins in Central, South and East Asia will decrease which, along with the high population and increasing demand, will affect more than a billion people by 2050s.
“Millions will be at risk in India,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.
“There are two key issues for India — the plight of the poor, because the vulnerability of the poor is very high, and the economic implications because adaptation to climate change would require massive investments,” Pachauri told The Telegraph over the telephone.
“Money will have to be spent on flood control or the modernisation of water supply to conserve water, or on other processes to adapt to the impact of climate change,” Pachauri said.
The IPCC report said crop yields may decrease up to 30 per cent in Central and South Asia by the mid-21st century, increasing the risk of hunger. Crop yields may, however, increase by 20 per cent in East and Southeast Asia.
The report said illness and death from diarrhoeal diseases due to floods and droughts are expected to rise in East, South, and Southeast Asia due to changes in the water cycle caused by global warming. “Increases in the coastal water temperatures could also exacerbate the abundance and toxicity of cholera in South Asia,” the report said.
The report from the second working group of the IPCC released today, which focuses on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, follows an IPCC report released in Paris in February this year which contained scientific evidence for global warming.
The Brussels talks saw an all-night session of dispute. “This process has taken much longer than anyone expected,” said Anand Patwardhan, one of the lead authors from India who had participated in the discussions in Brussels. “There was strong divergence in some views when it came to policy issues such as when and how soon to act,” Patwardhan told The Telegraph in a telephone interview.
The IPCC said adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from warming which is “already unavoidable” due to past emissions of greenhouse gases that trap heat from the sun and raise global temperatures.
According to the report, desertification, droughts, rising seas would badly affect the tropical regions. Low-lying coasts, mangroves and coral reefs are among systems that are likely to be specially vulnerable. “The high population density in the Asian mega-deltas such as the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta will mean large populations at risk,” Patwardhan said.
During the all-night session, scientists said, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia had raised objections seeking to tone down some findings. US delegates rejected suggested wording that parts of North America may suffer “severe economic damage” from global warming. China, the second largest source of greenhouse gases after the US, sought to cut a reference to “very high confidence” that climate change was already affecting “many natural systems.