Published on Friday, June 8, 2001 in the Guardian of London
It's True Mr President, The World's Hotting Up
Warnings from his own scientific advisers add to Bush's isolation on global warming
by Tim Radford, science editor and Ian Black
America's leading scientists have told President George Bush that global warming is real - and that the burning of fossil fuel is feeding it.
"Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise," their report said.
Mr Bush triggered worldwide dismay in March when, citing scientific uncertainty, he said the US would not fall in with the international agreement forged in Kyoto, Japan, to begin cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.
He shook European politicians again in May when he unveiled plans to drill for new oil in the pristine Alaskan wilderness - on the day that 17 of the world's most conservative scientific societies called on politicians everywhere to honor the Kyoto agreement.
The only exception was the US National Academy of Sciences, which had just been asked by the White House to consider the evidence for climate change. Yesterday, the academy delivered the same message.
Ralph Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, and chairman of the committee that looked at the climate conundrum, said: "We don't know precisely how much of this [temperature] rise to date is from human activities, but based on physical principles and highly sophisticated computer models, we expect the warming to continue because of greenhouse gas emissions."
Six of the 10 warmest years ever recorded were in the 1990s; the other four were in the late 1980s. Sea levels have gradually risen through the last century. The growing season in Europe is 11 days longer than it was 35 years ago.
Arctic ice cover is shrinking by an area the size of the Netherlands every year, threatening wildlife such as polar bears, caribou and seal populations. The ice cap has thinned, from more than three meters on average to less than two meters, in 30 years.
And in a series of recent bombshells, teams of scientists have confirmed that:
The average temperature of the oceans - which act as a kind of "memory" of the climate system - has risen in line with computer predictions.
The worldwide decline of frogs, toads and salamanders is linked to changes in climate patterns, driven by warming.
The glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and of the tropical Andes are melting so fast that they could disappear within the next 20 years.
Emperor penguin populations in the Antarctic are falling as temperatures rise.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their highest for 20m years, according to the evidence of seashells buried in ocean sediments.
The US is the world's leading consumer of fossil fuel energy - and therefore the world's biggest polluter - but Condoleeza Rice, the White House national security adviser, said yesterday: "This is a president who takes extremely seriously what we do know about climate change, which is essentially that there is warming taking place. A cabinet-level working group is still working on what it wishes to say to the president before we go to Europe."
The European Union last night repeated its commitment to the Kyoto pact, virtually ensuring a public clash with Mr Bush when he meets EU leaders at the Gothenburg summit next week.
Meeting in Luxembourg, EU environment ministers overcame last-minute objections by Italy to reiterate their determination to go into July's climate change talks in Bonn with a united position.
Kjell Larsson, the environment minister of Sweden, which holds the union's rotating presidency, made clear that Mr Bush's call for voluntary measures and improved energy efficiency was not enough.
"I don't believe there is any kind of voluntary system that could be satisfactory," Mr Larsson insisted. "We tried voluntary before we started working on the Kyoto Protocol and everyone concluded that this is too big, too general an issue to be dealt with by voluntary agreement," he told the BBC.
Diplomats said that Sweden, which has made progress on the environment a key priority of its presidency, was working on a joint statement by the US and the EU to allow Mr Bush to get back into the Kyoto process. But if he refuses, EU leaders will sign the protocol anyway.
The intergovernmental panel on climate change says if there is no change in human behavior, the average world temperature could rise 5.8C by 2100, hotter than at any time for 10,000 years. Sea levels could rise by 88cm, making tens of millions homeless in China's Pearl river delta, Bangladesh, the Nile delta and Pacific islands.
The panel says carbon dioxide emissions should be cut to 60% of 1990 levels. Governments at Kyoto proposed cuts of 5.5% by 2010 - but the US has rejected that. Carbon dioxide levels have risen 31% since the start of the industrial revolution.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001