OSLO - Hurricane Katrina has spurred debate about
global warming worldwide with some environmentalists sniping at
President George W. Bush for pulling out of the main U.N. plan
for braking climate change.
Experts agree it is impossible to say any one storm is
caused by rising temperatures. Numbers of tropical cyclones
like hurricanes worldwide are stable at about 90 a year
although recent U.S. research shows they may be becoming more
Still, the European Commission, the World Bank, some
environmentalists, Australia's Greens and even Sweden's king
said the disaster, feared to have killed thousands of people in
the United States, could be a portent of worse to come.
"As climate change is happening, we know that the frequency
of these disasters will increase as well as the scope,"
European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said.
"If we let climate change continue like it is continuing,
we will have to deal with disasters like that," she said. She
said it was wrong to say Katrina was caused by global warming
widely blamed on emissions from cars, power plants and
Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf told reporters he was deeply
shaken by the damage and suffering of millions of people.
"It is quite clear that the world's climate is changing and
we should take note," he said. "The hurricane catastrophe in
the United States should be a wake-up call for all of us."
Climate change policies sharply divide Bush from most of
his allies which have signed up for caps on emissions of
greenhouse gases under the U.N.'s Kyoto protocol. Bush pulled
out of Kyoto in 2001, saying it was too expensive and wrongly
excluded developing nations from a first round of caps to 2012.
In July this year, Bush launched a six-nation plan to
combat climate change with Australia, China, India, Japan and
South Korea focused on a shift to cleaner energy technology.
Unlike Kyoto, it stops short of setting caps on emissions.
SEA LEVEL RISE
U.N. studies say a build-up of greenhouse gases is likely
to cause more storms, floods and desertification and could
raise sea levels by up to a meter by 2100.
Sea level rise could expose coasts vulnerable to storms
because levees would be swamped more easily. Some scientists
dispute the forecasts and the United States is investing more
heavily than any other nation on climate research.
In Australia, the opposition Greens party said Katrina was
aggravated by global warming and criticized Bush for pulling
out of Kyoto. The United States, the world's biggest polluter,
and Australia are the only rich nations outside Kyoto.
"It demonstrates the massive economic, as well as
environmental and social penalties, of George Bush's policies,"
Greens leader Bob Brown told Reuters. He did not believe Bush
would shift to embrace Kyoto-style caps on emissions.
Concerns were also voiced in Germany.
"The U.S. must be more involved," Gerda Hasselfeldt, a
leading German candidate to become environment minister if the
conservative opposition wins the September 18 election, told
In the United States, the focus has been far more on
tackling the human disaster than on links to climate change.
"People are still reeling from the tragedy," said Katie
Mandes, a director at the Washington-based Pew Center, a
climate change think-tank. "Politically it's too early to tell
what it will mean for Americans' views."
Ian Johnson, the World Bank's top environmental official,
said Katrina could also be a wake-up call for developing
nations, many of which are vulnerable.
An opinion survey published this week showed that 79
percent of Americans feel global warming poses an "important"
or "very important" threat to their country in the next 10
years. Worries among Europeans were even higher.
Taken before Katrina in June, the Transatlantic Trends
survey showed that Americans felt more threatened than
Europeans by terrorism, Islamic extremism, weapons of mass
destruction and economic downturn.
Some individual climatic disasters in the past have changed
perceptions about climate change. Steve Sawyer, climate change
director at Greenpeace, said that ice storms in Canada in the
late 1990s had dramatically raised public concerns.
Greenpeace called Katrina a "wake-up call about the dangers
of continued global fossil fuel dependency."
Recent research by Kerry Emanuel, a leading U.S. hurricane
researcher, shows the intensity of hurricanes -- the wind
speeds and the duration -- seems to have risen by about 70
percent in the past 30 years.
"Globally a new signal may be emerging in rising
intensity," said Tom Knutson, a research meteorologist at the
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Higher
water temperatures in future may lead to more storms.
Hurricanes need temperatures of about 26.5 C (80F) to form.
Additional reporting by Michael Perry in Sydney, Elaine
Lies in Tokyo, Jeff Mason and Paul Taylor in Brussels, Iain
Rogers in Berlin, Timothy Gardner in New York
© 2005 Reuters