November 4 1999

A rickshaw driver gets his passengers through the submerged streets of Phnom Penh yesterday as heavy rains flooded the Cambodian capital

British scientists see big surge in global warming


A HUGE and unforeseen surge in carbon dioxide levels may be triggered in the middle of the next century, increasing droughts, hurricanes, food shortages and rising sea levels, British scientists predicted yesterday.

Researchers at the Meteorological Office have found new evidence that, unless carbon dioxide emissions are cut, temperatures will rise far higher than is now supposed with the land becoming up to 8C (47F) hotter, rather than the predicted 5.5C (41F)

The findings come as ministers and officials met this week in Bonn to try to agree how to curb pollution from cars, factories, offices and homes. The findings have emerged from new and more sensitive computer models. Dr Geoff Jenkins, head of climate prediction at the Meteorological Office, said that the new models had been developed over the past five years and had generated the new forecasts in recent days.

Under existing models, levels of carbon dioxide rise slowly and steadily during the 21st century with vegetation and soils absorbing around half of the emissions by increased photosynthesis. But Dr Peter Cox of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction said that this simple view no longer held true.

New evidence shows the absorption system starting to fail around 2050. From then on, vegetation and especially soils where microbes break down leaves and other organic matter, respond to rising temperatures by becoming big emitters of stored carbon. Previous models forecast that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would rise to between 600 and 700 parts per million or more than double the pre-industrial levels. But the new models indicate that the rise may be 1,000ppm.

Dr Cox said: "The oceans will continue to absorb carbon dioxide but land and vegetation will start to turn on us under the business as usual scenario. It looks like we may have overestimated the resilience of the uptake of carbon by vegetation and soils".

As the ministers from 173 countries conferred in Bonn, reports were coming in from Vietnam, where the worst floods in years killed 100 people yesterday. The situation was extremely serious, officials said.

In India, the Government said that it had speeded relief efforts to a "war footing" to help millions hit by cyclone in the eastern state of Orissa, but floods still hampered operations.

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