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Global Warming The Biggest Problem

By G. Venkataramani

20 March, 2004
The Hindu

"Global warming is the biggest and most serious problem faced by us in this century. Climate change is happening and its effects are real. If we do not take seriously, it will have serious consequences that will affect the generations to come," said Sir David Anthony King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the U.K. Government.

Delivering the 16th Millennium Lecture organised by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and sponsored by The Hindu Media Resource Centre for Ecotechnology and Sustainable Development in Chennai, Sir David presented a graphic account of the emission of greenhouse gases and the consequent global warming. In his lecture "Global Warming: A threat to our shores", Sir David said the carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere had been rising at alarming levels in the last 60,000 years.

If the carbon-dioxide level doubles, the ambient temperature will go up by 5 degrees Celsius. It would lead to melting of polar ice caps, rise in sea level, and as a consequence there would be dramatic changes in the map of the world. "Global temperature has risen since 1861 till now, a period for which accurate measurements are available. Global warming has been experienced all over the world. More than 160,000 people die worldwide every year due to the side effects of climate change. The frequencies of rapid precipitation, floods and protracted droughts will increase as global warming increases," Sir David said .

Hotter and drier summers, reduced soil moisture, reduced snowfall, increased flooding, coastal erosion and disrupted energy demand patterns will be the result of global warming and it will have serious bearing on agriculture and tourism industry as well. Scientists have predicted that if the emissions are unmitigated the carbon-dioxide level in the atmosphere can reach 1000 ppm (parts per million) by 2080. However, by taking prompt and concerted actions to mitigate carbon-dioxide emissions, it could be kept at 550-ppm level, according to him.

Referring to the global energy demand, Sir David stressed the need for alternative sources of energy, which are cleaner and safer for the environment.

Fusion power plants and hydrogen fuelled transport systems would prove to be safer options for the future generation. Solar energy and tidal energy are the other potential energy sources in the years to come.

He said the British Government was committed to reducing the emission. It had resolved to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050.

The country has programmes to meet 10 per cent of its energy demand from alternative sources of energy by 2010, and it would derive 20 per cent of its energy needs by 2020. He called for increased investments to reduce emissions.

"We need to take actions quickly to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and to adapt to significant changes ahead and manage the risks. We need new international agreements with acceptable targets for each countries to adopt," he said.

Many countries were responding to the change. The problem could not be solved in isolation, and nations needed to work together. He also stressed the need for North-South exchange of science and technology to address the problem in a collective spirit.

Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology and Chairman, MSSRF, in his presidential address said that it was always the poor in the poor countries who were seriously affected by the consequences of climate change because of limited coping mechanisms.

The ecological and economic damage arising out of global warming would be disastrous to agriculture, which was the mainstay of the country.

"Good ecology is also good economics in the long term. The anticipatory research on sea level rise and protection of the livelihoods in the vast coastlines of India will prove to be rewarding in the long run," he said.