New research released by the Environment Agency for England & Wales this week shows the decisions of this generation will leave a legacy of increasing climate change over the next millennium unless there is a major reduction in emissions.

With temperatures increasing by up to 15°C and seas rising by up to 11.4 metres, low-lying areas of the UK would be threatened with flooding and the UK's climate could resemble that of today's tropics by the year 3000. See the link on the left Climate change - beyond 2100 to read the full report.

Climate Change on the Millennial Timescale, by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Environment Agency, is the first study to comprehensively examine impacts beyond the end of this century. The report implies that the UK will need to make major emissions reductions over the next couple of decades as part of a global effort to prevent abrupt climate changes.

Environment Agency Chief Executive, Barbara Young, said the new research showed that the next 25 years were crucial in making tough decisions on reducing the impacts of climate change. "We are running out of road on decision making - unless we dramatically change the use of fossil fuels then we will be committing future generations to the most severe impacts of climate change," she said.

The new study projects climate change over the next millennium, examining the impacts across the centuries. Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions lead in one model to an abrupt climate change where sea temperatures plunge by 3°C as a result of the collapse of warm sea currents. A second abrupt change occurs with the rapid disappearance of the Arctic sea ice. This warms Arctic seas by up to 8°C and land temperatures at UK latitudes by up to 5°C in the space of a couple of decades. The report says that by the year 3000:

* Global and regional warming could more than quadruple after 2100: Temperatures could rise from1.5°C if emissions are minimised to as much as 15°C if we continue burning fossil fuels - more than four times the predictions for the year 2100. The EU says that "global annual mean surface temperature increase should not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels";

* Sea levels will still be rising at the end of this millennium and could reach 11.4m by year 3000: This would mean that without action low-lying areas of the UK, including London, would be threatened by sea level rise. This figure compares with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global average sea level change of 0.16 to 0.69m by the 2080s. The definition of "dangerous" climate change adopted in the study is a global sea level rise of 2m - which will flood large areas of Bangladesh, Florida and many low lying cities, and displace hundreds of millions of people;

* Abrupt climate change events could occur: Business-as-usual emissions could lead to the collapse of currents in the Atlantic, causing North Atlantic sea temperatures to fall by 3°C, affecting agriculture and marine life particularly at the latitude of the UK. If emissions continue, Arctic sea ice could completely disappear all year round, causing North Atlantic seas, previously cooled to heat up to 8°C accompanied by UK land temperature increases of up to 5°C within 20 years;

* These abrupt climate changes can happen long after emissions cease: Abrupt changes may be triggered many decades before they actually occur. Even after emissions have completely ceased there is still a legacy from decades past - a "sleeping giant" in the climate system;

* Ocean pH will fall dramatically: Ocean pH is predicted to fall dramatically posing a threat to marine organisms, such as corals and plankton. Such fundamental changes to plankton would have large implications for the rest of the marine ecosystem;

* Potential climate changes could be much greater, and avoidance of dangerous climate change even harder, than currently projected: Climate changes could be even greater if the climate system turns out to be more sensitive to the level of greenhouse gas emissions than the conservative assumptions made in this study. Only by minimising emissions, which means reducing them to zero in 2200 - can dangerous climate change be avoided.

"We now know from this report that we are walking off a shorter plank than we previously thought - the research shows far more dangerous and dramatic climate change effects appearing much earlier than previously predicted - tough decisions are needed soon," Barbara Young said.

"Many of our coastal towns could be in jeopardy - immediate action needs to be taken if we are to avoid many of these impacts. We need to get tough on energy efficiency. This means much tighter standards for buildings and Government providing proper incentives for businesses and householders to invest in reducing their emissions. We must also tackle rising emissions from the transport sector if we are to meet our 2010 target of 20% CO2 reduction and tackle more strenuous targets for 2020," she said.

Lead author, Dr Tim Lenton, Tyndall Centre and University of East Anglia, said: "We present a sobering picture of potential climate change on the millennial timescale. Whilst most studies stop at year 2100 with temperatures and sea level rising we explored where they are heading into the next millennium.

"Only by starting to reduce CO2 emissions now, and continuing to reduce them can we avoid dangerous climate changes on the millennial time-scale, including the gradual melt of the Greenland ice sheet" he said.

The report takes into account a wide range of possible amounts of future emissions of carbon dioxide - principally greenhouse gas emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, it looks at three scenarios:

* what happens if emissions are "minimised" - which means they are reduced steadily to zero between 2020 and 2200 (implying humans burn a further 1130 giga tonnes of carbon, GtC, by 3000);

* what happens if its "business as usual" with humans burning all of the remaining 4000 GtC of conventional fossil fuel reserves by the year 3000; and

* what happens in the worse case scenario - if humans burn 15000 GtC by 3000 by accessing unconventional fuels such as oil shales and methane hydrates.

The only scenario that avoids dangerous climate change over the long term is the minimum emissions scenario, which allows for about one quarter of known fossil fuels to be used (about 1,000 GtC out of 4-5,000 GtC). This scenario allows for a small increase in global emissions by 2025 with a steady linear phase out by 2200. Because we have high emissions per capita, the implication for the UK would be a need for deep cuts in emissions from now on.

At present emissions are rising again in the UK. "If we follow business-as-usual then we will commit future generations to dangerous climate change, and if we exploit unconventional fossil fuels we could return the Earth to a hot state it hasn't seen since 55 million years ago," Dr Lenton said.

The Environment Agency called for immediate action from Government and industry, including: New measures to meet the 2010 20% CO2 reduction target -- The revised Climate Change Programme due out in March needs to include new measures to put us back on track to meet the 2010 20% CO2 reduction target. Central to this will be a much tighter cap for phase II of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and new measures to curb transport emissions such as stronger fiscal measures to promote the uptake of cleaner vehicles and to encourage behaviour change. We support the government's plan to bring the aviation sector into the next phase of the EU ETS.

The decisions on the level of the cap for this second phase and the other measures contained in this programme will be a key test of Government's commitment to meeting this target; Business Incentives -The Energy Review is an opportunity to put us back on the path to achieving emission reductions over the longer term. The review should put in place a long term, technology neutral mechanism to incentivise businesses to invest in reducing carbon emissions through measures like energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Apart from the Renewables Obligation, there are no long-term mechanisms in place to incentivise investment in low carbon technologies (both Kyoto and the EU ETS only extend out as far as 2012). Energy-using businesses and the energy supply sector need reliable signals that investments in low carbon technologies will have a value over a longer period than is currently the case. Businesses and individuals need to plan how they would deal with the inevitable impacts of climate changes - such as flooding or drought. - Businesses and individuals must make themselves aware of any climate change impacts that could affect them and prepare a plan of action on how they would respond in order to minimise economic and health impacts. Government has an important role in championing action in this area and we support their plan to develop a central framework for how the UK adapts to climate change.

Read the full report -


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