MANILA, APRIL 8, 2007 (STAR) Climate change is set to inflict damage on every continent, hitting poor countries hardest and threatening nearly a third of the world’s species with extinction, UN experts warned over the weekend.

Global warming will affect much of life on earth this century, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a landmark report released in Brussels, Belgium. The drafting of the report was marked by an angry row.

Damage to the earth’s weather systems from greenhouse gases will change rainfall patterns, punch up the power of storms and boost the risk of drought, flooding and stress on water supplies, the IPCC said.

This will have consequences that, according to the level of carbon pollution that stokes global warming, will be adverse or, in some scenarios, even catastrophic.

"Poor people are the most vulnerable and will be the worst hit by the impacts of climate change. This becomes a global responsibility,’’ the IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, declared.

Up to 30 percent of animal and plant species will be vulnerable to extinction if global temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees to 2.5 degrees Celsius, the IPCC said.

No continent can expect to be unscathed by even a relatively modest increase in temperatures.

"It is very likely that all regions will experience either declines in benefits or increases in costs for increases in temperature greater than 2 to 3 degrees" (C), or 3.6-5.4 F, over 1990 levels, according to a "summary for policymakers,’’ agreed by the IPCC.

Draft versions of this summary were fiercely disputed during a week of tense negotiations, ending with a marathon 24-hour session. Publication was delayed after the United States, China and Saudi Arabia objected to tough wording that sparked from one delegate a charge of political interference, sources said.

The summary accompanies a massive 1,400-page report, which predicts that billions of people will face water scarcity and hundreds of millions will likely go hungry, mainly in the poorest regions least to blame for spewing the fossil fuel pollution that is driving up temperatures.

At US insistence, summary drafters dumped a paragraph that said North America was "expected to experience severe local economic damage and substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption," delegates said.

Other changes were insisted upon by Saudi Arabia and China.

"But don’t be misled," added a source, who clearly would have preferred that the stern warnings be left into the policy summary. "The data is all there in the main report – this is a very strong message."

Poor tropical countries will be hit worst, according to a draft of the main report. Worsening water shortages in thirsty countries, malnutrition caused by desiccated fields, property damage from extreme weather events and the spread of disease by mosquitoes and other vectors will amount to a punishing bill that is beyond the ability of vulnerable countries, especially in Africa, to pay.

Biodiversity and natural habitat are in for a hammering. Even a modest increase in temperatures will bleach many coral reefs, reduce part of eastern Amazonia to a parched savannah, thaw swathes of the northern hemisphere’s permafrost, change seasons for plant pollination and animal reproduction.

The report is part of the IPCC’s first assessment in six years of the evidence for climate change.

In the first volume of this review, issued in February, the IPCC said the earth’s temperature had already risen by 0.74 C (1.33 F) in the past century.

By 2100, it could rise by between 1.1 C (1.98 F) and 6.4 C (11.52 F) compared to 1980-99 levels, with a likely range of 1.8 C to 4.0 C (3.2-7.2 F).

‘Energy revolution’

Reacting to the UN report, international environment group Greenpeace pressed the Philippine government to immediately launch an "energy revolution" to avert the catastrophic impact of global warming.

Greenpeace campaign director Von Hernandez said the "shocking report" should compel the government "to act quickly, decisively, and with great vigor" to stop the "dramatic, harmful, and dangerous impacts" of climate change.

"The report is shocking. Greenpeace has warned that time is nearly out to prevent the dramatic, harmful, and dangerous impacts projected to happen in the coming decades,’’ Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the Philippines could play a major role in averting a disaster by launching an energy program involving the development of clean and renewable sources of energy.

He said the country should rely less on fossil fuels and coal energy for its energy needs.

"The Philippines is among the most vulnerable countries. Aside from recurring typhoons and drought, sea level rise is a major threat to marine ecosystems and to coastal human populations and their livelihoods," he said.

"Climate change will amplify the socio-economic burdens already shouldered by Filipino families, such as hunger and water scarcity, and will worsen the existing disparity of living standards between the rich and the poor," he added.

Prior the release of the new IPCC report, Greenpeace released a paper titled "The Philippines: A Climate Hotspot,’’ which discussed how extreme changes in weather and sea level could threaten the country’s ecosystem and economy.

The Greenpeace report indicated that close to 700 million square meters of land, including islets, in all the 16 regions of the country will gradually be submerged in water due to the rise in sea level.

The Greenpeace study discloses "never-before seen maps" that illustrate the extent of the impact of climate change in the Philippines. Based on the maps, climate change has "irrevocably altered" the country’s coastline.

Greenpeace estimates that a one-meter rise in sea level may affect 64 of the country’s 81 provinces, and at least 703 of the 1,610 municipalities.

The estimate does not factor in the effects of the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, which may entail a two-to-three-meter increase in sea level.

Greenpeace said certain portions of the 703 municipalities may be submerged in water by 2095 to 2100.

The Greenpeace study also identified the top 20 provinces that would be most affected by the sea-level rise.

These are Sulu, Palawan, Zamboanga del Sur, Northern Samar, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Cebu, Davao del Norte, Bohol, Camarines Sur, Quezon, Tawi-Tawi, Masbate, Negros Occidental, Camarines Norte, Capiz, Catanduanes, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, and Maguindanao. It said the provinces have the highest poverty incidence in the country.

Greenpeace said a one-meter rise in sea level will affect Sulu the most, with close to 80 million square meters of land likely to be inundated.

In Palawan, Greenpeace said 64.2 million square meters of land would likely be affected. – AFP and Katherine Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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