EVIDENCE showing the dangers and potentially irreversible effects of climate change has "strengthened significantly" in recent years, Britain's leading scientists have warned on the eve of a key UN climate summit.
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In a statement issued to counter growing scepticism surrounding the Copenhagen talks, three of the UK's leading scientific organisations warned Britain would suffer increased flooding and heatwaves unless the international community took action.
Representatives from more than 190 countries are gathering in the Danish capital for 11 days of discussions and negotiations, amid calls for more ambitious action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avert "catastrophic" climate change. Environmentalists have warned that "there is not enough ambition" on the table, though, and that, as things stand, any agreements struck would let down millions of people.
The summit has also been dogged by the leaking of stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia which, climate sceptics claim, show researchers were manipulating data to support a theory of manmade global warming. The controversy took a further twist yesterday after Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), likened the incident to the Watergate scandal, claiming the theft was the work of professional computer hackers paid to undermine public confidence in the science of man-made climate change.
Pointing to the fact the e-mails were first uploaded to a climate change sceptic website from a computer in Russia, he said: "It's very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services."
In a joint statement, the Met Office, Royal Society and Natural Environment Research Council said they "cannot emphasise enough the body of scientific evidence that underpins the call for action". They said that, in the absence of action to mitigate climate change, there will be "much larger changes" in the coming decades. "All countries will be affected, regardless of their affluence or individual emissions," they said.
"In the UK, we will be affected both directly and indirectly, through the effects of climate change on, for example, global markets – notably in food – health, extent of flooding and sea levels. The accumulation of in the atmosphere will lead to long-term changes in the climate system that will persist for millennia."
They added that, since the IPCC presented "unequivocal" proof of a warming climate two years ago, the evidence had strengthened. Professor Julia Slingo, of the Met Office, said climate change posed an "unprecedented challenge" to the planet's future, but, with prompt action, all was not lost.
United Nations secretary- general Ban Ki-moon said he was "very optimistic" an agreement would by signed by all UN member states, adding: "We have the right political spirit. All heads of state and government have the same goal – to prevent global warming."
Keith Allot, head of climate change at WWF UK, said agreements struck at Copenhagen must go further than had been suggested so far. He warned: "There is not enough ambition on the table. The commitments made so far will not keep the world under 2C of warming, the threshold of unacceptable risks of runaway catastrophic climate change."
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Despite the ever shriller notes sounded by climate deniers, the scientific case for decisive action has never been stronger."
Ed Miliband, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, admitted politicians faced a "huge challenge" to convince people that action on global warming should be a priority, but he said there was "as close to a scientific consensus as possible" that climate change was happening and was man-made.
In the wake of the leaked e-mails row, Mr Miliband
said: "I think it has been damaging because I think that people want to use it to somehow sabotage the talks. My answer to it is maximum transparency – let's get the data out there, and that's what the Met Office are going to do."
A poll published today by Ipsos Mori Scotland reveals nearly two-thirds of people in Scotland believe climate change is an "immediate and urgent problem".
MAIN ISSUES ON TABLE
• Emissions reductions – A major requirement of any climate change deal. Scientists and a number of politicians have drawn a line in the sand for temperature rises which they say cannot go above 2C, or the world will feel the effects of "dangerous" global warming. Globally, emissions must peak in the next decade and decline by at least 50 per cent by 2050 to have a chance of keeping temperature rises under 2C.
• Finance – For developing countries to tackle climate change, they will need help from rich nations, which are historically responsible for most emissions, to enable them to develop without increasing their pollution, through "mitigation" measures including renewable power, clean public transport systems and more energy-efficient domestic appliances.
• Technology – Action to ensure developing countries get access to technology that allows them to develop on a low-carbon path will also be needed.
• Deforestation – This accounts for almost a fifth of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transport sector, so funding to reduce the number of trees being cut down is crucial to cutting carbon dioxide output. While it was originally hoped that a signed, sealed and delivered legally binding international treaty could be agreed, leaders are now working towards a "political agreement" with the legal treaty to come later.