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Global warming destruction could cause havoc: UN report

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral “out of control,” the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: “It is a call for action.”

Nobody is immune, Pachauri and other scientists said.

These risks are both big and small, according to the report. They are now and in the future. They hit farmers and big cities. Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.

“Things are worse than we had predicted” in 2007, when the group of scientists last issued this type of report, said report co-author Saleemul Huq.

The problems have gotten so bad that the panel had to add a new and dangerous level of risks. In 2007, the biggest risk level in one key summary graphic was “high” and colored blazing red. The latest report adds a new level, “very high,” and colors it deep purple.

Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report.

The magnitude of the harm from global warming won't be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women, Director of the Red Cross Climate Center Maarten van Aalst said.

Much of what report's authors warn of are more nuanced troubles that grow by degrees and worsen other societal ills. The report is far more oriented to what it means to people than past versions.

The report notes that one major area of risk is that with increased warming, incredibly dramatic but ultra-rare single major climate events, sometimes called tipping points, become more possible. These are events like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would take more than 1,000 years.

Unlike in past reports, where the scientists tried to limit examples of extremes to disasters that computer simulations can attribute partly to man-made warming, this version broadens what it looks at because it includes the larger issues of risk and vulnerability, van Aalst said.

Freaky storms like 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, he said.

“Rich people benefit from using all these fossil fuels,” University of Sussex economist Richard Tol said. “Poorer people lose out.”

The report echoes an earlier U.N. climate science panel that said if greenhouse gases continue to rise, the world is looking at another 3.5 or 4 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 instead of the international goal of not allowing temperatures to rise more than 1.2 degrees Celsius. The difference between those two outcomes, Princeton's Oppenheimer said, “is the difference between driving on an icy road at 30 mph versus 90 mph. It's risky at 30, but deadly at 90.”

Tol, who is in the minority of experts here, had his name removed from the summary because he found it “too alarmist.”

The report is based on more than 12,000 peer reviewed scientific studies. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, a co-sponsor of the climate panel, said this report was “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline.”

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who wasn't part of this report, said he found the report “very conservative” because it is based on only peer reviewed studies and has to be approved unanimously.

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