Global Warming Could Spread Extreme Drought

BOURNEMOUTH, England, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - Drought could double by century's end because of global warming, threatening the survival of millions of people around the world, according to new research by British climate scientists. The researchers warn that this estimate may actually be too conservative, as it doe not take into account the potential for carbon feedbacks in the climate system that are likely to accelerate warming across the planet.

The study was funded by the British government and carried out by climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

"This report is jaw-dropping," said Andrew Simms, spokesman for the Climate Clinic, a coalition of UK environmentalists, businesses and the Energy Saving Trust. "The new projections on drought from the Hadley Centre are like being told that this is the day the earth catches fire."

The researchers examined climate records for the second half of the 20th century and found global drought increased 25 percent in the 1990s.

Using a powerful climate model, the researchers analyzed future drought based on temperature and rainfall predictions.

The research shows that extreme drought could affect 30 percent of the world's land surface, up from the current span of 3 percent. Severe drought will affect 40 percent of the earth's land, up from eight percent, and moderate drought, which currently affects about 25 percent of the world's surface, will rise to 50 percent.


According to the United Nations, drought and desertification already threaten the livelihood of some one billion people in more than 110 countries around the world. (Photo by Evan Schneider courtesy UN)

The researchers reran the model absent the impacts of human greenhouse gas emissions and the findings predicted little change in drought across the world.

The research was revealed Tuesday at the Climate Clinic at the Conservative Party Conference. The clinic has set up meetings at each of the main UK party political conferences this year in a bid to raise awareness and spark action on climate change.

The final study on drought will be published later this month in the "Journal of Hydrometeorology."

The research predicts a particularly distressing future for much of the developing world, where drought is already affecting many of the world's poorest communities.

"Lack of access to clean water and sanitation already kills 1.6 million children under five years old every year," Simms said. "Small scale farming in Africa provides most of the continents food and seventy per cent of employment, virtually all is dependent on regular rainfall."

"Immediate, radical economic reform to cut emissions is desperately needed to prepare us to deal with such a scenario," Simms added. "And massive resources must be found to help people in Africa, Asia and Latin America whose lives and livelihoods will be in peril."

The research adds to growing predictions of widespread drought if global warming continues unabated.

A study published in 2005 by U.S. climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that the amount of land suffering from severe drought has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

Some 30 percent of the Earth's surface experienced drought in 2002, according to the NCAR study, compared to 10 to 15 percent in the early 1970s.