Global Warming To Hit World's Poor: Report

global warming, Clouds of smoke billow from a metal alloy factory, thermometer
AP / CBS
Global warming's effects now still may be more pesky than catastrophic. But a new scientific report says that when the Earth gets a few degrees hotter, inconvenience will give way to danger, death and extinction of species.

The world faces increased hunger and water shortages in the poorest countries, massive floods and avalanches in Asia, and species extinction unless nations adapt to climate change and halt its progress, according to a report approved Friday by an international conference on global warming.

The poorest parts of the world, especially Africa and Asia, will be hit hardest, says the summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued Friday after a long, contentious editing session.

Poor countries argue that they will suffer due to global warming caused by greenhouse gasses produced in the rich industrial world. At the same time, they're being told not to produce more greenhouse gasses of their own as they try to industrialize their way out of poverty, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

But, despite an all-night session described as very contentious, the major thrusts of the report could not be watered down. It concludes that those who are already suffering most in this world are going to suffer worst due to global warming.

"Don't be poor in a hot country, don't live in hurricane alley, watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic, and it's a bad idea to be on high mountains with glaciers melting," said Stanford University scientist Stephen Schneider, an author of the study.

The 23-page document, the first part released of the full 1,572-page document written and reviewed by 441 scientists, and the second of four reports, tries to explain how global warming is changing life on Earth.

The Bush administration remains opposed to mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports. It prefers international cooperation to curb pollution. The president has argued that the mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions would hurt the economy.

Even though some of the scientists' direst prose was toned down or lost, the panel's report was gloomy — with a bit of hope at the end.

Africa by 2020 is looking at an additional 75 to 250 million people going thirsty because of climate change, the report said. Deadly diarrhea diseases "primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise" in Asia because of global warming, the report said.

But many changes to the report, made during a meeting of government negotiators from more than 120 countries, play down some of the dangers forecast by the authors — all eminent scientists.

"Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s," the report said. "The numbers affected will be the largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable."

The draft version proposed by scientists had said "hundreds of millions" of people would be vulnerable to flooding, rather than "many millions."

The final report also dropped any mention of the possibility that up to 120 million people are at risk of hunger because of global warming, referring instead to "complex localized negative impacts on small holders, subsidence farmers and fishers."

The first few degrees increase in global temperature will actually increase global food supply, but then it will plummet, according to the report.

An increase of just about 2 degrees Fahrenheit could mean "up to 30 percent of the species at increasing risk of extinction," the report said. If the globe heats a few more degrees, that changes to "significant extinctions around the globe."

"The poorest of the poor in the world — and this includes poor people in prosperous societies — are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the climate change panel. "People who are poor are least able to adapt to climate change."

But even rich countries, such as the United States, say the report tells them what to watch for.

The report came as no surprise to many in the American West, where devastatingly costly wildfires have become the norm, reports CBS News correspondent Jerry Bowen. In just 34 years, the average time between discovery and control of wildfires has gone from seven and a half to 37 days, and the length of the fire season has increased by more than two and a half months.

The head of the U.S. delegation, White House associate science adviser Sharon Hays, said a key message she is taking from Brussels to Washington is "that these projected impacts are expected to get more pronounced at higher temperatures. ... Not all projected impacts are negative."