PARIS • Several warnings have been sounded about the dire consequences of climate change just three weeks ahead of a key United Nations conference on the issue.
France's top diplomat, who will preside over the Paris summit tasked with inking a climate rescue pact, warned on Sunday of a looming planetary "catastrophe" should negotiations fail.
"It is life on our planet itself which is at stake," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, as ministers and climate envoys from 70 countries met for pre-summit talks to iron out tough political questions ahead of the Nov 30- Dec 11 conference.
Mr Fabius' remarks came as the World Bank highlighted the devastating effects of global warming on the poor, and a study by the US-based research group Climate Central concluded that a 2 deg C rise in temperatures could still pose a "long-term, existential danger to many great coastal cities", with China the country that will be hit hardest.
"There is absolute urgency," said Mr Fabius, to achieve the UN goal of limiting global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, adding that the global body's climate science panel has warned of an average temperature rise of "4, 5, 6 degrees, if we do not act extremely quickly".
"This would have catastrophic consequences because there would be drought... and colossal migration problems, including problems of war and peace."
Separate reports released on Sunday echo those concerns.
A study by the World Bank warned that global warming could elevate levels of disease, ravage crops and push 100 million more people into poverty.
"The poor are more vulnerable to climate-related shocks than wealthier people because they are more exposed, lose more in relative terms, and lack the financial systems and social safety nets that would allow them to better prepare and cope," it said.
The bank's estimate of 100 million more poor people by 2030 is on top of the 900 million expected to be living in extreme poverty if development progresses slowly. The bank puts the number of poor people at 702 million this year.
Meanwhile, the Climate Central study warned that a 2 deg C rise in temperatures could still pose a "long-term, existential danger to many great coastal cities".
It added that a worse-case scenario of a 4 deg C rise in temperatures could particularly affect China. Some 145 million people live in Chinese cities and coastal areas that would eventually become part of the ocean if temperatures climb that much. Four of the 10 most affected megacities - Shanghai, Tianjin, Hong Kong and Taizhou - would be underwater.
India, Vietnam and Bangladesh do not fare much better, the study also said.
Asia is home to 75 per cent of the populations that today live in zones that would no longer be classified as land in a climate-altered future.
Thirty-four million people in Japan, 25 million the United States, 20 million in the Philippines, 19 million in Egypt and 16 million in Brazil are also in future seascapes involving a 4 deg C rise in temperatures.
While the 2 deg C rise scenario is also grim, limiting warming to that extent would spare China and other nations much misery, said the study's lead author Ben Strauss, vice-president for sea level and climate impacts at Climate Central.
The sea level increase corresponding to 2 deg C would eventually be 4.7m; and for 4 deg C, almost double that, the study found.
The projections are based on climate models taking into account the expansion of ocean water as it warms, the melting of glaciers, and the decay of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.
Normally a study of this nature would be published by a peer-reviewed journal, but Dr Strauss released the new results ahead of the climate summit.
"These findings seemed too relevant to COP21" - the 21st Conference of the Parties, the official name for the Paris meeting - "to risk that they be published afterwards," he said.
The World Meteorological Organisation said yesterday that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2014 as the relentless fuelling of climate change makes the planet more dangerous for future generations.
Graphs issued by the UN agency showed levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, climbing steadily towards the 400 parts per million level, having hit a new high every year since reliable records began in 1984.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS