Field, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago that "the actual trajectory of climate change is more serious" than any of the climate predictions in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report in 2007. Recent studies show that the report underestimated the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years, he noted.
The new studies suggested that the continued warming of the planet could ignite large, destructive wildfires in tropical rain forests and melt permafrost in the Arctic tundra, Field said. That would release billions of tons of stored greenhouse gases that could elevate global temperatures even higher.
"We now have data showing that from 2000 to 2007, greenhouse-gas emissions increased far more rapidly than we expected," he said, "primarily because developing countries, like China and India, saw a huge surge in electric-power generation, almost all of it based on coal." The trend was likely to continue, Field added, if more countries turned to coal and other carbon-intensive fuels to meet their energy needs.
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