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Climate change speeds up, says U.N.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Global warming is happening at nearly twice the rate predicted just six years ago, a U.N. report says.

It warns that the planet is warming up faster than at any time in the last 1,000 years and says the Earth is threatened with catastrophe.

The report blames human activity for the rising global temperatures that will bring increases in flooding and droughts that could blight the 21st Century.

The most up-to-date research and forecasts contained within the report predict that global mean temperatures could increase by as much as 5.8C by the year 2100.

The key 2,600-page report is published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the eve of a 150-nation summit being held in Germany.

In it, hundreds of the world's leading scientists back the view that global warming is a reality and that man-made gasses are largely responsible.

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It is expected to put further pressure on President George W. Bush to commit the U.S. to the Kyoto treaty on the reduction of "greenhouse" gasses.

The IPCC was set up jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation to provide scientific consensus on climate change.

The scientists' report said: "The increase in global temperatures projected by the scientific data on climate trends could bring about significant changes to the world we know today."

It warns of "increased flooding, landslide and storm damage, increased deaths from heat stroke, failures of traditional agricultural systems through droughts and a consequent failure of traditional financial services to insure against such losses.

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It added: "These are all scenarios which could be played out in different parts of the world during the 21st Century."

Poorer countries will be the most vulnerable to the effect of climate change, according to the authors.

The report said: "The ability of human systems to adapt to climatic changes depends on factors such as wealth, technology, education, infrastructure and access to resources.

"The world's poorest societies depend more heavily on their water and agriculture, the very systems most at risk from the effects of climate change."

It added: "Many plants and animals, and many ways of human life, however, will disappear forever over the next century as a direct result of climate change caused by human activity."

In outlining possible scenarios for the future, the authors stressed that the most positive effects were seen where effort was made to stabilise carbon concentrations in the atmosphere at certain given levels.

The report said: "It is possible to say, however, that certain emissions controls can be achieved without net social cost, and that climate control policies can have other ancillary benefits such as reductions in pollution."

Kate Hampton, Friends of the Earth International's climate co-ordinator, said: "This alarming report should be a wake-up call to those nations that are failing to take this issue seriously.

"Urgent action is needed to avoid global catastrophe. Next week, the world's politicians have the chance to act by agreeing on rules to implement the Kyoto climate protocol."

She added: "There is still time to act, but only if countries like the United States, the world's biggest polluter, bite the bullet."

• U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change
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• Kyoto Treaty

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