The EU should prepare to respond with more swift and ambitious climate change policies as global warming is accelerating at a faster pace than previously thought, a new scientific report states, EurActiv reported.

The report, published by the WWF, uses the first new scientific data on climate change since the publication of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change`s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007. It shows that global warming is in fact gathering pace faster than the IPCC forecast.

The report reveals that global sea levels are now expected to rise by more than twice the IPCC`s maximum estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century, putting vast coastal areas in danger, while higher temperatures have already reduced global yields of wheat, maize and barley. Furthermore, the Arctic Ocean is now losing ice up to 30 years ahead of previous projections, according to the WWF.

Regarding Europe in particular, the report shows that the effects of accelerated climate change are leading to massive economic and health losses. Europeans will have to face similar ozone levels, bad air quality and heat stress to the exceptionally warm summer of 2003, which caused 35,000 deaths.

Moreover, the projections show that the British Isles and the North Sea will see an increase in the number and intensity of extreme cyclones, provoking higher wind speeds and storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe. Over two million people in nine countries around the Upper Danube and Meuse catchments will be affected by floods and related economic damage, while the Mediterranean will suffer from prolonged droughts, the WWF warns.

The report comes at a crucial time as the EU is preparing for difficult negotiations on its energy and climate change package, including the adoption of a CO2 emission reduction target of 20% by 2020. The report points out, however, that this will not be sufficient to keep the increase in global average temperatures below 2°C.

The report calls on the EU to adopt an emission reduction target of at least 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, and to commit to helping developing countries tackle climate change and mitigate its effects by providing substantial support and funding.

"If the European Union wants to be seen as leader at UN talks in Copenhagen next year, and to help secure a strong global deal to tackle climate change after 2012, then it must stop shirking its responsibilities and commit to real emissions cuts within Europe," said Dr. Tina Tin, the report`s author.

The current financial crisis has nevertheless caused concern that ambitious CO2 reduction rules could come under serious pressure to be watered down amid fears of recession.

EurActiv