Public Release: 

Top environment scientist calls for early warning system for global change.

University College London

The development of an early warning system to detect harmful changes to the Earth's environment should be a key priority of the international community, a top environmental scientist will say at a major conference on climate change later this month.

Dr Will Steffen, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, will make his call during a keynote address to the Detecting Environmental Change Conference at University College London (UCL). The conference will gather environmental scientists and policy makers from around the world to discuss global efforts to detect, understand and cope with environmental change.

Human activities are having a profound influence on the Earth, but for many people global change is still viewed as a matter of debate among scientists or as a process that will take effect in the distant future. But there are growing signs that major global changes - such as global warming - are real and here now. Tropical glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate, the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is thinning and the chemistry of the atmosphere is changing. Scientists fear that the future may see the occurrence of more damaging disturbances, such as wildfires, as the Earth's terrestrial ecosystems alter.

'An Earth observation network - a type of early warning system for planetary change - is now urgently needed to identify, describe and monitor environmental change,' Dr Steffen will say.

The four day conference aims to locate scientific advances made in developing high quality monitoring systems and techniques capable of accurately detecting environment change.

Effective monitoring of the environment will be crucial in predicting future environmental change and taking appropriate steps to combat any adverse or detrimental effects on humans, other species and habitats.

Speaking about the challenges posed by the creation of an early warning system, Dr Steffen will say; 'The challenges to develop such a system are many - harmonising approaches, long term funding, international cooperation - but they must be met if societies are to have a chance of understanding and responding to the accelerating changes now affecting the global environment.'


Notes to Editors

i. Dr Will Steffen will deliver his keynote address at the opening of Detecting Environmental Change: Science and Society on Tuesday 17 July 2001 at University College London. Interviews will be possible.

ii. A precursor to the Bonn conference in late July on the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Detecting Environmental Change: Science and Society, on Tuesday 17 July 2001 at University College London. Interviews will be possible.

iii. Detecting Environmental Change: Science and Society is organised by theUK Environmental Change Network (ECN) and the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) at University College London, the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the International Long Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER). The conference is supported by the Environment Agency (EA), the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). A full conference programme is available at

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