In one of the most dire predictions yet on climate change, Britain’s leading climate scientists believe that drought will threaten half the land surface of the Earth by the end of the century, affecting hundreds of millions of people

Extreme drought, in which agriculture is in effect impossible, will affect about a third of the planet by then, according to the study from the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

What’s worse, the forecasts may even be an underestimation, the scientists involved said yesterday. The study did not include potential effects on drought from global-warming-induced changes to the Earth’s carbon cycle.

“This is genuinely terrifying,” said Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid. “It is a death sentence for many millions of people. It will mean migration off the land at levels we have not seen before, and at levels poor countries cannot cope with.”

One of Britain’s leading experts on the effects of climate change on the developing countries, Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation, said: “There’s almost no aspect of life in the developing countries that these predictions don’t undermine – the ability to grow food, the ability to have a safe sanitation system, the availability of water. For hundreds of millions of people for whom getting through the day is already a struggle, this is going to push them over the precipice.”