Major report on impacts and adapting to climate change

Today’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)* on the impacts of climate change and our ability to adapt to them has been given good coverage in the national media (online examples includes the BBCGuardianNew Scientist and Sky) and highlights the urgency for action.

Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change_LogoThe IPCC press release states: “… the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.”

As part of the first part of their Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC published an updated assessment on the scientific basis for climate change last September, with headlines including:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.
  • “Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic [man-made] carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”

In the summary version for policymakers of September’s report, the IPCC reported that global warming of 0.65 to 1.06 °C has already occurred over the period 1880 to 2012 and that by the end of the 21st century the increase is likely to exceed 1.5°C and could exceed 2°C under some forecasts.

The images below are from an IPCC slide presentation on their latest report, published today, on impacts and adaptation, with the quotes taken from the summary for policymakers of this report.

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 1-2

“Climate-change-related risks from extreme events, such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, and coastal flooding, are already moderate and high with 1°C additional warming.”

“Some … ecosystems and [human] cultures, are already at risk from climate change. … Many species and systems with limited adaptive capacity are subject to very high risks with additional warming of 2°C, particularly Arctic-sea-ice and coral-reef systems.”

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 3-4

“Glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide due to climate change”.

“Many … species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change” 

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 5-6

“People who are … marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change”.

“.. negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.”

“Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.”

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 10-11

“Extensive biodiversity loss with associated loss of ecosystem goods and services results in high risks around 3°C additional warming.”

“With increasing warming, some physical systems or ecosystems may be at risk of abrupt and irreversible changes.”

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 7-9

“Governments at various levels are starting to develop adaptation plans and policies and to integrate climate-change considerations into broader development plans.”

IPCC_WG2AR5 Slides 12

Because some global warming has already occurred and more is now inevitable, the IPCC report argues increasing efforts will be needed to both mitigate (reduce) and adapt to climate change. Actions listed as offering these “co-benefits include:

(i) improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources …;
(ii) reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water;
(iii) sustainable agriculture and forestry; and
(iv) protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.”

There will be more from the IPCC soon in a report being prepared on mitigation (avoidance) measures, which is due to be published in April.

The latest IPCC report presents another strong case for action. Will we and our governments rise to the challenge?

The following statements issued today by the UK government sound promising, although it would have been better to also have heard from the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey said:

“This report represents the most comprehensive look at the impacts of climate change ever written – involving a huge amount of work by over 310 scientific experts drawn from universities and research institutes in 73 different countries around the world.

“The science has clearly spoken. Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society, with far reaching consequences to human health, global food security and economic development.

“The recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.

“The UK is leading from the front and working with our European partners. We’ve adopted some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world. We are investing in low carbon and energy efficiency technologies, with an increased focus on home-grown renewables, to reduce our reliance of foreign imports and create a sustainable supply of affordable energy for consumers and businesses alike. We are also pushing for an ambitious EU energy and climate change package that will lead to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and will take us on the next step to tackling climate change.

“This evidence strengthens the case for early action in the UK and around the world to lessen the significant risks posed by climate change. We cannot afford to wait.”

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, addressed the urgency of the report’s latest findings, stating that:

“It is clear from the IPCC’s report that a two degree increase in the world’s temperature would be dangerous, and four degrees would be catastrophic. But that is the likely trajectory, unless there is unprecedented global cooperation to bring down emissions. No country would be left unaffected. Governments everywhere have to act.”

The Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, Sir David King, agreed that action is required now:

“We must avoid the impacts of dangerous climate change. The results of a failure to take action will be widespread, with serious consequences for human health, global food and resource security and economic prosperity. There are limits to how much we can adapt to these impacts and only by working together to secure an international agreement to successfully lower carbon emissions can we hope to meet the climate challenge.

“The report provides strong evidence of the widespread and consequential impacts of climate change, as well as the need to consider adaptation options for those impacts that we can no longer avoid.”

Dave M

* The IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific body set-up by the United Nations in 1988. It is the internationally accepted authority on climate change, producing reports which have the agreement of leading climate scientists and the consensus of participating governments. The panel involves thousands of scientists and other experts, who contribute voluntarily (without payment from the IPCC) to writing and reviewing reports, which are then reviewed and subject to line-by-line approval by delegates from participating governments. The panel’s first assessment report was published in 1990. The latest is their fifth assessment, which started with a report on the physical scientific basis in October 2013, followed by the latest report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability in March 2014. Next will be a report on mitigation (avoidance) of climate change in April 2014 and a synthesis report in October 2014.

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