UN: Nobody on this planet will be untouched by climate change

Bush fire in Australia. Photo credit: John Crux via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

The Intergovernmental on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body, Monday released the second part of their Fifth Assessment Report (AR 5) looking at the impact of climate change.


At a press conference in Yokohama, Japan the chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri flanked by Mici el Jarraud from World Meteorological Organisation, Chris Field, Vicente Barros & Christopher Field co-chairs of working group two, author of AR5 Dr. Maggie Opondo and review editor Dr. Habiba Gitay from the World Bank.


Working group II, who worked on AR 5, unveiled the troubling findings the IPCC had concluded.


The most comprehensive report in science, ever
The report is said to be the most comprehensive report on climate change ever produced. A total of 309 lead authors and editors from 70 countries were selected. They pulled together information from 436 contributing authors and a total of 1729 government and expert reviewers.  


Mr. Pachauri stated that nobody on this planet will be untouched by climate change and the only way we will be able to deal with it is through adaptation and mitigation. The world should take this report seriously because it has implications for food and security. There is a risk we could be nearing tipping points.


The report: Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation was presented by Chris Field. He said that climate change is not some future scenario, it is now impacting on all continents in the world. Everywhere you look there is climate impacts that have already occurred and has been documented.


The report contains bad news, Mr. Field admits, but he also said that governments and communities are now starting to understand the threat of climate change and you can see them taking action.


Climate change felt across all regions on the planet

The report’s authors have already outlined that climate change is being felt now across all continents, below is a summary of which regions will feel what impacts:


Africa: The continent is set to be one of the hardest hit regions by climate change. The IPCC report states that by the end of this century Africa is likely to see a temperature increase exceeding 2 degrees C, under a high emission scenario, it is predicted that temperatures would rise between 3 – 6 degrees C. Average land temperatures in Africa are likely to rise faster than anywhere else. Some areas of Africa that are already suffering from extended drought periods and very little precipitation, are likely to see a further decrease in precipitation, predominantly in northern Africa and south west South Africa.


Europe: Europe’s climate impacts vary significantly between north and south Europe. Northern Europe would see an increase in precipitation which is symptomatic of the wet and mild winter weather we have seen in much of northern Europe this winter. Southern Europe will see a decrease in precipitation of similar scale as northern Africa. Europe overall will also see an increase in extreme high temperatures.


Overall, southern Europe appears to be the big loser, due to a drop in both tourism and the production in cereal yields, in stark contrast with northern Europe where it’s set to increase.


Asia: An increasing number of warm days and a decreasing number of cold days have been observed in Asia. Both an increase and a decrease in precipitation have occurred depending where in Asia you are and seasonal shifts. Population growth would put an increased stress on already stressed fresh water resources. Food production will also be heavily affected by climate change and many regions would experience a decline in food production while the population will continue to rise.


Australasia: IPCC found that over the last 50 years greenhouse gas emissions have led to an increase in average temperatures in Australia and a decrease in rainfall in western Australia. An increase of the severity of tropical cyclones are also to be expected. And news that will frighten Australians: bush fires are also set to increase in southern Australia. This is also very symptomatic with current events as In the last few years bush fires have increased in Australia, at the same time the government have adopted an anti climate change approach making Australia a battle ground for fighting climate change.


North America: Climate change is being felt across North America, the report notes, with an increase in severe hot days across much of the US and an decrease in frost days. The snowline has moved higher on US’s mountains resulting a drop in water stored in mountain reservoirs and an earlier peak water runoff from snow melt.


Food security is also heavily impacted and a trend that is set to continue. Temperature increases, reductions in precipitation in some areas and an increase in extreme weather events would reduce the productivity of major American crops significantly by the end of this century.


Central and South America: The impact of climate change will vary depending where you are, but overall increase in extreme weather events have severely affected the continent. More frequent extreme rainfall, flash floods land and mudslides have all been recorded with devastating social and economic impacts. Water shortages due to changes in precipitation is an increased risk and this could also affect many of Central and South America’s hydro power stations.


The Polar Regions: The Polar Regions are some of the world’s most vulnerable areas to climate change. In the Arctic, the three line has moved northward and upward in many areas and an increase in tall shrubs and grassland have been observed. The drastic loss of Arctic sea-ice are impacting wildlife and especially Polar Bears as their hunting ground has become limited. The decline in Arctic sea-ice the report finds is happening at a rate that exceeds most previous projections.


Small Islands: Island states like Tuvalu and the Maldives have been demanding tough actions on climate change from rich developed countries as sea level rises makes communities inhabitable. The report confirms that sea-level rise are one of the most pressing issues for small island states. It’s certain that global sea-level rise is accelerating the report concludes.


It also highlighted that there is a high risk that increased surface temperatures in the ocean will bleach coral-reefs and degradation of the reefs which island states rely on for coastal protection, fisheries and tourism.


The Ocean: The world’s oceans are taking a big hit for humanity’s release of greenhouse gasses as it has absorbed 93% of the energy from the greenhouse effect and 30% of CO2 from the atmosphere.


The uptake of CO2 by the oceans have decreased the pH value creating increased ocean acidification. This adds risk to the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture and the security of regional livelihoods. The future projections are that the ocean will continue to warm and acidify though with regional variability.


The average sea temperature has also increased with the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific having warmed by 0.65, 0.41 and 0.31 C respectively during the period 1950-2009.


Green organisations react

Green organisations across the board have reacted to the IPCC report with the coherent message that action on climate change is needed.
Jen Maman, peace adviser at Greenpeace International said: “Oil rigs and coal power plants are weapons of mass destruction, loading the atmosphere with destructive carbon emissions that don’t respect national borders. To protect our peace and security, we must disarm them and accelerate the transition to clean and safe renewable energy that’s already started.”


Friends of the Earth’s UK Executive Director, Andy Atkins said: “Governments across the world must stand up the oil, gas and coal industries, and take their foot of the fossil fuel accelerator that’s speeding us towards a climate disaster.’’


Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager at 350.org stated: “This report shows that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a clear and present danger that comes in the form of more floods, droughts, and superstorms. The only way to minimize these devastating impacts is to keep much of known coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground. We simply cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to continue their business as usual.”


Karl Harder, founder of Abundance Generation, a UK crowdfunding renewable platform said:
“The IPCC report is calling for urgent action on climate change and the immediate deployment of renewable energy. Not only is this urgent, but it’s very possible. And quickly. For too long we have viewed the transition to a clean economy as one that jeapordises us financially. Now is the time for the world to wake up to the fact that addressing climate change head on with clean power will not only protect the planet, but make a positive impact on our economy and individual finances.”


Enough evidence to spur action on climate change?

The latest installment of the IPCC report lays out that climate change is not a future scenario and is impacting on regions across our planet in different ways. Will this scale up political leadership in tackling climate change, will it kickstart a renewable energy revolution and crucial will it contribute to a global deal on climate change in Paris next year? One thing is for sure, this latest report has given clear evidence that there will be huge financial and social costs if the ambition of dealing with climate change is not turned up quite a notch.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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