After lengthy talks, scientists and government representatives meeting in Yokohama have now finalised the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Working Group 2 report on climate impacts and adaptation.
The authors of the report say 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.
The IPCC reports represent the largest assessment of evidence on climate change and impacts. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.
The SMC NZ collected the following expert commentary. Commentary collected by the UK and Australian Science Media Centres is also available below.
Professor Martin Manning, New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:
“This report has developed a better way of describing the effects of climate change in terms of changing risks, which can already be seen starting to occur, and which will increase disproportionately as temperatures increase.
“Risks are also unevenly distributed because they relate to wealth, societal values and governance structures. This has led to a clearer description of linkages that exist between the potential impacts of climate change and the broader aspects of social development.
“Negative impacts are being seen for crops such as wheat and maize and are occurring more widely than was expected at the time of the last IPCC assessment. The sensitivity of food market prices to climate extremes is clearer, and global crop yields may start to decrease from the 2030s onward unless new production systems can be developed.
“Europe has developed adaptation policies that integrate responses across all levels of government and some forms of proactive adaptation are starting in North America. However, most of the analysis of adaptation options, that has taken place so far, has just focused on identifying vulnerability and little has been done to establish responses. Also planning for sea level rise in places like New Zealand is seen as being piecemeal.
“This assessment shows that choices being made in the near term will affect the risks throughout this century. That relates to both local government and the private sector now being seen as critical for progress in adaptation.”
Dr Andrew Tait, NIWA Principal scientist Climate and NZ lead author of the Australasia chapter comments:
“The Working Group 2 report highlights where we are already seeing signs of climate change impacting on our environment and societies. It also projects what the impacts are going to be as our climate continues to be affected by ever-increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“The Australasia chapter in the report provides an updated synthesis of climate change trends and projections for New Zealand. Mean air temperature has risen by 0.9°C over the last 100 years. It is virtually certain that temperatures will continue to rise as a result of anthropogenic climate change. By the end of this century, the mean air temperature for New Zealand could be between 0.7 and 5.1°C higher than present. The large range is mostly due to different projections of greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere. This clearly shows how sensitive New Zealand’s future climate is to current and future global emissions of these gases.
“Temperature extremes are also projected to change over this century. For example, spring and autumn frost-free land area might triple by the 2080s meaning many more locations would benefit from having few if any frosts in these seasons which is critical for sensitive crops and some natural ecosystems. On the other end of the scale, the number of very hot days is projected to increase, particularly for northern regions, which may lead to more heat-related health impacts.
“There is medium confidence that annual rainfall will increase in the west and south of the South Island, and decrease in the northeast; while for the North Island it will increase in the west and decrease in the east and northern regions over this century. These projected trends are dominated by changes in the winter and spring seasons, and are related to likely increases in the strength of the westerlies particularly across the South Island. Many eastern and northern parts of New Zealand are already drought-prone, so any future reductions in rainfall in these areas will only exacerbate drought-related issues.
“Heavy rainfalls are likely to increase in intensity by around 8% for every 1°C of warming, but there may be significant regional variations. Such changes to heavy rainfalls are likely to increase flood peaks by 5 – 10% by the middle of the century for many of New Zealand’s rivers, meaning flood protection schemes may need to be re-evaluated in terms of the level of protection they will provide over time.
“Continued warming is also expected to result in rising snow lines, with peak snow accumulation projected to decline by 32-79% at 1000m and by 6-51% at 2000m elevation bands. Fire weather (i.e. weather conducive to high wildfire risk) is projected to increase in many parts of New Zealand, and sea level rise around New Zealand will very likely exceed the historical rate (1971-2010), consistent with global mean trends.
“The Working Group 2 report is a chance to restate and re-emphasise the climate change vulnerability and adaptation issues that we already face, and to remind ourselves that global and local impacts of climate change need to be addressed and are not going away. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the current state of science in relation to climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and has been written so that decision-makers at every level of society can have access to a reliable robust scientific assessment.”
Professor Euan Mason, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury comments:
“The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a very sobering picture of our future should we fail to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions substantially. The burden will be borne primarily by those least able, the poor, and unless we rise to the challenge future generations will condemn us for our failure. New Zealand, in particular, is not pulling its weight in response to climate change. Our per capita emissions are among the fastest rising in the world, and our Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is failing because of poor policy and so we have had to withdraw from the second commitment period of the Kyoto agreement in order to avoid penalties. With the right policy settings and with some relatively simple changes to our ETS we could become fully greenhouse gas neutral if we chose to. That we choose instead to do less than our share to solve the problem is shameful.”
Judy Lawrence, Adjunct Research Associate, NZ Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:
“Even though the magnitude of some climate change risks may appear smaller here than overseas, New Zealand is under-prepared for climate changes. Institutionally our devolved planning system leaves each local government to fend for themselves, without much in the way of centralised support. Scientifically, there is only a patchy picture of where the highest risks lie and who are the most vulnerable. Both these issues need to be addressed to assess, efficiently and comprehensively, what is at risk and what range of options there are for addressing the risks. Current strategies that engineer stronger structures and use time-bound adjustments to defend ourselves are unlikely to be sustainable and will limit choices and flexibility in the future by compounding exposure to risk.
“New Zealanders are making decisions now that will, in some cases, make lasting commitments and these commitments will be impacted by climate change. Anticipating the implications of climate change is a conversation that New Zealanders need to have nationally, within local communities and as businesses and families.
“However, it makes no sense for each group to reinvent the wheel. Greater anticipatory support is needed at a range of scales, including from central government through National Policy Statements, national priorities, identification of hotspots and vulnerable communities, integration of climate-resilient decision points into major infrastructure investments and land-use planning, for developing resilient pathways for activities and assets that will be around for centuries.
“A central and local government partnership needs to work closely with communities and the private sectors to develop the capacity required to make robust decisions over a range of possible futures. The plans that emerge need to be flexible enough to enable adjustments to be made over time to reduce the worst impacts affecting New Zealand.”
IPCC WG2 Highlights
“The IPCC Working Group II assessment released today highlights key climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability including for New Zealand.
- Rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of flood damage to infrastructure, settlements and low lying ecosystems.
- Significant adaptation deficit to current flood risk and coastal erosion and flooding requiring adaptation that includes land use control, relocation as well as protection and accommodation.
- Adaptation planning is being done but so far mostly at the conceptual level rather than an implementation level. In particular, planning for sea level rise remains piecemeal and subject to legal challenges.
- Constraints on implementation of adaptation are coming from uncertainty in the impacts, limited resources to develop effective policies, lack of guidance on principles and priorities, limited integration or coordination of governance, different perceptions of risks, competing values, absence of adaptation leaders and advocates and limited tools to monitor adaptation effectiveness.
- Responding to climate-related risks involves decision-making in a changing world, with continuing uncertainty about the severity and timing of climate-change impacts and with limits to the effectiveness of adaptation.
- Adaptation and mitigation choices in the near-term will affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century.
- There has only been limited and incomplete consideration of socio-economic vulnerability in New Zealand.”
Peter Barrett, Emeritus Professor of Geology, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington comments:
“This new report from the world authority on climate change focuses on risk.
“It is part of the 5th review of the science, released on 27 September, 2013, that concluded ‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950’s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia’, and ‘The human influence is clear.’
“Section A, on observed impacts, vulnerability and exposure begins ‘In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans’. I am keenly aware of this as a scientist who has worked in Antarctica for the last four decades. The ice sheet on this most remote of continents began to melt in the 1990’s, and the rate is accelerating.
“The basic science behind climate change was established over a century ago and five comprehensive reports from the IPCC have been released over the last two decades with increasing evidence and confidence in the primary driver behind it – greenhouse gas emissions. Yet we allow these to continue to rise. Why?
“In this communication-rich world it cannot be for the lack of knowledge. However there are plainly challenges in expressing the extent and complexity of climate change consequences in ways that can be widely understood by both policy makers and the public.
“Al Gore was the first to make an impression through the more accessible medium of film with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (2006), an articulate politician presenting the facts and arguing for action on climate change. It raised both genuine interest and misinformation campaigns.
“Recently, the scientists themselves have engaged with film makers to speak directly to the public, a notable example being “Earth: the Operators’ Manual” (2012). This is fronted by top glaciologist and IPCC lead author, Richard Alley, and pitched to conservative America, screening in the USA on Earth Day 2012.
“Last year another scientist-driven film screened on Earth Day, globally, ‘Thin Ice – the inside story of climate science’. This David Sington/Simon Lamb film allows climate scientists, including IPCC lead authors, to tell their own story. All scientists have been concerned at recent attacks on the credibility of climate scientists and their work. This film lets the public and policy makers see the human side of climate scientists so they can judge for themselves. When the issue is about risk, then credibility is paramount. As leading economist Lord Stern reminded us last month: ‘Delay is dangerous. Inaction could be justified only if we could have great confidence that the risks posed by climate change are small. But that is not what 200 years of climate science is telling us. The risks are huge.'”
Professor Tim Naish, Director of the Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington & Lead Author of IPCC WG1 AR5, comments:
“The Working Group 2 report, much like the Working Group 1 report released last year, (from the IPCCs 5th assessment) confirms and strengthens the certainty around the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.
“Building on the statement that ‘the human influence on the climate system is clear’, this latest report makes it quite clear that New Zealand is under-prepared and faces a significant ‘adaptation deficit’ in the context of the projected impacts and risks from global average warming of +2 to 4°C by the end of the century. For New Zealand’s coastal communities and infrastructure a ‘likely’ sea-level rise of 0.5m above present combined with projected increased in storminess may exponentially increase the frequency of coastal flooding such that the 1 in 100 year event is occurring on an annual basis by the year 2100.
“Extreme weather events, such as droughts and flooding will become more frequent as the wet regions in the west of New Zealand can expect more rainfall and the already dry regions of Canterbury the far North and the East Cape become drier with significant implications for water resources, increased risk for our climate sensitive primary industries such as agriculture and horticulture and challenges for hydro-electricity generation.
“This report is a wake up call for New Zealand to take its head out of the sand, to take a longer-term view – at least longer than an electoral cycle – and rise to the challenge of adaptation if we are to future-proof this country for coming generations.”
Dr James Renwick, Assoc Prof, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:
“This new WGII report, part of the overall 5th Assessment Report from the IPCC, paints a very clear picture of what the future could hold for humanity if we don’t get on top of greenhouse gas emissions.
“One of the biggest issues is sea level rise and associated hazards. Every 10cm of rise triples the risk of a given inundation event, and we are expecting something like a metre of rise this century. That would make today’s 1-in-100 year event the kind of event that happens at least annually at many New Zealand coastal locations by 2100. New Zealand has a great deal of valuable property and infrastructure close to the coast that will be increasingly at risk as time goes on.
“The other main issue identified is risks to food security and water availability from changing rainfall patterns, heat waves and extreme events. The report states that many problems already exist; food and water shortages, political and military conflict, and points out that climate change makes all of these existing problems worse. For New Zealand, key problems include loss of ecosystem biodiversity, especially marine and alpine ecosystems, and risks around flooding and coastal inundation.
“The report states that there has been a ‘significant adaptation deficit’ in many places, meaning that we have done little so far to prepare. This new report is a wake-up call. We must adapt to changes that are already underway, and it is critical to develop serious mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst of what the future has to hold.”
Comments gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre:
Dr Helen McGregor, Research Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University, comments:
“It is clear from the report that unmitigated increases in global temperature will have significant impacts globally. For Australia the clearest evidence for impacts are on river inflow in the southwest western Australia, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and livelihoods, health and economics. The agricultural sector is also likely to see impacts in the future, including reduced wheat yields. In many instances adaptation alone will not do the job and reduction of carbon emissions, and therefore the degree of warming, is essential. The schematics in the report make the scoping, analysis and implementation of adaptation strategies seem straightforward. But there will be tough decisions to make and consequences for the short and long term. For example, take areas where flooding is likely to increase in frequency and intensity. It’s balancing the cost of rebuilding, and protecting against further flooding, or in the worst case the emotional and economic cost of relocation.”
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the University of Queensland Global Change Institute and an IPCC Coordinating Lead Author, comments:
“Human intervention is most definitely affecting the global climate and posing risks to human and natural systems. This report identifies tourism and maritime shipping as industries likely to feel some of the earliest and most significant climate change impacts. Extreme weather events affect holidays and disrupt global transport schedules. Even a one degree Celsius temperature change above today will bring devastatingly expensive impacts for human communities and economies.
“Oceans have absorbed over 90 per cent of the heat arising from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and have soaked up around 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The rate at which energy has been entering the ocean is phenomenal, equivalent to the addition of two atomic bombs every second.
“The ability of ocean species to adapt genetically to increasing levels of stress brought on by rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification is not occurring fast enough, given the long generation times of many organisms such as corals and fish. Combined with temperature rise, ocean acidification could seriously impact calcifying organisms and coastal aquaculture, causing irreversible damage to oceans and economies. Experimental work in this area is starting to reveal many other aspects of ocean life that are vulnerable to ocean acidification. This experimental work continues against a backdrop of the fastest rate of change in temperature and ocean chemistry in 65 million years. We need to act urgently.”
Associate Professor Will Howard is from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He was lead author of the Ocean Acidification section of the Marine Climate Change in Australia 2012 Report Card. He comments:
“This report provides a review of the most challenging and complex question concerning climate change: how will it affect natural systems and human society? Most importantly it provides insight for policy makers into what we can do to prepare for future climate changes, regardless of their causes.
“Large uncertainties remain in our understanding of climate change impacts. This IPCC assessment also reviews the uncertainties and crucially provides direction for future research. There will be an ongoing need for data within parts of the Earth system likely to experience climate change impacts, especially the terrestrial and marine ecosystems that sustain our food supplies. Detecting and attributing climate change impacts in complex natural systems with a diverse set of natural and human processes affecting them will be a key challenge for science over coming decades.
“In the marine environment much of the understanding of climate change impacts from multiple stressors such as warming, reduction of oxygen, and acidification comes from laboratory experiments and simulations. Climate change impacts are beginning to be detected in the marine environment, and this IPCC report provides one of the first major syntheses of observations and risks.”
Professor Barbara Norman is Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures (CURF) at the University of Canberra. She is also a contributing author to the Australasian chapter of this IPCC report. She comments:
“This report highlights the increasing impact of floods, fire and heat on communities and infrastructure, constraints on water resources and increased fire risk in southern Australia. Increasing risks to coastal infrastructure including road and rail networks and low-lying ecosystems in Australia with continuing sea level rise.
“It is no longer business as usual. There are also limits to adaptation, for example, limits to the Great Barrier Reef adapting to rapid rises in sea surface temperatures or the amount of heat that the human body can tolerate.
“There are major implications for the location of new development, redevelopment and infrastructure. Planning systems throughout Australia need to be revised to include the impacts of climate change. The location of new urban growth corridor and major infrastructure has long -term consequences. However, Queensland, NSW and increasingly Victoria are removing climate change impacts as a consideration.
“There are significant challenges in adapting to environmental change – lack of data, lack of an integrated approach by governments. Investment in adaptation research essential to inform critical long-term housing and infrastructure investment decisions (ports, airports, communications, energy transmission).
“The lack of an adaptation strategy for Australia is making it very difficult for small local councils to implement a consistent and coordinated approach across Australia. We need an adaptation strategy for Australia agreed to by all levels of government in consultation with industry and affected communities.
“The extent of impacts may mean shifting from incremental change to transformational adaptation, for example, no development in high- risk areas. This may have implications for institutional and governance arrangements.
“We are not coping with extreme events already with significant loss to life and assets in recent years. The primary focus needs to be on reducing emissions to minimise future risks to the community and the extent and potential escalating costs of adaptation that will be now required.”
Dr Andrew Glikson is an Earth and Paleo-climate scientist and Visiting Fellow at the ANU School of Anthropology and Archaeology, ANU Climate Change Institute. He was also an IPCC WGI Reviewer. He comments:
“The abrupt rise in the energy and temperature levels of the atmosphere/ocean system since the 1980s, driven by an increase in concentration of greenhouse gases arising from release of >560 giga tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere, is leading to an extreme shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system, such has almost no precedence in the recorded geological history, with the exception of events which resulted in the mass extinction of species.
“As a direct consequence of the above, as well as reduction of the transient protection by albedo-enhancing industrial sulphur dioxide since mid-1980s, mean global temperatures have risen since the 1980s by about than 0.6oC. Currently, had it not been for the aerosols, mean global temperature would have been higher by an additional near to 1oC.
“Allowing for the masking effect of sulphur aerosols, the total rise in temperature since the onset of the industrial age (about ~1750) is reaching levels similar to those of the Pliocene ~2.6 million years ago. The shift is occurring at the fastest rate recorded by paleoclimate studies. Whereas many species can adapt to gradual environmental changes, the current temperature rise rate resulting from ~2-3 ppm CO2/year may not be sustained.
“The current change is manifested by an increase in the rate of melting of the major ice sheets, accelerating sea level rise and a rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, reflecting elevated energy level of the atmosphere-ocean system.
“The consequences of continuing carbon emissions and rise of mean global temperatures would render large parts of the Earth’s land surfaces uninhabitable, due to droughts, storms and flooding of coastal, deltas and low river valleys by sea level rise – estimated as about 25+/-12 meters under Pliocene conditions, constituting an existential threat for civilization and nature.
“Ongoing acidification and warming of the oceans is seriously damaging marine life and the food resources for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
“Excepting injection of transient and sulphur aerosols, with negative effects on precipitation and ocean acidification, the arrest of current climate trend requires a meaningful reduction in current rate of carbon emission (~9 GtC/year) and development of new methodologies for draw-down of atmospheric CO2, by at least 50 ppm, requiring research efforts on a global scale.”
Comments gathered by the UK Science Media Centre:
Dr Sally Brown, University of Southampton and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said:
“With rising temperatures and other climatic and non-climatic threats there is an additional environmental risk, such that extreme event today may happen more frequently. This will be most felt in those ecosystems or regions which are already very vulnerable to change, such as coral reefs or small islands: The adverse impacts of climate change will not be evenly spread and will often exacerbate existing issues. This report iterates what we have learnt since AR4, that unless we act, adverse impacts will still occur. Where we can adapt to climate change and sea-level rise, we can increase resilience and reduce risk. The challenge is the effectively manage this process, taking account the multiple causes environmental change.
“Difficult decisions need to be made regarding adaptation. At times, these may cost more in the short term, but aim to provide long-term benefits and reduce risk. Thus, it is important to strategically plan for long-term benefits, whilst taking short-term needs in mind, and this is a challenging goal. This type of planning is starting to emerge. We still have a chance to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change, either by mitigation or adaptation, and we should take the opportunity to do so. Further research needs to bring together policy makers from global, national and local scales to achieve this version.
“This report indicates that on the coast, adverse impacts are also influenced by socio-economic issues, such as rapidly growing populations. How societies evolve and respond to any type of coastal change is therefore important, and decisions ideally need to be made collectively with multiple stakeholders and at different government levels.”
Prof Jeffrey S. Kargel, Department of Hydrology & Water Resources at the University of Arizona, said:
“The IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability includes an accurate high-level assessment of the worldwide and region-by-region changes-dominantly shrinkage-occurring to the world’s glaciers. The report correctly attributes those changes mainly to climate change. In my research field it is known that climate change is causing mountain processes-such as landslides, glacier lake outburst floods, monsoon-driven floods, and debris flows-to change in intensity, frequency, and location. The shifting mountain hazard picture and the necessary adaptive strategies are not captured in detail in this report but the high-level, broad issues identified apply to mountain hazards. Details vary from regionally, and the report captures that fact.
“A poignant and also accurate and troubling point raised in the report is that well-intended adaptive responses to climate change to reduce short-term dangers can be maladaptive. To take an example drawn from my own work, in villages dotting many high mountain valleys an over reliance on development of warning systems or flood control systems to aid people living vulnerably on river flood plains can lend a false sense of security. If these systems are not paired with other measures to reduce exposure and vulnerability, then the risk situation may grow. Simply having a warning system installed to deal with certain types of floods, for instance, may increase the desirability and sense of security of living in such places on harm’s edge, thus further increasing exposure as vulnerable communities grow and people move into the more hazardous niches. Further protective measures may not only be expensive but may plant the seeds of immense future tragedy when such systems are eventually overwhelmed, as they will be in some cases.
“There are places on the Earth’s surface that are simply not safe to inhabit, and within vulnerable communities there are more dangerous and less dangerous spots. My experience with mountain communities is that people often do not recognize that a small shift of location can make the difference between moderately but acceptably dangerous and exceptionally foolhardy. This is a problem in poor developing countries such as Nepal, and it’s a problem in wealthy developed nations such as the U.S., as the Washington state community of Oso just discovered with a great tragedy.”
Prof Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Review Editor of AR5 Chapter 11: Human Health
“The IPCC report identifies a number of key risks relevant to human health. These include increased risk of death during periods of extreme heat and reduced labour productivity due to increased thermal stress in vulnerable populations. Threats to health and livelihoods arise from increased flooding in coastal areas in small islands and also due to inland flooding in some areas. Of particular concern is the increased risk of under nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions.
“The risks of severe and irreversible impacts are increased as the magnitude of warming increases. For example in the high emission scenario (RCP 8.5), by 2100 the combination of increased temperatures and humidity is projected to compromise normal human activities such as working outdoors for parts of the year in some areas. Many strategies that reduce emissions of climate active pollutants (and thus the rate and magnitude of climate change) can result in large benefits to health, for example from reduced air pollution from shifts to cleaner energy sources. Protecting and improving health should be a major focus of efforts to address the challenges posed by climate change.”
Prof Nicholas Stern, Chair of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:
“This comprehensive report lays out very clearly the evidence that climate change is already having many impacts across the world, ranging from effects on human deaths from extremely hot or cold weather, crop yields, the availability of water from shrinking glaciers, and the distribution of plant and animal species. These are all happening after less than 1 centigrade degree of global warming.
“While people in all countries will need to make themselves more resilient to those impacts that cannot now be avoided over the next few decades, the potential risks from unmitigated climate change towards the end of this century and into the next will be very severe, particularly if global warming exceeds 2 centigrade degrees. The report warns that, during this century, climate change will increase the risk of human populations being displaced to escape shifts in extreme weather, such as floods and droughts, as well as relatively slow-onset impacts, such as desertification and sea level rise.
“This report presents a stark case for sharply reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts, such as the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the resultant rise in sea level, to which we will not be able to make ourselves fully resilient and which lie outside the evolutionary experience of modern Homo sapiens.”
Prof Sam Fankhauser, who was a contributing author to AR5 Chapter 17: Economics of Adaptation and who is Co-Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Co-Deputy Director of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:
“The report documents how countries are already making themselves more resilient to the impacts of climate change, but much more needs to be done. In the UK and the rest of northern Europe, we will need to cope with increasing risks from coastal and inland flooding, heat waves and droughts. The UK and all rich countries must also provide significant support to help poor countries, which are particularly vulnerable, to cope with the impacts of climate change.”
Professor Georgina Mace FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters said:
“The WG2 report builds on the WG1 report issued last year. WG1 showed strong evidence for anthropogenic climate change and how this could unfold over this century. Climate change matters to people and societies primarily through the impacts it has on the environment and the weather, especially the intensity and variability over time of changes to heat and rainfall, and the impacts these have on our life support systems – a secure supply of food and freshwater, good health, security of life and livelihoods. This report examines these risks in order to support policy-making to reduce them.
“Early, proactive adaptation is likely to be more effective than later, reactive responses and more likely to enhance resilience as well as reducing risk. Because we are not well adapted now, dealing with current crises in an incremental manner may distract from making the substantial changes to infrastructure, food, water and energy systems that will be necessary. Also, in an uncertain environment, being able to learn while doing may be safer and cheaper, and reduce the risks of maladaptation. Enhancing resilience – the ability to withstand future shocks and stresses – is a step beyond adaptation and especially important to reduce the widening variation in risks and opportunities for people in different areas of the world. Recent progress in development in parts of Asia and Africa could stall if risks to large numbers of poor and vulnerable people are not averted.”
Professor Paul Bates, member of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters said:
“This new report makes clear that the effects of climate change over the coming decades will be far reaching and will affect almost every aspect of our lives from food production, health, the economy to the environment. At the same time a growing global population that is increasingly urbanized and interconnected is making society more vulnerable and less resilient. There is also good evidence that climate-related hazards hit those living in poverty the hardest.
“A very important point made by the report is that reducing our exposure to current climate threats is a critical first step towards mitigating or adapting to future climate change. Current climate and its variability already pose very significant risks, of which the recent UK floods are a clear example. Coping with current threats is actually the first step in preparing for the future. We have good evidence that spending on disaster prevention is much more cost effective than spending on disaster clean up. This is a classic ‘no regrets’ strategy that can improve livelihoods and well being now and in the future.
“Whilst there are uncertainties associated with future climate change impacts, this report demonstrates an overwhelming scientific consensus about what we do, and do not, know well. Good statistical tools now exist to characterize uncertainty in future climate projections and to take optimal decisions given this imprecise knowledge. We are moving to a situation where we know more about future climate changes than we do about possible future societal changes and their impact on vulnerability, and that this needs to be a focus of work in the coming years.”
Dr Bhaskar Vira, member of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters said:
“One key message from this Report is that the consequences of climate change will be very unequally distributed across the planet, with impacts likely to enhance the vulnerability of the most marginalised groups. The risks are particularly acute for those who are already in poverty, and will further undermine already stressed livelihood options for these populations, increase their exposure to hazards and negatively impact food security.
“The debate over climate change has to be sensitive to these distributional issues, as a focus on aggregate outcomes at a global scale usually hides these differentiated impacts. Our moral compass needs to focus on the injustice that results from the unequal exposure of people around the world to the risks of climate change, caused by the actions and lifestyles of those at the opposite end of the income distribution (both in their own countries, and internationally).
“A major collective effort from decision makers acting at local, national and global scales is needed to address the grossly unfair allocation of resources in relation to adaptive capacity, and the lack of adequate social protection and insurance measures in those parts of the world that have the largest populations at risk.”
Prof Robert Nicholls, University of Southampton and Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 6: Coastal Systems and Low-Lying Areas, said:
“The AR5 report reaffirms the large threats associated with climate change, and better identifies the importance of and need for both adaptation and mitigation responses than earlier IPCC assessments. In the future we need to understand these responses much better at global, regional and local scales.
“The report reaffirms the importance of coastal zones as a hotspot for climate impacts. Climate adaptation for coasts has grown significantly over the last few years, and these efforts need to further developed in the coming decades.”
Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at the University of Reading, said:
“A changing climate is just another problem for our already overburdened bees. Shifting seasonal patterns means bees are emerging earlier in the year, before enough flowering plants are in bloom to feed them. It’s like waking up to find breakfast is not served for another week.
“New climate patterns also means habitats are shifting, but bees can’t necessarily move as easily, especially as populations are already disjointed by modern land use.
“Some of our native bumblebees are already under threat of local extinction. Unless we begin to see the value of maintaining our natural environment, and understand the damage that we are inflicting on it, then we are storing up trouble for the future. Climate change is just one of the problems facing bees, and bees have enough problems as it is.
“If policymakers want one reminder of a potential victim of climate change, they need look no further than their own gardens – and the contents of their kitchen cupboards.”
Dr Rachel Warren, from the UEA-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and school of Environmental Sciences, and co-ordinating lead author of Chapter 19: Emergent Risks and Key Vulnerabilities, said:
“Global temperatures have already risen by 0.8C. If we do not take action to reduce carbon emissions, global temperatures could rise by 3-6C by the end of the century.
“WGII shows that the 0.8C rise we have already experienced has impacted agriculture and ecosystems.
“If temperatures rise by 2C, there will be further impacts to ecosystems, increased levels of extreme weather and problems for crop yields and water supplies.
“If temperatures go above 2C, we will risk melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other large scale changes. By 4C there will be a high impact on global agriculture, water resources and ecosystems, and a high risk to the Greenland ice sheet. Most world regions will be affected.
“The worrying thing is that our ability to adapt to these impacts is limited. What we need to do is act fast to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2. If we do this, we can avoid a large proportion of the impacts.
“Unfortunately we have left it too late to rely on reducing emissions alone and we cannot avoid all of the impacts. Some adaptation will be needed. But acting swiftly to reduce CO2 emissions will make adaptation easier. It will be necessary to reduce our emissions and invest in adaptation to avoid most of these climate change impacts.”
Dr Jeff Price, of the UEA-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and school of Environmental Sciences said:
“The IPCC process is incredibly rigorous and involves hundreds of world-leading scientists and reviewers, multiple times, from around the world. It is the culmination of four years’ work and takes into account thousands of papers to produce a scientific consensus on climate-change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The findings are a review of the peer-reviewed literature and, as a consensus document it may be alarming, but cannot be alarmist. This is especially true of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) which is meticulously (line-by-line) reviewed by the Governments in a Plenary session.
“Our research shows that climate change could greatly reduce the diversity of even common plant and animal species around the world. Loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides. There would also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.
“The good news is that swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases could prevent this biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming and buying time for plants and animals to adapt.”
Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said:
“This is not just another report, this is the scientific consensus reached by hundreds of scientists after careful consideration of all the available evidence.
“The human influence on climate change is clear. The atmosphere and oceans are warming, the snow cover is shrinking, the Arctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, some extreme weather events are on the rise, ecosystems and natural habitats will be upset. Climate change threatens food security and world economies.
“We need rapid and substantial cuts in carbon emissions and a move away from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit global climate change below two degrees and mitigate these impacts.”