IPCC Concludes Climate Change is Irreversible, Effective Responses Needed

March 31, 2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its latest report, which states bluntly that “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.”

On a more positive note 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 report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.

The IPCC’s press bulletin noted: “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 report concludes that responding to climate change “involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises.”

The report spells out the populations most vulnerable people to the effects of climate change, as well as the “industries and ecosystems” around the world that will be affected.

The report also concludes that the “risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.”

Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II, said: “We live in an era of man-made climate change. In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

Adaptation to reduce the risks from a changing climate is now starting to occur, “but with a stronger focus on reacting to past events than on preparing for a changing future,” according to Chris Field, Co-Chair of Working Group II.

“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation,” Field added. “This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

How serious the risks produced by changes in the world’s climate patterns, foreseen in the near future, may turn out to be “depend strongly on the amount of future climate change. Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe and pervasive impacts that may be surprising or irreversible,” the report concludes.

Field said: “With high levels of warming that result from continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, risks will be challenging to manage, and even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits.

The study of the changing climate has progressed significantly since the establishment of the IPCC by the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. The IPCC’s mandate is to “provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Working Group II’s report states: “Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods. The striking feature of observed impacts is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.”

In line with those findings Field said: “The report concludes that people, societies, and ecosystems are vulnerable around the world, but with different vulnerability in different places. Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk.

Although the summary of the report doesn’t expressly use the term “tipping point” to described the changes in climate, it acknowledges that in many cases they are irreversible; i.e. it’s too late to try and stop the climate from changing, and the world must now look to ways that it can adapt to and try to mitigate the effects caused by the phenomenon.

Adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks, Barros noted. “Part of the reason adaptation is so important is that the world faces a host of risks from climate change already baked into the climate system, due to past emissions and existing infrastructure,” he explained.

Field added: “Understanding that climate change is a challenge in managing risk opens a wide range of opportunities for integrating adaptation with economic and social development and with initiatives to limit future warming. We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond.”

His observation should give some solace to the insurance industry, which is facing the prospects of having to deal with more floods, stronger storms, droughts, fires and civil unrest. Managing risks is after all what the industry does.

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said: “The Working Group II report is another important step forward in our understanding of how to reduce and manage the risks of climate change. Along with the reports from Working Group I and Working Group III, it provides a conceptual map of not only the essential features of the climate challenge but the options for solutions.”

The Working Group I report was released in September 2013, and the Working Group III report will be released in April 2014. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report cycle concludes with the publication of its Synthesis Report in October 2014.

Pachauri also noted that “none of this would be possible without the dedication of the Co-Chairs of Working Group II and the hundreds of scientists and experts who volunteered their time to produce this report, as well as the more than 1,700 expert reviewers worldwide who contributed their invaluable oversight. The IPCC’s reports are some of the most ambitious scientific undertakings in human history, and I am humbled by and grateful for the contributions of everyone who make them possible.”

The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5) is available at: www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5 and www.ipcc.ch .

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

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