Climate report warns of drought, rising sea levels, species extinction
Climate report warns of drought, rising sea levels, species extinction
April 6, 2007
Global warming is likely to have wide-ranging impacts on the world’s ecosystems, water availablity, and sea levels warned the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest installment. It said that mitigation and adaption strategies are the best way to reduce and prepare for the coming changes.
The following is selected exerpts from the “Summary for Policymakers” [PDF] of the new report.
Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.
With regard to changes in snow, ice and frozen ground (including permafrost), there is high confidence that
natural systems are affected. Examples are:
- enlargement and increased numbers of glacial lakes;
- increasing ground instability in permafrost regions, and rock avalanches in mountain regions;
- changes in some Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems, including those in sea-ice biomes, and also predators high in the food chain.
Based on growing evidence, there is high confidence that the following types of hydrological systems are being affected around the world:
- increased run-off and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers;
- warming of lakes and rivers in many regions, with effects on thermal structure and water quality
There is very high confidence, based on more evidence from a wider range of species, that recent warming is strongly affecting terrestrial biological systems, including such changes as:
- earlier timing of spring events, such as leaf-unfolding, bird migration and egg-laying;
- poleward and upward shifts in ranges in plant and animal species.
Based on satellite observations since the early 1980s, there is high confidence that there has been a trend in many regions towards earlier greening’5 of vegetation in the spring linked to longer thermal growing seasons due to recent warming.
There is high confidence, based on substantial new evidence, that observed changes in marine and freshwater biological systems are associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation. These include:
- shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance in high-latitude oceans;
- increases in algal and zooplankton abundance in high-latitude and high-altitude lakes;
- range changes and earlier migrations of fish in rivers.
The uptake of anthropogenic carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic with an average decrease in pH of 0.1 units [IPCC Working Group I Fourth Assessment]. However, the effects of observed ocean acidification on the marine biosphere are as yet undocumented.
Other effects of regional climate changes on natural and human environments are emerging, although many are difficult to discern due to adaptation and non-climatic drivers.
Effects of temperature increases have been documented in the following systems (medium confidence):
- effects on agricultural and forestry management at Northern Hemisphere higher latitudes, such as earlier spring planting of crops, and alterations in disturbance regimes of forests due to fires and pests;
- some aspects of human health, such as heat-related mortality in Europe, infectious disease vectors in some areas, and allergenic pollen in Northern Hemisphere high and mid-latitudes
- some human activities in the Arctic (e.g., hunting and travel over snow and ice) and in lowerelevation alpine areas (such as mountain sports).
Recent climate changes and climate variations are beginning to have effects on many other natural and human systems. However, based on the published literature, the impacts have not yet become established trends. Examples include:
- Settlements in mountain regions are at enhanced risk to glacier lake outburst floods caused by melting glaciers. Governmental institutions in some places have begun to respond by building dams and drainage works.
- In the Sahelian region of Africa, warmer and drier conditions have led to a reduced length of growing season with detrimental effects on crops. In southern Africa, longer dry seasons and more uncertain rainfall are prompting adaptation measures.
- Sea-level rise and human development are together contributing to losses of coastal wetlands and mangroves and increasing damage from coastal flooding in many areas.
Current knowledge about future impacts
The following is a selection of the key findings regarding projected impacts, as well as some findings on vulnerability and adaptation, in each system, sector and region for the range of (unmitigated) climate changes projected by the IPCC over this century judged to be relevant for people and the environment. The impacts frequently reflect projected changes in precipitation and other climate variables in addition to temperature, sea level and concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The magnitude and timing of impacts will vary with the amount and timing of climate change and, in some cases, the capacity to adapt. These issues are discussed further in later sections of the Summary.
More specific information is now available across a wide range of systems and sectors concerning the nature of future impacts, including for some fields not covered in previous assessments.
Fresh water resources and their management
By mid-century, annual average river runoff and water availability are projected to increase by 10-40% at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and decrease by 10-30% over some dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics, some of which are presently water stressed areas. In some places and in particular seasons, changes differ from these annual figures.
Drought-affected areas will likely increase in extent. Heavy precipitation events, which are very likely to increase in frequency, will augment flood risk.
Adaptation procedures and risk management practices for the water sector are being developed in some countries and regions that have recognised projected hydrological changes with related uncertainties.
In the course of the century, water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover are projected to decline, reducing water availability in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges, where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.
The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land use change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources).
Over the course of this century net carbon uptake by terrestrial ecosystems is likely to peak before midcentury and then weaken or even reverse11, thus amplifying climate change.
Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5 C.
For increases in global average temperature exceeding 1.5-2.5°C and in concomitant atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species’ ecological interactions, and species’ geographic ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services e.g., water and food supply.
The progressive acidification of oceans due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell forming organisms (e.g., corals) and their dependent species.
Food, fibre and forest products
Crop productivity is projected to increase slightly at mid to high latitudes for local mean temperature increases of up to 1-3°C depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that in some regions.
At lower latitudes, especially seasonally dry and tropical regions, crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases (1-2°C), which would increase risk of hunger.
Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3°C, but above this it is projected to decrease.
Adaptations such as altered cultivars and planting times allow low and mid- to high latitude cereal yields to be maintained at or above baseline yields for modest warming.
Increases in the frequency of droughts and floods are projected to affect local production negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes.
Globally, commercial timber productivity rises modestly with climate change in the short- to medium-term, with large regional variability around the global trend.
Regional changes in the distribution and production of particular fish species are expected due to continued warming, with adverse effects projected for aquaculture and fisheries.
Coastal systems and low-lying areas
Coasts are projected to be exposed to increasing risks, including coastal erosion, due to climate change and sea-level rise and the effect will be exacerbated by increasing human-induced pressures on coastal areas.
Corals are vulnerable to thermal stress and have low adaptive capacity. Increases in sea surface temperature of about 1 to 3°C are projected to result in more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality, unless there is thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals.
Coastal wetlands including salt marshes and mangroves are projected to be negatively affected by sea-level rise especially where they are constrained on their landward side, or starved of sediment.
Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk. The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable.
Adaptation for coastal regions will be more challenging in developing countries than developed countries due to constraints on adaptive capacity.
Industry, Settlement and Society
Costs and benefits of climate change for industry, settlement, and society will vary widely by location and scale. In the aggregate, however, net effects will tend to be more negative the larger the change in climate. **
The most vulnerable industries, settlements and societies are generally those in coastal and river flood plains, those whose economies are closely linked with climate-sensitive resources, and those in areas prone to extreme weather events, especially where rapid urbanisation is occurring.
Poor communities can be especially vulnerable, in particular those concentrated in high-risk areas. They tend to have more limited adaptive capacities, and are more dependent on climate-sensitive resources such as local water and food supplies.
Where extreme weather events become more intense and/or more frequent, the economic and social costs of those events will increase, and these increases will be substantial in the areas most directly affected. Climate change impacts spread from directly impacted areas and sectors to other areas and sectors through extensive and complex linkages.
Projected climate change-related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, particularly those with low adaptive capacity, through:
- increases in malnutrition and consequent disorders, with implications for child growth and development;
- increased deaths, disease and injury due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts;
- the increased burden of diarrhoeal disease;
- the increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone related to climate change; and,
- the altered spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors.
Climate change is expected to have some mixed effects, such as the decrease or increase of the range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa.
Studies in temperate areas have shown that climate change is projected to bring some benefits, such as fewer deaths from cold exposure. Overall it is expected that these benefits will be outweighed by the negative health effects of rising temperatures world-wide, especially in developing countries.
The balance of positive and negative health impacts will vary from one location to another, and will alter over time as temperatures continue to rise. Critically important will be factors that directly shape the health of populations such as education, health care, public health prevention and infrastructure and economic development.
More specific information is now available across the regions of the world concerning the nature of future impacts, including for some places not covered in previous assessments.
By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to an increase of water stress due to climate change. If coupled with increased demand, this will adversely affect livelihoods and exacerbate water-related problems.
Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries and regions is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change. The area suitable for agriculture, the length of growing seasons and yield potential, particularly along the margins of semi-arid and arid areas, are expected to decrease. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition in the continent. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020.
Local food supplies are projected to be negatively affected by decreasing fisheries resources in large lakes due to rising water temperatures, which may be exacerbated by continued over-fishing.
Towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea-level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations. The cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5-10% of GDP. Mangroves and coral reefs are projected to be further degraded, with additional consequences for fisheries and tourism.
New studies confirm that Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity. Some adaptation to current climate variability is taking place, however, this may be insufficient for future changes in climate.
Glacier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding, rock avalanches from destabilised slopes, and affect water resources within the next two to three decades. This will be followed by decreased river flows as the glaciers recede.
Freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia particularly in large river basins is projected to decrease due to climate change which, along with population growth and increasing demand arising from higher standards of living, could adversely affect more than a billion people by the 2050s.
Coastal areas, especially heavily-populated mega-delta regions in South, East and Southeast Asia, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and in some mega-deltas flooding from the rivers.
Climate change is projected to impinge on sustainable development of most developing countries of Asia as it compounds the pressures on natural resources and the environment associated with rapid urbanisation, industrialisation, and economic development.
It is projected that crop yields could increase up to 20% in East and Southeast Asia while it could decrease up to 30% in Central and South Asia by the mid-21st century. Taken together and considering the influence of rapid population growth and urbanization, the risk of hunger is projected to remain very high in several developing countries.
Endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise in East, South and Southeast Asia due to projected changes in hydrological cycle associated with global warming. Increases in coastal water temperature would exacerbate the abundance and/or toxicity of cholera in South Asia.
Australia and New Zealand
As a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are projected to intensify by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions.
Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically-rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics. Other sites at risk include Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, sub-Antarctic islands and the alpine areas of both countries.
Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and Southeast Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050.
Production from agriculture and forestry by 2030 is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits to agriculture and forestry are projected in western and southern areas and close to major rivers due to a longer growing season, less frost and increased rainfall.
The region has substantial adaptive capacity due to well-developed economies and scientific and technical capabilities, but there are considerable constraints to implementation and major challenges from changes in extreme events. Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity.
For the first time, wide ranging impacts of changes in current climate have been documented: retreating glaciers, longer growing seasons, shift of species ranges, and health impacts due to a heat wave of unprecedented magnitude. The observed changes described above are consistent with those projected for future climate change.
Nearly all European regions are anticipated to be negatively affected by some future impacts of climate change and these will pose challenges to many economic sectors. Climate change is expected to magnify regional differences in Europe’s natural resources and assets. Negative impacts will include increased risk of inland flash floods, and more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion (due to storminess and sealevel rise). The great majority of organisms and ecosystems will have difficulties adapting to climate change. Mountainous areas will face glacier retreat, reduced snow cover and winter tourism, and extensive species losses (in some areas up to 60% under high emission scenarios by 2080).
In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions (high temperatures and drought) in a region already vulnerable to climate variability, and to reduce water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism, and in general, crop productivity. It is also projected to increase health risks due to heat waves and the frequency of wildfires.
In Central and Eastern Europe, summer precipitation is projected to decrease, causing higher water stress. Health risks due to heat waves are projected to increase. Forest productivity is expected to decline and the frequency of peatland fires to increase.
In Northern Europe, climate change is initially projected to bring mixed effects, including some benefits such as reduced demand for heating, increased crop yields and increased forest growth. However, as climate change continues, its negative impacts (including more frequent winter floods, endangered ecosystems and increasing ground instability) are likely to outweigh its benefits.
Adaptation to climate change is likely to benefit from experience gained in reaction to extreme climate events, by specifically implementing proactive climate change risk management adaptation plans.
By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia. Semi-arid vegetation will tend to be replaced by arid-land vegetation. There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many areas of tropical Latin America.
In drier areas, climate change is expected to lead to salinisation and desertification of agricultural land. Productivity of some important crops are projected to decrease and livestock productivity to decline, with adverse consequences for food security. In temperate zones soybean yields are projected to increase.
Sea-level rise is projected to cause increased risk of flooding in low-lying areas.
Increases in sea surface temperature due to climate change are projected to have adverse effects on Mesoamerican coral reefs, and cause shifts in the location of south-east Pacific fish stocks.
Changes in precipitation patterns and the disappearance of glaciers are projected to significantly affect water availability for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation.
Some countries have made efforts to adapt, particularly through conservation of key ecosystems, early warning systems, risk management in agriculture, strategies for flood drought and coastal management, and disease surveillance systems. However, the effectiveness of these efforts is outweighed by: lack of basic information, observation and monitoring systems; lack of capacity building and appropriate political, institutional and technological frameworks; low income; and settlements in vulnerable areas, among others.
Moderate climate change in the early decades of the century is projected to increase aggregate yields of rainfed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or depend on highly utilised water resources.
Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.
Disturbances from pests, diseases, and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned.
Cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts. The growing number of the elderly population is most at risk.
Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low.
In the Polar Regions, the main projected biophysical effects are reductions in thickness and extent of glaciers and ice sheets, and changes in natural ecosystems with detrimental effects on many organisms including migratory birds, mammals and higher predators. In the Arctic, additional impacts include reductions in the extent of sea ice and permafrost, increased coastal erosion, and an increase in the depth of permafrost seasonal thawing.
For Arctic human communities, impacts, particularly resulting from changing snow and ice conditions, are projected to be mixed. Detrimental impacts would include those on infrastructure and traditional indigenous ways of life.
Beneficial impacts would include reduced heating costs and more navigable northern sea routes.
In both polar regions, specific ecosystems and habitats are projected to be vulnerable, as climatic barriers to species’ invasions are lowered.
Already Arctic human communities are adapting to climate change, but both external and internal stressors challenge their adaptive capacities. Despite the resilience shown historically by Arctic indigenous communities, some traditional ways of life are being threatened and substantial investments are needed to adapt or re-locate physical structures and communities.
Small islands, whether located in the Tropics or higher latitudes, have characteristics which make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea level rise and extreme events.
Deterioration in coastal conditions, for example through erosion of beaches and coral bleaching, is expected to affect local resources, e.g., fisheries, and reduce the value of these destinations for tourism.
Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities.
Climate change is projected by the mid-century to reduce water resources in many small islands, e.g., in the Caribbean and Pacific, to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low rainfall periods.
With higher temperatures, increased invasion by non-native species is expected to occur, particularly on middle and high-latitude islands.
Some large-scale climate events have the potential to cause very large impacts, especially after the 21st century.
Very large sea-level rises that would result from widespread deglaciation of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets imply major changes in coastlines and ecosystems, and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas. Relocating populations, economic activity, and infrastructure would be costly and challenging. There is medium confidence that at least partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1- 4°C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea level rise of 4-6 m or more. The complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet would lead to a contribution to sea-level rise of up to 7 m and about 5 m, respectively. [Working Group I Fourth Assessment 6.4, 10.7; Working Group II Fourth Assessment
Based on climate model results, it is very unlikely that the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) in the North Atlantic will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century. Slowing of the MOC this century is very likely, but temperatures over the Atlantic and Europe are projected to increase nevertheless, due to global warming. Impacts of large-scale and persistent changes in the MOC are likely to include changes to marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, ocean carbon dioxide uptake, oceanic oxygen concentrations and terrestrial vegetation.
Current knowledge about responding to climate change
Some adaptation is occurring now, to observed and projected future climate change, but on a limited basis.
There is growing evidence since the IPCC Third Assessment of human activity to adapt to observed and anticipated climate change. For example, climate change is considered in the design of infrastructure projects such as coastal defence in the Maldives and The Netherlands, and the Confederation Bridge in Canada.
Other examples include prevention of glacial lake outburst flooding in Nepal, and policies and strategies such as water management in Australia and government responses to heat waves in, for example, some European countries.
Adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from the warming which is already unavoidable due to past emissions.
Past emissions are estimated to involve some unavoidable warming (about a further 0.6°C by the end of the century) even if atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations remain at 2000 levels (see Working Group I Fourth Assessment). There are some impacts for which adaptation is the only available and appropriate response. An indication of these impacts can be seen in Table SPM-1.
A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to future climate change. There are barriers, limits and costs, but these are not fully understood.
Impacts are expected to increase with increases in global average temperature, as indicated in Table SPM-1. Although many early impacts of climate change can be effectively addressed through adaptation, the options for successful adaptation diminish and the associated costs increase with increasing climate change. At present we do not have a clear picture of the limits to adaptation, or the cost, partly because effective adaptation measures are highly dependent on specific, geographical and climate risk factors as well as institutional, political and financial constraints.
The array of potential adaptive responses available to human societies is very large, ranging from purely technological (e.g., sea defences), through behavioural (e.g., altered food and recreational choices) to managerial (e.g., altered farm practices), to policy (e.g., planning regulations). While most technologies and strategies are known and developed in some countries, the assessed literature does not indicate how effective various options14 are to fully reduce risks, particularly at higher levels of warming and related impacts, and for vulnerable groups. In addition, there are formidable environmental, economic, informational, social, attitudinal and behavioural barriers to implementation of adaptation. For developing countries, availability of resources and building adaptive capacity are particularly important.
However, adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long run as most impacts increase in magnitude [Table SPM-1].
Vulnerability to climate change can be exacerbated by the presence of other stresses.
Non-climate stresses can increase vulnerability to climate change by reducing resilience and can also reduce adaptive capacity because of resource deployment to competing needs. For example, current stresses on some coral reefs include marine pollution and chemical runoff from agriculture as well as increases in water temperature and ocean acidification. Vulnerable regions face multiple stresses that affect their exposure and sensitivity as well as their capacity to adapt. These stresses arise from, for example, current climate hazards, poverty and unequal access to resources, food insecurity, trends in economic globalisation, conflict, and incidence of disease such as HIV/AIDS. [7.4, 8.3, 17.3, 20.3] Adaptation measures are seldom undertaken in response to climate change alone but can be integrated within, for example, water resource management, coastal defence, and disaster planning
Future vulnerability depends not only on climate change but also on development pathway.
An important advance since the IPCC Third Assessment has been the completion of impacts studies for a range of different development pathways taking into account not only projected climate change but also projected social and economic changes. Most have been based on characterisations of population and income level drawn from the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES).
These studies show that the projected impacts of climate change can vary greatly due to the development pathway assumed. For example, there may be large differences in regional population, income and technological development under alternative scenarios, which are often a strong determinant of the level of vulnerability to climate change.
To illustrate, in a number of recent studies of global impacts of climate change on food supply, risk of coastal flooding and water scarcity, the projected number of people affected is considerably greater under the A2-type scenario of development (characterised by relatively low per capita income and large population growth) than under other SRES futures. [T20.6] This difference is largely explained, not by differences in changes of climate, but by differences in vulnerability. [T6.6] This difference is largely explained, not by differences in changes of climate, but by differences in vulnerability.
Sustainable development can reduce vulnerability to climate change, and climate change could impede nations’ abilities to achieve sustainable development pathways.
Sustainable development can reduce vulnerability to climate change by enhancing adaptive capacity and increasing resilience. At present, however, few plans for promoting sustainability have explicitly included either adapting to climate change impacts, or promoting adaptive capacity.
On the other hand, it is very likely that climate change can slow the pace of progress toward sustainable development either directly through increased exposure to adverse impact or indirectly through erosion of the capacity to adapt. This point is clearly demonstrated in the sections of the sectoral and regional chapters of this report that discuss implications for sustainable development.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are one measure of progress towards sustainable development. Over the next half-century, climate change could impede achievement of the MDGs.
Many impacts can be avoided, reduced or delayed by mitigation.
A small number of impact assessments have now been completed for scenarios in which future atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are stabilised. Although these studies do not take full account of uncertainties in projected climate under stabilisation, they nevertheless provide indications of damages avoided or vulnerabilities and risks reduced for different amounts of emissions reduction.
A portfolio of adaptation and mitigation measures can diminish the risks associated with climate change.
Even the most stringent mitigation efforts cannot avoid further impacts of climate change in the next few decades, which makes adaptation essential, particularly in addressing near-term impacts. Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.
This suggests the value of a portfolio or mix of strategies that includes mitigation, adaptation, technological development (to enhance both adaptation and mitigation) and research (on climate science, impacts, adaptation and mitigation). Such portfolios could combine policies with incentive-based approaches, and actions at all levels from the individual citizen through to national governments and international organizations.
One way of increasing adaptive capacity is by introducing consideration of climate change impacts in development planning [18.7], for example, by:
- including adaptation measures in land-use planning and infrastructure design;
- including measures to reduce vulnerability in existing disaster risk reduction strategies.
Impacts of climate change will vary regionally but, aggregated and discounted to the present, they are very likely to impose net annual costs which will increase over time as global temperatures increase.
This Assessment makes it clear that the impacts of future climate change will be mixed across regions. For increases in global mean temperature of less than 1 to 3 C above 1990 levels, some impacts are projected to produce benefits in some places and some sectors, and produce costs in other places and other sectors . It is, however, projected that some low latitude and polar regions will experience net costs even for small increases in temperature. It is very likely that all regions will experience either declines in net benefits or increases in net costs for increases in temperature greater than about 2 to 3°C [9.ES, 9.5, 10.6, T109, 15.3, 15.ES]. These observations re-confirm evidence reported in the Third Assessment that, while developing countries are expected to experience larger percentage losses, global mean losses could be 1-5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 4 C of warming.
Many estimates of aggregate net economic costs of damages from climate change across the globe (i.e., the social cost of carbon (SCC), expressed in terms of future net benefits and costs that are discounted to the present) are now available. Peer-reviewed estimates of the social cost of carbon for 2005 have an average value of US$43 per tonne of carbon (tC) (i.e., US$12 per tonne of carbon dioxide) but the range around this mean is large. For example, in a survey of 100 estimates, the values ran from US$-10 per tonne of carbon (US$-3 per tonne of carbon dioxide) up to US$350/tC (US$130 per tonne of carbon dioxide)
The large ranges of SCC are due in the large part to differences in assumptions regarding climate sensitivity, response lags, the treatment of risk and equity, economic and non-economic impacts, the inclusion of potentially catastrophic losses and discount rates. It is very likely that globally aggregated figures underestimate the damage costs because they cannot include many non-quantifiable impacts. Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.
It is virtually certain that aggregate estimates of costs mask significant differences in impacts across sectors, regions, countries, and populations. In some locations and amongst some groups of people with high exposure, high sensitivity, and/or low adaptive capacity, net costs will be significantly larger than the global aggregate.
Systematic observing and research needs
Although science to provide policymakers with information about climate change impacts and adaptation potential has improved since the Third Assessment, it still leaves many important questions to be answered. The chapters of the Working Group II report include a number of judgements about priorities for further observation and research, and this advice should be considered seriously (a list of these recommendations is given in the Technical Summary Section TS-6).
The full “Summary for Policymakers” is available in PDF format:
Summary for Policymakers