In the second in a series of new reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the impacts of climate change are already being felt in every continent and every ocean, and the effects will only worsen as greenhouse gas emissions enter the atmosphere at an accelerated rate. Also, while some countries have started adaptation planning in earnest, the world, according to a global coalition of scientists, is largely “ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate.” The 300 scientists from 70 countries who wrote the report were assisted by 430-plus contributing authors and another 1,700 expert reviewers.
The report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, outlines the impacts of climate change thus far, the future risks, and opportunities to reduce those risks. The report focuses in on the “vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world.”
According to The New York Times, the report itemizes immense environmental change: “ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.” And it emphasizes that these changes are happening now. For example, in the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening drinking water supplies. And coastal erosion due is increasingly widespread.
Environmental changes will have a certain impact on people. Communities everywhere are vulnerable but often for different reasons. “Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk.”
According to the report’s scientists, climate change is now affecting “agriculture and people’s livelihoods.” For example, a coastal community may not only face sea level rise but their fishing-based economy will see dramatically decreased yields with ocean acidification. Inland tropical communities not only face increased heat and reduced water supplies, but food production will become more challenging.
Across the board, the report states that in the coming decades, “climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”
But it may not be all doom and gloom, at least for those communities with enough money to adapt. Chris Field, Carnegie Institute for Science and co-chair of the report, said: “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.”
The report found that an increasing number of governments and major corporations are initiating far-reaching adaptation adaptation plans. As an example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will spend $2 billion on its Rebuild by Design program. And coastal cities like New York are taking a hard look at their infrastructure. The New York Times reports that Consolidated Edison, the power utility in NY, will spend $1 billion to storm-proof its systems.
While wealthier countries have opportunities to adapt, poorer ones may not. The World Bank estimates that developing countries need $100 billion in assistance from wealthier ones to better bear the brunt of the effects. Climate change could create massive food insecurity, increasing hunger in places already vulnerable to food shortages.
Further explore the key findings through these useful infographics. The third in the series of reports will be released in April, with the final synthesis report in October 2014.
Also, see new web-based resources recently released by the Obama administration, including a set of apps to help U.S. communities adapt, as well as new tools from the World Bank for developing countries.