YOKOHAMA, Japan, March 31, 2014 (ENS) – The effects of climate change are “already occurring on all continents and across the oceans,” yet the world is “ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate,” concludes the latest assessment, issued today, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe and pervasive impacts that may be surprising or irreversible,” warns the report from the UN panel

The assessment, 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.

Earth

Planet Earth Timelapse from Outer Space by NASA Astronaut Don Pettit

A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report, compiled for the first time in seven years. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” the assessment states.

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, the assessment finds.

The report says average global temperatures have risen by more than 0.6 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

It forecasts that if global temperatures increase by two degrees Celsius, extreme weather patterns could cause the world’s annual GDP to drop by as much as two percent.

It says that sea levels could rise sharply if temperatures increase by three degrees Celsius or more and stay at that level, because this would accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

The report warns that climate change could threaten food security, increase poverty and become an indirect cause of conflicts and identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world.

Risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability, lack of preparedness, and exposure overlapping with triggering climate events or trends.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Dr. Vicente Barros of Argentina, co-chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face.”

There are opportunities to respond to such risks, the report finds, though “the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.”

“Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future,” Barros said.

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, says Dr. Chris Field of the United States, the other 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 said. “This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

Future risks from a changing climate depend on the amount of future climate change, the report advises.

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Cow killed by drought in Paraguay, 2009 (Photo by European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department)

“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,” said Field.

Climate change has already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods, the assessment finds.

“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,” Field said.

Adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks, Barros said. “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 said.

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.”

IPCC Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India 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.

“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,” Pachauri said.

Barros, Field

IPCC Working Group II Co-chairs at the Yokohama meeting, from left: Dr Vicente Barros, Dr. Chris Field (Photo courtesy IPCC)

“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,” he said.

Reaction to the report came quickly – from the United Nations, from legislators, politicians and environmental advocates.

The UN’s climate chief Christiana Figueres today said the assessment points more clearly than ever to the extreme risks posed by climate change, as well as the many opportunities to put the world on a safer and more resilient path.

“This report requires and requests that everyone accelerate and scale up efforts towards a low carbon world and manage the risks of climate change in order to spare the planet and its people from the sobering forecasts outlined today by the IPCC. Fortunately, there is a real, tangible and credible momentum for change happening across the globe and in countries, communities and corporate board rooms,” said Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “The latest IPCC report adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. In California, we can just look out the window to see climate change’s impacts – from the driest year on record in 2013 to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.

“This new IPCC report identifies the serious threats to human health, vital infrastructure, and the world’s economy that will multiply as temperatures warm,” said Boxer. It confirms that we must cut carbon pollution now to avoid lasting changes to our planet.”

“The report is clear – climate change is a threat to New Zealand and our way of life. By failing to take it seriously, the National Government is failing to protect New Zealand,” said Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman. “National’s policies are driving up climate-changing emissions, it has failed to help our regions adapt and prepare, and it is refusing to show any leadership globally on the issue.”

Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South APMDD, a campaign group in the Philippines and a member of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, said, “The report finds that even at just one degree of warming there are negative impacts for major crops like wheat, rice and corn.”

“You no longer need to be a climate scientist to see the evidence that carbon pollution in the system is polluting our skies and killing people, its poisoning our oceans and killing our fish, its destroying our land and killing our food,” said Nacpil.

“Scientists have rung the last alarm bell with this report – rich industrialized countries can no longer protect the interests of corporations who pollute whilst refusing to face up to the costs of that pollution to people’s lives and to the planet,” said Asad Rehman, head of International Climate at Friends of the Earth EWNI, a UK-based member of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.

Greenpeace urged world leaders to accelerate the transition to clean and safe energy. “We’re walking a tightrope, but if we act boldly and cut climate pollution faster major threats to human security can still be avoided and vital ocean systems, forests and species protected. Our actions will define how history will judge us and we question world leaders: will you stand with us?” said Kaisa Kosonen at Greenpeace International.

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