The impacts of climate change include a higher risk of flooding and changes to crop yields and water availability. No single country causes climate change, and no one country can stop it. We need to match the urgency of our response with the scale of the science.
Steady inexorable floods affected the south of the British Isles earlier this year. Extraordinary amounts of rain fell over a couple of months. Unrelentingly. Elsewhere, why not take your pick from the devastating effects on your living environment of a polar vortex, a mudslide, repeated droughts, hurricanes and typhoons, heat waves or wildfires…
After almost a week of intensive discussions, scientists and officials meeting in Yokohama, Japan, have released the second of a series of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) due out this year, which outlines the causes, effects and solutions to global warming.
The latest report outlines the significant short-term impacts on natural systems in the next 20 to 30 years. It details five reasons for concern that would likely increase as a result of the warming the world is already committed to.
Natural systems have been bearing the brunt of climatic changes. But a growing impact on human beings is being feared. Our health, dwellings, food supplies and safety are all likely to be threatened by global rising temperatures. Humans may be able to adapt to some of these changes… within limits.
Eco-Systems under Threat
Unique ecosystems are under threat. The oceans will become more acidic, endangering coral reefs and the many species that they harbour. The risk level is set to increase to “very high” with only a 2°C rise in temperatures.
Whether the melting of glaciers or the warming of permafrost, the summary report highlights the fact that on all continents and across the oceans, changes in the climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems in recent decades. As the report states “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts”.
Land animals, plants and other species, will begin to settle towards higher ground or towards the poles as the mercury rises. Fish species, a critical food source for many, will also move because of warmer waters. Potential catches could decline by more than 50% in some areas of the Tropics, and Antarctica.
Human beings are increasingly affected as the century goes on.
Agricultural Crop Yields and Food Security
Food security is highlighted as an area of significant concern. Crop yields for maize, rice and wheat are all hit in the period up to 2050, with a tenth of projections showing losses over 25%.
After 2050, the risk of more severe yield impacts increases, as boom-and-bust cycles affect many poor regions.
The Climate Dice are Loaded Against the Poorest… and just about Everybody Else Too!
Going into the future, the risks are only set to increase. The recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.
The weather strategy is changing faster than we are all able to cope with it.
The implications are about people, the impacts on crops, the availability of water and particularly, the damaging effects of extreme weather events on millions of people’s lives and livelihoods. All the while, the demand for food from a global population estimated to be around nine billion by then, will rise and rise…
The report warns of new risks including the threat to those who work outside, such as farmers and construction workers. People could be affected by flooding and heat-related mortality.
There are concerns raised over migration linked to climate change, as well as arising conflicts and national security. In places such as Africa or Asia, climate change and extreme weather events mean people are going to become more vulnerable to sinking deeper into poverty.
Although the poorer countries are likely to suffer the most in the short term, the rich ones won’t escape.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told journalists at the news conference in Yokohama.
“The rich are going to have to think about climate change. We’re seeing that in the UK, with the floods we had a few months ago, and the storms we had in the United States and the drought in California,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, one of the lead authors of the summary report.
One Solution is Adapting
“The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change as a problem in managing risks,” said Dr Chris Field.
An example of an adaptation strategy would be the construction of sea walls and levees to protect against flooding. Another might be introducing more efficient irrigation for farmers in areas where water is scarce. Maintaining agricultural systems could involve changing crops and planting dates, in order to mitigate the effects of weather and temperature changes.
“Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it – we just need to be smart about it.”
This time, there is far greater emphasis to adapting to the impacts of climate in this new summary. As ever, the problem is… who foots the bill?