Monday, April 09, 2007

IPCC Releases Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Report

Note: WIMS is on Spring publication break for the next 2-weeks.
We will resume regular publication on Monday, April 24, 2007

Apr 6: At the 8th Session of Working Group II (WGII) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in Brussels, the group released its 4th assessment report, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The report assesses the latest scientific, environmental and socio-economic literature on "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability." It provides a comprehensive analysis of how climate change is affecting natural and human systems, what the impacts will be in the future and how far adaptation and mitigation can reduce these impacts. The report also contains chapters on specific systems, sectors and regions. The government delegates from more than one hundred countries, together with the WGII Lead Authors, worked through the night to approve its Summary for Policymakers.

The release of the report follows the February 2, 2007, Working Group I report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, that assessed the current scientific knowledge of the natural and human drivers of climate change, observed changes in climate, the ability of science to attribute changes to different causes, and projections for future climate change [See
WIMS 2/2/07]. The Working Group III report on Mitigation of Climate Change, is scheduled to be released on May 4, in Bangkok, Thailand.

In general, the Working Group reports are in two parts -- an underlying technical report, which is a very large, thousand-page or greater document, that is written by scientists around the world and which reflects a compilation, a summary of the existing literature on the topic of the report. And then a second piece, which is a much shorter document, called the Summary for Policymakers which are about 20-25 pages.

The WGII report is organized into five major sections including: A – Introduction; B – Current knowledge about observed impacts of climate change on the natural and human environment; C – Current knowledge about future impacts; D – Current knowledge about responding to climate change; and E – Systematic observing and research needs.

A United Nations release described the report saying, it indicates that warmer global temperatures are causing profound changes in many of the earth's natural systems. Approximately 20-30 per cent 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 degrees centigrade. According to IPCC forecasts, the earth is likely to warm by 3 degrees centigrade during this century, a temperature that would have largely negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services, such as water and food supply.

As a result of warmer temperatures, springtime events are occurring earlier, such as increased run-off and peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers; "greening" of vegetation; and migration and egg-laying by birds. More animal and plant species have also been observed shifting toward higher latitudes. The report found that while some efforts are underway to adapt to climate change, they are, by and large, insufficient in dealing with the scope of the potential problems.

The new report indicates that changes are affecting regions differently, and in the coming years, the impacts of climate change will be even more dramatic. The IPCC forecasts that by mid-century, the annual average river runoff and water availability will increase by 10-40 per cent at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, while decreasing by 10-30 percent in some dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics. The number of drought-affected areas is expected to increase, and regions that currently rely on glacier-fed rivers for their drinking water, presently providing water to about one-sixth of the world's population, will likely see reduced availability.

Dr. Sharon Hays, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Jim Connaughton, Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality held a press briefing and the briefing was released by the U.S. Department of State. Dr. Hays described the report to policymakers highlighting the following:

(1) A section of the report deals with actual observations -- actual observations in terms of climate change impacts. The summary indicates that climate change is having impacts on natural systems - so plants, animals, ecosystems, and human systems - and the example of a human system would be agriculture for example - and that scientists are able to measure and monitor these impacts that are occurring in different places around the world.

(2) A second part of the report deals with projections -- projections of the range of different impacts that scientists believe may happen in the future. These projected impacts are expected to get more pronounced at higher temperatures. Hays said not all projected impacts are negative; and for higher potential future temperatures, the range of projected impacts becomes increasingly negative and there are significant impacts that are possible.

(3) Another key message is that climate change is clearly a global challenge and requires global solutions. But most impacts of climate change will be felt very regionally. Some parts of the world are more vulnerable than others - for example, Africa, small islands, the Polar Regions and so forth. The report contains a review of discussion about going forward, what happens and the key role of adaptation. Societies are going to need to and, indeed, are able to lessen the impacts of climate change through adaptation. Not all regions of the world have the same capacity to adapt.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said called climate change is one of his top priorities, hailed the new report and urged nations to make decisive efforts to alleviate the worst consequences brought on by global warming. He called on States which are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to act quickly to create a plan to tackle future needs in time to replace the Kyoto Protocol -- the agreement requiring 35 industrialized countries and the European Community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which is set to expire in 2012. He voiced hope that countries will take steps towards creating a new environmental framework at the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in December 3-14 (COP 13 and COP/MOP 3).

The UN’s top climate change official pointed to the potential danger of climate change triggering conflicts over water, the spread of diseases and an increase in world-wide migration unless adequate adaptation measures are developed and integrated into long-term development planning. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer said, “These projected impacts tell us that we urgently need to launch an agreement on future international action to combat climate change, as well as look for effective ways to generate the funds needed for adaptation. Our current sources of funding are insufficient to cover these adaptation needs. So the international community needs to investigate new and innovative sources of finance, not least through the carbon market, in order to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are able to
cope. In many cases this financing, while addressing adaptation to climate change, will contribute to the economic and sustainable development of the communities."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Pubic Works Committee issued a release and said, “Here in the United States, some of these impacts are already happening, and the report makes clear they will only worsen over time. Our water supplies, particularly in the Western States, are threatened by reduced snowpack. Our forests are at increased risk from pests and fire. And the health effects of severe global warming will be most dangerous to our elderly and children... Our next step will be to call the EPA before the committee, since it is clear the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and the agency has thus far failed to do so..." [Sen. Boxer was referring to the April 2, Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, (See WIMS 4/2/07)]

House Science & Technology Committee Chair, Bart Gordon (D-TN) said, "For the first time, the world’s top scientists are able to confidently attribute changes in a wide variety of ecosystems in all parts of the world to human-induced global warming. This report, a tremendous scientific achievement, delivers a powerful and sobering message about the current state of our climate system... The Working Group II report discusses impacts over a range of temperature changes in five categories: water and food availability, coastal zones, natural ecosystems and human health. Most of these impacts are negative." Gordon said his Committee would hold a hearing on the report on April 17.

Access an advance release on the IPCC Working Group II report (click here). Access the webcast of the news conference releasing the WGII report (click here). Access the 23-page WGII Summary for Policymakers (click here). Access the IPCC website for additional information (click here). Access a release from the UN Secretary (click here). Access a release from the UNFCCC (click here). Access a release of the press briefing by the U.S. State Department (click here). Access a detailed and lengthy summary of the complete WGII meeting including discussion of language changes in the final summary report from The International Institute for Sustainable Development Earth Negotiations Bulletin (click here). Access the IPCC website for additional information (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access a release from Representative Gordon (click here). Access links to various media coverage of the report release (click here). [*Climate]