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Climate Change Impacts Are Already Being Felt And Worse Is To Come Says IPCC's AR5 WGII

March 26, 2014


Click to enlarge. Impacts on food yields. Courtesy: IPCC.

Click to enlarge. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. Courtesy: BBC.


"Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts" warns the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability", states that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. Natural systems were hit first but the human world is already being affected.

The final report which brings together input from 1,729 experts was hammered out during a marathon meeting in the Japanese city of Yokohama and published on 31 March 2014. This is the second instalment of the IPCC's fifth assessment report (known as the AR5). It comes in the wake of the first instalment that looked at the scientific basis of climate change that was published in September 2013. The AR5 follows the fourth assessment report (AR4) published in 2007.

"Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, told the news conference held in Yokohama to launch the report.

"We are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance," said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at the press conference.

There was some dissent just ahead of publication when Professor Richard Tol, an economist at the University of Sussex in the UK, who was a lead author of the chapter on economics and who was involved in drafting the overall summary report, asked for his name to be removed from the document because he felt that the tone was too negative.

Lead author Professor Christopher Field of Stanford University told BBC Radio that the report makes three main points: that the impacts of climate change are already being felt, that continued high emissions of carbon dioxide will result in "severe outcomes" and that mitigation and adaptation strategies can help reduce the severity of these outcomes. He warned that no matter what we do we shall face consequences of climate change. 

"I think the really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change as a problem in managing risks," Field told the press conference in Yokohama.


Key risks identified in the latest report include:


  • Storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise affecting low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands and leading to fatalities, injuries and economic damage.
  • Inland flooding affecting large urban populations disrupting livelihoods and affecting health.
  • Extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.
  • Death and illness due to extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.
  • Food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.
  • Loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.
  • Loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, affecting coastal communities and especially fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.
  • Loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems and biodiversity.


"Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope," states the report. "The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate," it says. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.


The report looks closely at the affects of climate change on food. Increasing crop yields are needed to sustain the world's growing population but the rate of increase has slowed over the last 40 years and there is a risk of declines in some crops over the next 50 years – especially wheat – which could result in price rises, food shortages and potential civil unrest could lead to unrest. The rport states that "Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence). The smaller number of studies showing positive impacts relate mainly to high-latitude regions, though it is not yet clear whether the balance of impacts has been negative or positive in these regions (high confidence). Climate change has negatively affected what and maize yields for any regions and in the global aggregate (medium confidence). Effects on rice and soybean yield have been smaller in major production regions and globally, with the median change of zero across all available data, which are fewer for soy compared to other crops. Observed impacts relate mainly to production aspects of food security... Since AR4, several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors (medium confidence)."

The report adds: "For the major crops (wheat, rice, and maize) in tropical and temperate regions, climate change without adaptation is projected to negatively impact production for local temperature increases of 2°C or more above late-20th-century levels, although individual locations may benefit (medium confidence). Projected impacts vary across crops and regions and adaptation scenarios, with about 10% of projections for the period 2030-2049 showing yield gains of more than 10%, and about 10% of projections showing yield losses of more than 25%,compared to the late 20th century. After 2050 the risk of more severe yield impacts increases and depends on the level of warming... Climate change is projected to progressively increase inter-annual variability of crop yields in many regions. These projected impacts will occur in the context of rapidly rising crop demand." 

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