The effects of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and will leave no one untouched. That is the conclusion of the newly released IPCC report, which scientists and officials say is the most comprehensive study to date on the impacts of climate change. This report is “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. Earlier we could, to a certain extent, say that people damaged the Earth’s climate out of “ignorance”. But “now, ignorance is no longer a good excuse,” he said.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, where the report was presented.
While the world’s natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of climate change, the impact on us humans is expected to grow significantly in the near future, the IPCC report warns. Rising global temperatures will result in more floods and cause changes to crop yields and water availability – effectively threatening our homes, health, food and safety. Or in the words of the report itself: “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” We will be able to adapt to some of these changes, but only within certain limits.
In response to the IPCC report, Ed Davey, the UK Energy and Climate Secretary said that “the recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.”
“The science has clearly spoken,” Davey said. “Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society, with far reaching consequences to human health, global food security and economic development.”
The IPCC report, which is based on 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, details both short-term and long-term impacts of global warming. These include threats to natural systems that in turn will have severe effects for humans.
A 2C rise in temperatures would mean a “very high” risk to unique natural systems such as Arctic sea ice and coral reefs. Oceans will become more acidic, which will threaten coral and the species that depend on them. Fish species, that are a critical source of food for many people, will move to new territories because of warmer waters. It is expected that in some parts of the tropics and in Antarctica, potential fish catches could decline by more than 50 percent. Plants, animals and other species on land will also begin to move towards higher grounds, towards the poles as the climate gets warmer and their current habitats changes.
As mentioned earlier, the natural systems will feel the worst impacts first. Humans will be increasingly affected as the century goes on, the IPCC report claims. Highlighted in the report for being a significant concern is food security. Crop yields for rice, wheat and maize are all expected to be taking severe hits leading up to 2050, with projections showing potential losses of over 25 percent in yields. And after 2050, the risk of even more severe impacts on yields increases. At the same time, a rising population estimated at around 9 billion people will increase the demand for food.
“Going into the future, the risks only increase, and these are about people, the impacts on crops, on the availability of water and particularly, the extreme events on people's lives and livelihoods,” said Professor, and co-author of the IPCC report, Neil Adger from the University of Exeter in England.
The IPCC report also raises concerns over human migration due to climate change, as well as increasing risks of conflicts that will pose a threat to national and global security. As climate change worsens, so will society’s current problems. Poverty, violence, sickness, and refugees will all get worse according to the report. Climate change will also slow down the modernization of our society and effectively hampering economic growth, among other things. But although the impacts of climate change will be felt everywhere and hit everyone, the severity won’t affect people equally. Poor people, and developing countries, will feel the impact first and hardest. Climate change is expected to further increase the gaps between rich and poor.
But the rich won’t be able to escape from the realities of global warming. “The rich are going to have to think about climate change,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, a lead author on one of the chapters in the IPCC report. “We're seeing that in the UK, with the floods we had a few months ago, and the storms we had in the US and the drought in California. These are multibillion dollar events that the rich are going to have to pay for.”
Despite all the doom and gloom, the report makes it clear that we still have time to act to limit and adapt to some of the climate changes. In their next report, which will be published on April the 13th, IPCC will discuss what we can do to stop this negative progress. “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,” said the IPCC report's chair, Dr Chris Field.