New IPCC Climate Change Report
A U.N. report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
By JUSTIN GILLIS NY Times March 31 2014
YOKOHAMA, Japan —
Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty….
…It cited the risk of death or injury on a wide scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations. “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report declared. The report also cited the possibility of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.” The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just a problem of the distant future, but is happening now. Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa.
In much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists said in the report. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less melt water to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
….”There are those who say we can’t afford to act,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”
Amid all the risks the experts cited, they did find a bright spot. Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists. “I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama. The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases. Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India. For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily. The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress. The report said that climate change was already dragging down the output of wheat and corn at a global scale, compared with what it would otherwise be.
By Joe Romm, PhD on March 30, 2014 at 8:00 pm climateprogress.org
Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its second of four planned reports examining the state of climate science. This one summarizes what the scientific literature says about “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” (big PDF here). As with every recent IPCC report, it is super-cautious to a fault and yet still incredibly alarming. It warns that we are doing a bad job of dealing with the climate change we’ve experienced to date: “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.” It warns of the dreaded RFCs (“reasons for concern” — I’m not making this acronym up), such as “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes.” You might call them RFAs (“reasons for alarm” or “reasons for action”).
Indeed, in recent years, “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.” So warming-driven drought and extreme weather have already begun to reduce food security. Now imagine adding another 2 billion people to feed while we are experiencing five times as much warming this century as we did last century! No surprise, then, that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” — though for some reason that doesn’t make the list of RFCs. In short, “We’re all sitting ducks,” as IPCC author and Princeton Prof. Michael Oppenheimer put it to the AP.
AN OVERLY CAUTIOUS REPORT
As grim as the Working Group 2 report on impacts is, it explicitly has very little to say about the catastrophic impacts and vulnerability in the business as usual case where the Earth warms 4°C to 5°C [7°F-9°F] — and it has nothing to say about even higher warming, which the latest science suggests we are headed toward. The report states: “Relatively few studies have considered impacts on cropping systems for scenarios where global mean temperatures increase by 4°C [7°F] or more.… few quantitative estimates [of global annual economic losses] have been completed for additional warming around 3°C [5.4°F] or above.”… You may wonder why hundreds of the world leading climate experts spend years and years doing climate science and climate projections, but don’t bother actually looking at the impacts of merely staying on our current carbon pollution emissions path — let alone looking at the plausible worst-case scenario (which is typically the basis for risk-reducing public policy, such as military spending). Partly it’s because, until recently, climate scientists had naively expected the world to act with a modicum of sanity and avoid at all costs catastrophic warming of 7°F let alone the unimaginable 10°F (or higher) warming we are headed toward. Partly it’s because, as a recent paper explained, “climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.”
On top of the overly cautious nature of most climate scientists, we have the overly cautious nature of the IPCC. As the New York Times explained when the IPCC released the Working Group 1 report last fall: “The I.P.C.C. is far from alarmist — on the contrary, it is a highly conservative organization,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, whose papers on sea level were among those that got discarded. “That is not a problem as long as the users of the I.P.C.C. reports are well aware of this. The conservatism is built into its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree.”
That’s why the latest report is full of these sorts of bombshells couched in euphemism and buried deep in the text: By 2100 for the high-emission scenario RCP8.5, the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors. Yes, “compromise.” A clearer word would be “obliterate.” And the “high-emission scenario RCP8.5″ — an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide of about 936 parts per million — is in fact where we are headed by 2100 or soon thereafter on our current do-little path.
Bottom line: We are at risk of making large parts of the planet’s currently arable and populated land virtually uninhabitable for much of the year — and irreversibly so for hundreds of years.
THE RISK OF CREATING MORE FAILED STATES
Here are two important conclusions from the report that the IPCC strangely puts 13 pages apart from each other:
- Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change. Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation, including infrastructure, institutions, natural resources, social capital, and livelihood opportunities.
- Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks. Multiple lines of evidence relate climate variability to these forms of conflict.
Separately, they are both worrisome. But together, they are catastrophic. Climate change makes violent conflict more likely — and violent conflict makes a country more vulnerable to climate change. So climate change appears poised to help create many more of the most dangerous situations on Earth: failed states. Syria may be turning into an early example.
THE HIGH COST OF INACTION
The IPCC’s discussion of economic costs is equally muddled: “… the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income. Losses are more likely than not to be greater, rather than smaller, than this range…. Losses accelerate with greater warming, but few quantitative estimates have been completed for additional warming around 3°C or above.” It would have been nice if the IPCC had mentioned at this point that keeping additional temperature increases to ~2°C requires very aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting now. As it is, the deniers, confusionists, and easily confused can (incorrectly) assert that this first sentence means global economic losses from climate change will be low. Again, that’s only if we act now.
As Climate Science Watch noted Saturday, “Other estimates suggest the high impacts on global GDP with warming of 4ºC (For example the Stern Review found impacts of 5-20% of global GDP).” The costs of even higher warming, which, again, would be nothing more than business as usual, rise exponentially. Indeed, we’ve known for years that traditional climate cost-benefit analyses are “unusually misleading” — as Harvard economist Martin Weitzman warned colleagues, “we may be deluding ourselves and others.” Again, that’s because the IPCC is basically a best case analysis — while it largely ignores the business-as-usual case and completely ignores the worst case.
Remember, earlier this month, during the press call for the vastly better written climate report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a leading expert on risk analysis explained, “You really do have to think about worst-case scenarios when you are thinking about risk management. When it’s a risk management problem, thinking about worst-case scenarios is not alarmist — it’s just part of the job. And those worst-case scenarios are part of what drives the price.”
So where are we now? The first IPCC report last fall revealed we are as certain that humans are dramatically changing the planet’s climate as we are that smoking causes cancer. It found the best estimate is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950. It warned that on the continued do-little path, we are facing total warming from preindustrial levels by 2100 headed toward 4°C (7°F), with much more rapid sea level rise than previously reported, and the prospects of large-scale collapse of the permafrost, with resultant release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases. Now, “the IPCC’s new report should leave the world in no doubt about the scale and immediacy of the threat to human survival, health, and wellbeing,” which in turn shows the need for “radical and transformative change” in our energy system, as the British Medical Journal editorialized.
Every few years, the world’s leading climate scientists and governments identify the ever-worsening symptoms. They give us the same diagnosis, but with ever-growing certainty. And they lay out an ever-grimmer prognosis if we keep ignoring their straightforward and relatively inexpensive treatment. Will we act on the science in time?
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD NY Times Editorial April 1, 2014
Perhaps now the deniers will cease their attacks on the science of climate change, and the American public will, at last, fully accept that global warming is a danger now and an even graver threat to future generations. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that since 1990 has been issuing increasingly grim warnings about the consequences of a warming planet, released its most powerful and sobering assessment so far. Even now, it said, ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, coral reefs are dying. And without swift and decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources, the world will almost surely face centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields. The damage will be particularly acute in coastal communities and in low-lying poor countries — like Bangladesh — that are least able to protect themselves.
The report’s conclusions mirrored those of a much shorter but no less disturbing report issued two weeks ago by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society. Like the panel, the association declared that the world is already feeling the effects of global warming, that the ultimate consequences could be catastrophic, and that the window for effective action is swiftly closing. The intergovernmental panel’s report (a companion report later this month will discuss what governments should do) could carry considerable weight with delegates to next year’s climate change summit meeting in Paris, at which the members of the United Nations will again try, after years of futility, to fashion a new global climate treaty. And together, the two reports could build public support for President Obama’s efforts to use his executive authority to limit greenhouse gases, most recently with a plan issued on Friday to reduce methane emissions from landfills, agricultural operations and oil and gas production and distribution…. A poll last year found that one-third of Americans believed that scientists disagreed on whether global warming was happening.
These studies suggest virtually no disagreement. The hope among advocates is that the latest show of scientific solidarity will clear up any confusion about the causes and consequences of climate change and the need for action.
The international body has issued a manual for adapting to a warming world.
A worker inspects solar panels in China’s Gansu province. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
The United Nations’ latest report on climate change contains plenty of dire warnings about the adverse impact “human interference with the climate system” is having on everything from sea levels to crop yields to violent conflicts. But the primary message of the study isn’t, as John Kerry suggested on Sunday, for countries to collectively reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, the subtext appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet—to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures—rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place. And it’s businesses and local governments, rather than the international community, that can lead the way. “The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” Chris Field, the co-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study, said this week, adding that governments, companies, and communities are already experimenting with “climate-change adaptation.”…
APRIL 1, 2014 Mark Bittman Opinion NY Times
In the ’30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, “Yeah, France can handle that.” Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot line of denial, and we all became the retreating French. The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived. And now, as then, many people are just giving up. “Oh, well,” countless friends and co-workers muttered Monday, “nothing to do now.”
The bland, bureaucratic face of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us horrific news this week: The negative effects of climate change are here, and they’re ahead of schedule. Not that we’re surprised; when every scientist in the world who isn’t in the employ of climate change deniers tells us that we’ve long since passed the place where we could “turn back” the effects of global warming, acknowledging its effects should be no more shocking than arising to a blanket of snow on the ground after having watched flakes fall through the night. If you skid out of the driveway wondering how in the world that happened, you weren’t paying attention. So yields of corn and wheat are down and falling while prices are going up. There has been record-breaking rain and record-breaking heat. Droughts are commonplace, and ice is melting. Even you, a person of education and at least moderate privilege, are going to notice. My friends are talking about getting away from it all, as if George W. Bush had won a third term. But to where? Hudson Bay must have sea level rise, no? The Cascades are nice and high, but they’ve got those mudslides! Well, O.K., at least we can go drink heavily. We know that when little green men with Shar Pei-like faces invade Earth, we’ll recognize that we are all one and act accordingly, uniting to defeat them and creating a world that recognizes our elemental mutual needs of land, water and air, and maintains their sanctity.
But it’s the blindly irrational mistreatment and abuse of land, water and air that have gotten us into this mess, whose visage is not that of a green Shar Pei-faced critter with a ray gun but one that just looks like … weather. We’re all used to weird weather, and even to the occasional drought that might reduce California’s production of edible plants by, say, 5 percent, or a storm that would level a few towns while flooding the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. So although we’ve been warned, it was hard to see this coming. “Do you think that storm was from global warming?” everyone asked after coastal New York and New Jersey were smashed by Hurricane Sandy. “Well, maybe,” was the best anyone could say; there have always been storms. But the aliens are in the backyard, Granny, and it’s time to start hitting them with the cast-iron pans. The deniers are the equivalent of hucksters selling you a ray-gun-proof magic hat. “I guess I can stop worrying about my grandchildren,” someone said to me, recognizing that change has come faster than all but a few had anticipated, and that it’s our lifetimes that are threatened now.
You can give up, of course; people will. Or you can break out the clichés about extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures, put an evil alien face on climate change, and get to work supporting those measures that you know will either mitigate it or help us adapt.
Many barriers must be built, much coal left unburned and methane unpiped, many cattle unborn. We need a public works project the likes of which has not been seen since the ’40s. And it can be done, or at least attempted. Not to beat the World War II comparisons too heavily, but the United States built 2,000 airplanes in 1939; by 1944 that had become over 96,000, at a time when naysayers doubted 50,000 was a reachable number.
We can devise and build flood barriers; we can cap and control the spewing of carbon and methane into the air; we can turn to forms of agricultural production that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and even sequester them. It’s a matter of will, not one of magic.
“They” will not build a big umbrella that will reflect all that excess sun back into space; “they” will not compress and suck all that carbon underground; “they” will not release the secret plans for nuclear fusion “they’ve” been hiding.
It ain’t gonna happen. We need adaptive changes on every level, big plans for mitigation from all forms of government, and real international and even corporate cooperation.
As individuals, we must do what we can to encourage and demand those efforts, while also reducing our own cumulatively enormous carbon footprints. Americans have long led the world in consumption; we created the lifestyle that’s cooking the planet. If we demonstrate a willingness to change — rather than whining “but what about the Chinese?” — others will follow. If we don’t, we’re all going down. Myself, I’d rather give it a try, and live long enough to fight the Shar Pei men.
By ANDREW C. REVKIN NY Times March 31 2014
IPCC scientists answer 11 frequently asked questions about the impacts of global warming.
Behind the scenes of the new U.N. climate report, with Stanford scientists
Chris Field spent five years leading the international team of scientists that drafted the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
ABC NEWS -Tuesday, April 01, 2014
PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) — … ABC7 News spoke with Terry Root, Ph.D., of Stanford, who worked on this report and says the trends are alarming. “You don’t tell how bad it is because it will paralyze people,” said Root. Root is one name among hundreds of scientists who worked on this latest climate change report. The word frustration fails to capture the full measure of her concern. “When I started in this field 25 years ago, I really believed that we could stop mass extinction from occurring. I’m now to the place where I see we’re on the trajectory that mass extinction will occur. We’re going to lose half the species on the planet. It will be very hard not to lose half the species on the planet,” said Root… California’s drought is also a product, not just of weather, but the long term effect of climate on the weather. There will be less snow, earlier springs and runoffs, less water for crops. Sorry to scare you, Root says, but this is happening now, and if humans do not drastically reduce carbon emissions, we’ll see much worse.
By Andrew Breiner on April 2, 2014 at 9:04 am
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
On Monday, someone who just watched Fox News wouldn’t know that a U.N. panel’s report said that “breakdown of food systems” and “violent conflict” are likely impacts of even low levels of climate change over the next 100 years. But MSNBC’s coverage gave a thorough look at the risks detailed in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change impacts, as well as the woeful state of efforts to mitigate its effects or cut carbon. The day the report came out, CNN devoted one minute and eight seconds to two segments giving a basic review of its contents, MSNBC spent 19 minutes and 49 seconds covering it in depth over a total of five segments, and Fox News dedicated five minutes, mostly to attacking the idea of climate change or of studying it at all. If a viewer was watching Fox, they learned that the main issue is whether it’s “alright for you to exhale without paying tax to the United Nations,” as Claudia Rosett of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Neil Cavuto on his show. The short segment mocked the idea of the U.N. paying any attention at all to climate change as long as there are other issues like Russia and Korea to address…
U.S. News & World Report (blog)
April 4, 2014
“A major challenge facing scientists and organizations that view global warming as a major threat to humanity is that average citizens express so little concern about the issue,” Gallup said.