Monday, March 31, 2014

IPCC AR5 WGll Report: An Impending Climate Catastrophe

The conclusions in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report are distressing, but there may still be time to avert a climate catastrophe. The second part of the Fifth Assessment Report was released at the end of March and it paints a bleak picture of our current situation and the future prospects for life on planet Earth.

There is no more comprehensive summary of the current state of climate change science than the IPCC reports. These reports cover the scientific, technical and socio-economic information on climate change..

The UN's IPCC is the world's leading scientific body on climate information. Their work includes assessing the future risks from climate change as well as our ability to adapt. A total of 309 authors and editors from 70 countries contributed to the second part of the IPCC's fifth Assessment Report. It reviewed the findings of a vast number of researchers then it distilled the data to create a 2,500 page report.

First AR5 Report

The first of four sections of the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) by Working Group 1 (WGl) was titled, The Physical Science Basis, it was released in September, 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden. This report confirmed again the overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is warming and human activities are responsible. It further indicated that many of the impacts of climate change are happening faster than predicted. It further indicated that if we carry on 'business as usual' we are likely to exceed a temperature increase of 4°C by the end of the century. There is widespread agreement that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Second AR5 Report

The second section of the AR5 by Working Group 2 (WGll) was titled, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, It was released at the end of March, 2014, in Yokohama, Japan. This report takes a global and sectoral look at observed impacts to date. It assesses the risks ahead and how to reduce vulnerabilities through adaptation. It also provides a detailed look at the impact of climate change in different regions.

The conclusions of the recently released WGll report show that climate change is happening now. Its impacts are already clearly visible on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans. They warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

Some of the findings incluce melting ice caps, collapsing sea ice in the Arctic, , water scarcity, , extreme weather including heat waves and heavy rains, coral reefs die-offs, mass extinctions.

Rising oceans imperil coastal communities and ocean acidification (due to the absorbtion of CO2) is having a broad range of deleterious impacts. The heat is melting the permafrost in the Arctic and this threatens to unleash even more greenhouse gases from decaying organic matter.

The Worst is Yet to Come

Although the findings seem catastrophic, the report indicates that we have not seen anything yet. As framed by the climate scientists in the know, this is an existential moment for people everywhere on earth.

"Human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to well being, health and perhaps even to human survival," the report said.

While the poor may suffer the most, nobody will be immune.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.

The report points to economic impacts, poverty, starvation, and death tolls. These impacts may also lead to widespread displacement of people and mass migrations, which may lead to lawlessness and violent conflict including wars as nations strive to hang on to dwindling resources.
“Now 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.

The Beginning of Action or the Beginning of the End?

It may be too late to mitigate against all the impacts of climate change but there is still time to adapt. While these findings make it difficult to believe that we will act in time, the report does suggest that we are showing signs of working on adaptation. Since 2007, the report points to growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are drawing up strategies and executing plans to adapt to climate disruptions.

While progress on adaptation is a good thing we clearly need to work on mitigation as we will never be able to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change. Something as fundamental to human existence as our food supply will be overwhelmed by climate change if we continue on our current trajectory.

Future Reports and a Binding Climate Agreement in 2015

These IPCC reports should be used as reasons to act. The situation may appear to be beyond repair, but scientists tell us there is still time. By 2020 we will need to take far reaching action to transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner forms of energy. 

The Working Group 3 report: Mitigation of Climate Change, will be reviewed on April 7-11, 2014, in Berlin, Germany. The AR5 Synthesis Report (SYR), will be reviewed on October 27-31, 2014, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The two published AR5 reports and the two forthcoming reports later this year should provide the impetus needed for nations to agree on a comprehensive international deal to reign-in greenhouses gases in 2015. It is critical for their to be solid progress this year if we are to meet the 2015 deadline. This September in New York, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon will host national, business and civil society leaders for a ‘Climate Summit’ ahead of the 2014 General Assembly. Although this is not be a formal part of the UNFCCC negotiations, it will go a long way in determining whether or not we will be successful in Paris.
A draft text of the global climate change treaty will be presented in November ahead of the 2014 UN climate summit which opens in Lima on December 1.

While the science is clear, it is still far from certain that we will be able to achieve a consensus at the COP 21 talks scheduled for Paris next year.  It remains to be seen if political leaders will change direction and pull us back from the brink or stay the course and imperil the future of life on the planet.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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