A lake formed by meltwater from the Pastoruri glacier in Peru (Photo: REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)
Earlier today, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a wide-ranging report on the impact that climate change could have on the world, and some of the ways we may have to adapt to cope with it. It's the follow-up to this January's massive 2,500-page assessment of the evidence for climate change, which concluded that global warming was "unequivocal," and that it's "extremely likely" that humans are to blame for most of the rise in temperatures observed since the mid-1900s.
This report, released today in Japan, is based on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies, and has a similarly dire conclusion: "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change," IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a press conference today. The study is not without its detractors — one of its 300-plus authors pulled out of the writing team, calling it "alarmist" — but it represents one of the largest attempts to figure out how climate change may alter human society.
Below, five major points to take away from the report:
5. Climate change is already being felt
"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans," the report says. Among the most obvious changes so far (and the ones most reliably linked to climate change) are melting glaciers, thawing permafrost and species altering their migration patterns and even, in a few cases, going extinct.
4. The world's food supply will likely be at risk
According to the report, climate change will likely have both positive and negative effects on crop yields around the world. In high-latitude areas, for example, rising temperatures may actually make the growing season longer. But with a high degree of confidence, the report says the overall impact on yields of major crops like wheat, rice and maize will be bad. These yield reductions, combined with rising demand on food from a growing population, could lead to spikes in prices that could reverse gains made in the fight against global hunger.
3. Poor countries could see the worst effects
Although they typically will have been least responsible for rising global temperatures, poor countries — according to the IPCC report — will often face the harshest consequences. One of the reasons for this is that climate-related hazards can make existing stressors — such as high food prices and tight water supplies — even worse. "Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries," it says.
2. Violent conflicts could increase
According to the report, "multiple lines of evidence" connect changes in climate indirectly to rises in violent conflict, including civil war and inter-group conlict. How? "By amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks." It also claims that violent conflicts can reduce our ability to cope with climate change, by harming infrastructure, institutions and access to resources.
1. We're already adapting in response to these threats
“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried,” said report co-chair Chris Field, global ecology director at the Carnegie Institution. “Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation.” The report surveys different strategies that are being adopted around the world, including coastal water management strategies in Europe and planning for sea-level rises in Australia.
To read the entire report, head over the IPCC website.