Worldwide Impact from Climate Change Predicted

By Lea Terhune
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – A grim picture of the impact of environmental changes ahead – especially for the world’s poor - is drawn by the latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It is the second of four working group assessments examining the causes and consequences of global warming.

“It is the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told journalists at the release of the report’s summary for policymakers in Brussels, Belgium, April 6.

“This does become a global responsibility in my view,” he said.

The summary reflects a longer, densely technical scientific report that sets forth a stark reality. Climatic and environmental changes accelerated by human activity already are under way, and scientists are confident the projected temperature rises will mean “significant extinctions around the globe.”

“For the first time, we are no longer arm-waving with models; this is empirical data, we can actually measure it,” Martin Parry, co-chairman of IPCC Working Group II, told reporters.

The impact might include extensive drought and desertification; water scarcity in Africa and elsewhere from decreased rainfall; and melting of glaciers in mountainous regions limiting available water. Communicable diseases may spike with an increase in insect vectors and more prevalent conditions favoring disease transmission, according to the report.

“[C] limate change is having impacts on natural systems … plants, animals, ecosystems and human systems,” Sharon Hays, leader of U.S. IPCC delegation, said in a press conference call from Brussels April 6.

An increase of 1.5-2.5 degrees Celsius could result in the extinction of 20 percent to 30 percent of global plant and animal species, the report says. The first IPCC assessment released in January said temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the century’s end. “Not all projected impacts are negative,” Hays said, but “at higher potential future temperature the range of projected impacts becomes increasingly negative.”

“Climate change is clearly a global challenge and we all recognize that it requires global solutions,” she said. It will be felt regionally, affecting vulnerable areas. “Not all regions of the world have the same capacity to adapt,” Hays said, citing a key finding of the IPCC report, adaptation. Natural adaptation already is taking place, and, to reduce the impact of climate change, societies actively must adapt.

James L. Connaughton, White House Council on Environmental Quality chairman and lead policymaker on the U.S. delegation, said the IPCC report “underscores what the president has been saying for some time about the seriousness of this challenge.”

He said the United States has set ambitious standards domestically and is committed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We are leading the way with dozens of advanced technology partnerships and … engaging the developing countries, as well, in strategies for significantly reducing greenhouse gases,” he said.

“The imperative of the work with developing countries is as strong, or stronger, than it has ever been. … Adaptation at its core is a fundamental component of the development strategy,” Connaughton said.

The United States and other developed nations are directing billions of development dollars toward the developing world, with finely tuned priorities. Health issues and building the capacity and resiliency of civil societies are paramount concerns, according to Connaughton: “training people so they can make smarter choices about land use, making agricultural practices more modern,” increasing access to clean water and sanitation.

Hays said that “a great deal of care” was taken to ensure the summary accurately reflects the scientific findings. “I think we helped craft a report that robustly reflects the findings of this underlying, very long technical document,” she said, emphasizing that many of the lead scientific authors were party to the four-day discussions about the final draft “to make sure the summary document accurately reflects the scope of all the information.”

The IPCC report results from research by thousands of scientists from around the world, including a significant number of Americans. Roger Pulwarty, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist, is lead author of the chapter on adaptations and practices.

“NOAA’s climate research and related work extends far beyond its contributions to IPCC,” said NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher. NOAA data, models and other materials were used in the report.

The third part of the IPCC report, on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, is scheduled for release in May; the fourth, a final summation, is due in November. 

“This groundswell of information is also pushing along a groundswell of additional policies and international cooperation,” Connaughton said.

A news release on the NOAA contribution to the report is available on the agency’s Web site.

A transcript of the press briefing by members of the U.S. delegation is available on the White House Web site.

A chapter outline of the report is available through the IPCC Web site.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.