Rising temperatures will bring more extreme weather, food and water shortages, and irreversible changes to ecosystems that result in coral death, forest loss and species extinction, according to a new UN report.
The study, released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Japan, also says the world is ill-prepared to face these risks.
World Resources Institute climate analyst Kelly Levin says no region is left untouched.
“The biggest take-home message is that climate change is widespread and consequential,” she said. “We see statements with regard to the impacts of coastal flooding associated with sea level rise, and - without adaptation - the idea that by the end of the century we could have hundreds of millions [of people] exposed and displaced because of coastal flooding.”
Those floods will be more common in Africa and Australia. And, heat waves are expected in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The poorest who have the fewest resources to adapt to the new warmer world are the most vulnerable. Levin says food security and economic well-being are also at risk.
“The report suggests that with 2.5 degrees Celsius warming we could see two percent of income affected," Levin said. "And, at three degrees Celsius or higher, we do not even know what losses could presumably be and that does not even include some of the losses that are much more difficult to quantify, like for loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem function.”
Emissions curbs can help
Despite these dire predictions, the report is not all gloom and doom.
“Although it focuses on a cold, analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also maps the opportunities that are intrinsic in the solution space," said IPCC report co-chair Christopher Fields. "And it looks at ways we can combine adaptation, mitigation, transformation of a society in an effort that can help us build a world that’s not only better prepared to deal with climate change but is fundamentally a better world.”
Outside the venue in Yokohama, Japan, activist Christian Teriete with the Global Call for Climate Action joined other activists to urge world leaders to curb climate changing emissions from power plants, cars and buildings.
“They have ample opportunity this year and next year at important climate summits and that is when they need to put better policies on the table to save their people and the environment that we depend on from climate change,” Teriete said.
The IPCC report can help put those ideas into perspective as negotiators work toward a new global climate treaty by 2015, replacing the Kyoto Protocol which expired in 2012.