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Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability IPCC 4th Assessment

September 2007

The findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II Fourth Assessment

Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability IPCC 4th Assessment

IPCC report shows climate change is taking hold.

The Royal Geographical Society with IBG hosted the meeting to discuss the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II Fourth Assessment on the 18 – 19 September.

This meeting marked the completion and release of the full 1000-page IPCC Working Group II Fourth Assessment. Until now, the findings of the Assessment had only been available in the 30-page Summary for Policymakers (SPM).

Thirteen leading authors of chapters the Assessment, as well as the Co-chair of Working Group II and the IPCC Chair, spoke on the key messages of the Assessment, many of which had not been included in the SPM and had not previously been reported.

The meeting allowed for clarification of key points and detailed discussion amongst the authors and the many delegates from scientific and environmental communities.

The meeting provided overviews of many of the key chapters, and as well as providing new, and previously unpublished information, regions that are most vulnerable to climate change were identified.

The Report suggests the rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperatures – the point considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change which will expose millions to drought, hunger and flooding – is now "very unlikely" to be avoided.

The material makes for difficult reading, suggesting that many regions and countries are now highly vulnerable to effects of climate change, and that millions of people will suffer over the coming decades from water shortages to loss of biodiversity in their regions.

Adaptation is now a key term as well as the need for mitigation. Whilst many of the outcomes are negative, there are a few positive points to be taken. A rise in CO2 will increase crop productivity, but this may well be regionally imbalanced, and once temperatures exceed 3°C, yields will decline. Adaptation is already being seen in changing farming patterns, for example sunflowers are now being grown in many parts of southern England.

The report provides a balanced view on the effects of climate change, and whilst many o the findings are very worrying, it must been seen that it is still not too late to avoid future catastrophes of a large scale. While a 2°C rise may be inevitable, and this will bring about many changes, it is not too late and adaptation needs to be a key feature in policy as well as mitigation. A true “adaptation strategy is the same as a strong mitigation strategy” Robert Watson, Chief Scientist, Defra.

Some key points:

  • The ‘bottom line’ conclusion is that certain regions (not named in previous assessments by the IPCC) are judged to be the most affected by climate change. These are Africa, Asian megadeltas, small islands and the Arctic.
  • And some sectors and systems are also identified as being most affected, including:
    • water (especially in the dry tropics)
    • agriculture (especially in low latitudes)
    • human health in countries with low adaptive capacit
    • some ecosystems: coral reefs, sea-ice biomes, coastal ( e.g. mangrove and salt-marshes), tundra/boreal/mountain
  • It is probably too late to avoid some impacts, including major ones in developing countries, because about 1oC of warming is already in the climate system.
  • Moreover, if warming is not kept below 2oC (which will require the strongest of mitigation efforts, and currently looks very unlikely to be achieved), then substantial global impacts will occur, such as: species extinctions and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger and flooding, etc.
  • This means that adaptation will be crucial, especially to avoid the most damaging effects in the near-term (up to around 2050) before any mitigation could begin to ‘bite’. But mitigation measures are needed now to avoid large temperature increases after 2050, which otherwise would exceed our capacity to adapt. So achieving, soon, the right combination of adaptation and mitigation, is the most urgent task of the policymakers e.g. at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Bali this December.
  • Important effects of anthropogenic warming are already being felt. In April the published SPM of Working Group II reported that observed effects of anthropogenic climate change can now be detected on every continent. The full Assessment brings out the extent of this: some effects are being observed now, which were more distant future predictions in the Second and Third Assessments of 1995 and 2001. In other words they are occurring faster than previously expected.
  • Some new effects have been detected since the Assessment was completed, such as the appearance this year in Italy of Chikungunya, an infectious disease similar to Dengue and transmitted through the mosquito Aedes albopictus. The disease has not previously been recorded in Europe.

The full report can be found on the IPCC Working Group II website.

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