UN: Climate Change Will Cause Conflict, Disaster, And Extinction; But Decisive Action Can Reduce Risks
The United Nations climate panel on Sunday warned of dire consequences if governments and private actors fail to take decisive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to start preparing for the worst.
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In a highly anticipated report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change voiced its most urgent plea yet for the cooperation of policymakers at all levels to combat global warming, a human-induced scourge that has already claimed lives, especially among the world's poor, and caused billions of dollars in damage. The report called for both long-term clean energy solutions and stopgap defenses against increasingly volatile weather, while recognizing that competing values and budget constraints will likely stall action.
"We live in an era of man-made climate change," said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the group that drafted the report, in a statement. "In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future."
Hundreds of leading scientists contributed to the report, called "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability." Much of the information it contains has already been documented across the academic literature, but consolidated into a two-volume tome it presents a sobering prophecy of famine, floods, starvation, wildfires, species extinction, and even potential armed conflict. "Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks," the authors wrote.
The United Nations created the IPCC in 1988 to monitor climate change and assess its risks. The new report was prepared by one of its working groups led by Barros, of the University of Buenos Aires, and Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science. The IPCC has been gathering in Japan for its drafting and release.
As part of the report, the scientists detailed climate change consequences already upon us — such as low crop yields, a rise in heat-related deaths, and extreme weather — and predicted greater devastation to come if average global temperatures continue to rise. And they almost certainly will. Among the most likely outcomes, denoted with marks of "high confidence" in the report, are:
- increased coastal flooding and complete submersion of coastal urban areas
- species extinction and marine species migration, which will likely exacerbate overfishing problems
- food scarcity, particularly among people living in lower latitudes
- pollution, drought, extreme precipitation, flooding, landslides, and heat waves in urban areas
- water and food scarcity and agricultural income instability in rural areas
- increased instances of disease, heat-related death, and malnutrition
But for all the foreboding, the report's authors suggest an array of solutions and even opportunities and benefits. They note, for instance, that while deaths related to heat waves are up, deaths related to cold snaps are down. The authors insist on immediate reductions to greenhouse gas emissions to solve the underlying problem, but they explicitly encourage adaptation.
"Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried," Field said in the statement. According to the report, adaptation could mean "changes in activities, such as changing livelihoods from cropping to livestock." Or it could mean outright retreat — "migrating to take up a livelihood elsewhere." But adaptation comes at a steep cost: aid solely to the poorest nations could surpass $100 billion per year.
When reached by The Washington Post, Gary Yohe, a Wesleyan University professor and co-author of the report, summarized the key takeaways this way: "You don't want to be poor, you don't want to be young, you don't want to be old, and you don't want to live along the coast."
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