The world must urgently escalate its efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions as well as preparing for and responding to the inevitable impacts of climate change before it’s too late, UK ministers have said today.
The new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the work of thousands of independent scientists from across the world – has for the first time concluded that rising temperatures caused by human induced climate change over the last 30 years have already had an impact on people and the environment.
The communities least able to cope with the effects of climate change are likely to be hardest hit in the future, due to water shortages and reduced crop yields. People could also suffer from disease and injury due to the greater risk of heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts. Coral reefs, boreal forests and alpine ecosystems could also be damaged irreversibly as temperatures continue to rise.
Responding to the report, Environment and Climate Change Minister Ian Pearson said:
"This report provides further evidence of why all countries need to work urgently to agree a global deal to combat climate change. People are already being affected, and if we don’t act now millions more will suffer.
"But reducing emissions is not enough. Because we can’t avoid some of the impacts of climate change that are already happening, we must anticipate and plan for the changes ahead, including changed stability and security conditions. The European heat wave of 2003 and the 2005 North Atlantic hurricane season show that developed countries are also vulnerable to climate change and so must adapt.
"In the UK, for example, buildings and transport will have to be better able to cope with the higher temperatures and more extreme weather that climate change will bring. We’re currently working to identify the key areas we need to address though a new cross-government plan for adaptation as well as acting to minimise the extent of future climate change. Internationally, we have convened a debate this month in the UN Security Council to try to help build a shared understanding of the implications climate change has for stability and security.
”The report clearly shows that climate change will affect everyone on an individual level. It’s not just a problem for governments or big companies – we need people to be informed and engaged in the important role individuals and households can play, which is why we will be increasing our engagement with people throughout the UK including an online CO2 calculator, a major press and TV ad campaign, and a Citizens Summit that will engage directly with the public on this important issue.”
The report shows that the effects of climate change will be felt across the world and in all sectors. In Europe, coastal flooding is likely to threaten up to an additional 2.5 million people each year by 2080. In Africa, some regions will experience increased water shortages, which will affect livelihoods and lead to large increases in numbers of people at risk of water scarcity. In Asia, declines in crop productivity will increase the risk of hunger. Temperature changes of above 2°C above 1990-2000 levels will exacerbate these impacts, exceeding the adaptive capacity of many systems.
Impacts of climate change will be diverse across countries, but overall the impacts of unmitigated climate change will create costs in GDP terms for the world. In many places the costs will be much higher than the global average, especially for the poor. Stability and security, particularly in the most vulnerable regions, may also be affected.
The Chancellor recently announced a new £800 million fund to finance overseas development projects that deliver both poverty reduction and environmental benefits in developing countries.
The UK is also already helping countries to adapt to climate change through its contributions to the Global Environment Facility. The Government also works with developing countries to help them improve their understanding of the effects of climate change, for example through the PRECIS regional climate change model and through projects with India, China and Bangladesh.
Defra provides financial support for bilateral projects on the impacts of climate change in China and India, as well as a major programme aimed at advancing capacity for climate change adaptation in Africa and across Asia. (In total, for the period 2005-2010, Defra has committed nearly £2million to adaptation projects in Asia and Africa.)