UN science panel releases climate impacts report – as it happened

– Updates by the RTCC team in London
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Latest headlines:
– Landmark study warns ‘climate change is already here’
– UN climate science report highlights ‘limits to adaptation’
– 15% of Pacific islands wiped out by 1m sea level rise – IPCC
– Climate change will hike air pollution deaths says UN study
– Arctic shipping lanes open for four months by 2050 – IPCC
– Climate change could drive decline in Brazil’s coffee exports

1220 – We are wrapping up our live blog now. Here you can find reactions from IPCC authors, Christiana Figueres, Ed Davey, Tony Abbott, youth activists and campaigners. Gerard Wynn has put everything together in one neat article. The message is clear: the impacts on climate change are getting worse, but there are still opportunities to act. If governments and individuals work quickly to reduce emissions and prepare for a warmer world and all that entails, then there is still a chance to avoid the worst impacts. Or in the words of IPCC WGII co-chair Chris Fields:

“If that narrative is that climate change is such a downer, we’re not going to be able to find the creative people who build the solution.”

1218 – US Secretary of State John Kerry has released a statement on the report. He has already been vocal on the need to tackle climate change, which is fortune – as the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, the US is vital in global efforts to tackle climate change.

“The clock is ticking. The more we delay, the greater the threat. Let’s make our political system wake up and let’s make the world respond. Read this report and you can’t deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice. There are those who say we can’t afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.

“No single country causes climate change, and no one country can stop it. But we need to match the urgency of our response with the scale of the science. We are committed to reaching an ambitious agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions with other countries in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Source: Ralph Alswang

Source: Ralph Alswang

1155 – This is what Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, makes of the report. Since coming to power in September, he has been accused of rolling back on action to tackle climate change through policies such as the repeal of the carbon tax.

‘‘Australia is a land of droughts and flooding rains. Always has been, always will be. The IPCC has been telling us for many years now that we needed to do more. And I’m very happy to do what this government pledged to do before the election, which is to take strong and effective action to deal with climate change. You’ve got to do the right thing, not the wrong thing. You’ve got to have smart policies, not dumb policies. The carbon tax is a very dumb policy. It’s a very expensive policy which has not actually reduced Australia’s emissions.’’

1148 – Saleemul Huq also dropped in an interesting fact about the latest report: it has had to add a new colour to its charts, thanks to the fact that climate change is now “off the charts”. The never-seen-before addition of purple to the graphs is one step up from red, and indicates when risks are “very high”, instead of just “high”.

Source: IPCC

Source: IPCC

1145 – IPCC reports are meant to remain policy neutral, although they clearly have relevance to what policymakers are talking about. In discussions on ‘loss and damage’ taking place at the UN level, the new report has particular weight. What this means is that climate change is already happening, and some of the impacts will be inevitable – therefore we have to find a way to deal with them.

Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development, who was the lead author on one of the chapters dealing with adaptation, told RTCC that the latest instalment deals with the still academically young topic of loss and damage:

“There’s a lot of information that’s relevant – talking about the limits to adaptation is basically talking about loss and damage. It talks about being able to adapt to 2C but not 4C. In different language, it has addressed the issue of loss and damage. A few governments did want it raised, but there was not enough literature to support it … I’m almost sure it will be there in the Sixth Assessment Report, if there is one.”

1133 – One of the newest – and perhaps most alarming – elements of the report is the impact that climate change could have on human security. The general message is that a hotter world is a tenser world. More specifically, the report says that climate change:

– Will cause people to be displaced
– Increase violent conflict through civil war and intergroup violence by enhancing drivers of these conflicts, such as poverty and economic shocks
– Will influence national security policies through its impact on countries’ infrastructure and territorial integrity

RTCC spoke to Neil Adger in Yokohama, who is the lead author on the chapter on human security. He said:

“There’s good evidence this will affect what governments need to do to protect infrastructure – travel, health – as well as rivalry between states for resource, such as fish stocks and rivers that run between nations. For instance, the IPCC shows that various stocks of fish are moving because of warming oceans, so where countries have exclusive economic zones, those fish may be moving, which can cause rivalry between states in terms of their ability to maintain their fishing industry.”

Source: Flickr/viinzography

Source: Flickr/viinzography

The good news, if it can be called that, is that there’s no evidence yet to suggest that we’re on the brink of a fully blown climate change war between nations – conflict is likely to remain within boundaries.

1118 – As you can imagine, there has been plenty of reaction from green groups to today’s release – here’s a selection:

Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate & Energy Initiative:
“The report makes it clear that we still have time to act. We can limit climate instability and adapt to some of the changes we see now. But without immediate and specific action, we are in danger of going far beyond the limits of adaptation. With this risk posed so clearly, we have to hope that the next IPCC report which is being released in Berlin in April, will provide us with strong statements on the solutions that we know exist”

Kaisa Kosonen, Senior Political Advisor, Greenpeace International:
“Scientists are warning us, but they are not telling us to give up. The solutions are already here. A growing wave of people, communities, corporations and investors around the world are already making a difference by moving to clean and safe renewable energy and demanding governments to stand with them. There’s a better future than the one we are currently offered and it’s ours if we want to grasp it.”

Rob Elsworth, Climate and Policy Analyst at CAFOD:
“The IPCC report along with the evidence we’re seeing on the ground in developing countries shows climate change is the single biggest threat to poverty reduction that exists today. It has the potential to undermine years of hard-won gains in improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. We have the means to end poverty within our lifetimes, but not if we don’t tackle climate change, by cutting our emissions and by helping poor people to cope with its impacts.”

1047 – That climate change can cause flooding will be a statement of the all-too-obvious to the beleaguered small island states, whose shorelines are already finding out what rising sea levels mean. Here’s a statement from Ambassador Marlene Moses, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States group.

“The conclusions of the latest IPCC report – that the impacts of climate change are more immediate and more intense than ever before – will come as no surprise to the inhabitants of small islands who have been experiencing record typhoons, coastal flooding, severe droughts, ocean acidification and other climate impacts for years. But we hope that it helps convince the international community, particularly those most responsible for climate change, to address the crisis with greater urgency and not at some abstract date in the future but immediately.” 

Recent flooding in the Marshall Islands (Pic: Alson J Kelen)

Recent flooding in the Marshall Islands (Pic: Alson J Kelen)

Here’s what the news looks like from the perspective of the Marshall Islanders.

– Some 15% of Pacific islands wiped out by 1m sea level rise
– Climate change “bad boys” must make amends, say Marshalls
– Marshall Islands face evacuations as sea swamps capital

1039 – Leo Hickman, chief adviser on climate change at WWF-UK, told RTCC what he thinks the report means for the UK, which faces a future of more flooding and problems with water supply if climate change continues to worsen. The impacts are already clear, he says, but there are still opportunities to act.

“This report also makes clear that we still have the choice and opportunity to act, albeit with a narrowing window. The UK has led the world with its landmark Climate Change Act and five-yearly carbon budgets and we must continue to show global leadership on climate change by staying the course and ignoring those fringe voices still trying to claim the earth is flat, or that we can simply adapt to climate change.

“This report shows that it is not an either/or situation. We must do both – reduce emissions and adapt. This is why WWF is calling on the UK government to defend the Climate Change Act, ensure Europe commits to a bold energy and climate package for 2030, and work tirelessly for a meaningful global deal on climate change in Paris in 2015.”

1036 – Former US Vice President and staunch climate campaigner Al Gore has released a statement, saying this study is “definitive evidence” of the need to take tough action to cut global emissions:

“The atmosphere can no longer be used as an open sewer. The costs of carbon pollution are clear: decreasing crop yields, more destructive storms, the spreading of tropical diseases to temperate latitudes, rising seas, more climate refugees, failures of governance, increasing floods, deepening droughts, more destructive fires and heat waves – all contributing to the new reality of the global climate crisis. Put together, these factors are already affecting the lives of millions around the world by driving them from their homes, disrupting their livelihoods, and in some cases, further straining destabilized regions.”

1030 – One massive study, condensed into a Wordcloud, and highlighting the stress on ‘risk’, which appears 5,000 times in the main report.

(Pic: Wordle)

(Pic: Wordle)

1019 – One thing that the new report makes very clear is that the impacts of climate change are intimately related to wider patterns of development within different countries, with the poorest likely to suffer the most. Countries which are already vulnerable due to political, social or economic reasons are more likely to feel the worst impacts of climate change. I spoke to Purnamita Dasgupta, from the Institute of Economic Growth, and a lead author on the report.

“Development is basically about getting you to better levels of education, health and so on. Of course increases the coping capacity and therefore adds to adaptation. If development takes explicit note of climate change, adaptation action will get built into it.”

1013 – This is the Summary for Policymakers, which condenses the 2,600 page main report into something that an ordinary human is able to digest.

1005 – While it is up to the old people in governments to put in place policies that will deal with climate change, it is youth that will have to deal with most of the impacts. The IPCC predicts that if we continue of a path of high or even medium emissions, there is a high risk of “abrupt and irreversible” changes to ecosystems before the end of this century. Camilla Born, from the UK Youth Climate Coalition, said:

“Our generation is fighting to protect our communities from a changing climate, while government leaders fail to understand the consequences of their inaction on our futures. The latest climate science shows that we cannot adapt our way out of climate change.We’re on the pathway to a world 4-6C warmer than today – the vulnerable will be hit hardest but this is a future that threatens us all.

“As inequality and youth unemployment rise and climate impacts worsen, world leaders continue to fail our generation. Young people are mobilising across the world. It is time for all leaders to follow and take responsibility for our collective futures – the cost of inaction is too great.”

1002 – Here’s what the UK’s chief scientist Sir Mark Walport makes of the report:

0923 – At the international policy level, it is the UN’s job to try to stop climate change – something they’ve been trying to do since 1992. They hope to sign a deal in Paris in 2015. Christiana Figueres is in charge of overseeing this process. This is what she makes of the report:

“This report requires and requests that everyone accelerate and scale up efforts towards a low carbon world and manage the risks of climate change in order to spare the planet and its people from the sobering forecasts outlined today by the IPCC. Fortunately, there is a real, tangible and credible momentum for change happening across the globe and in countries, communities and corporate board rooms.

“This report is a tale of two futures – one of inaction and degradation of our environment, our economies, and our social fabric. The other, to seize the moment and the opportunities for managing climate change risks and making transformational change that catalyzes more adaptive and resilient societies where new technologies and ways of living open the door to a myriad of health, prosperity and job-generating benefits. The path of tomorrow is undoubtedly determined by our choices today. We must decide which path to follow.”

0853 – But also new in the report is a focus on the limits of adaptation. This is bad news. It means that, beyond a certain stage, the pressures become so intense that it leads to large-scale transformations in societies. I just spoke to Richard Klein from the Stockholm Environment Insitute, the lead author of the chapter on limits, who told me that this is still a fairly new branch of knowledge, and one that is likely to expand in future reports.

“We know limits exist from history. If people can’t adapt, whole societies can collapse. What we weren’t able to do in this report – and what governments are anxious to hear from us – is what kind of limits will be hit and where.

“Limits are to some extent subjective. They are dependent on people’s preferences: what might be an intolerable impact to you might not be to me. It will be important to talk about this if we continue on the path of high emissions.”

0838 – Within the WGII report, there’s a much greater focus than ever before on adaptation – both the opportunities and the need for it. What does this mean? To some extent, it means that the world has failed: the more the world has to adapt, the less we’ve managed to stop climate change. But in some ways it’s a message of hope, which is largely how WGII co-chair Chris Field interpreted it during a press conference yesterday:

“We’re really beginning to think about capitalising on win-win opportunities that are present at the interface between adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development. We’re seeing many more opportunities to see climate change as an aid to investing in a better world—a world that’s more vibrant, secure, and robust.”

0830 – The IPCC has released what basically amounts to a trailer for the latest report.

0815 – The economic impacts of climate change are hotly contested – and no wonder. The costs and benefits of a warming world are likely to determine just how much action governments will take to address the issue. The IPCC say “Aggregate economic damages accelerate with increasing temperature”, adding that “few quantitative estimates have been completed for additional warming around 3C or above”.

Lead climate change economist Lord Stern says the study underlines the need to avoid warming of beyond 2C, which would lead to “severe” consequences:

“While people in all countries will need to make themselves more resilient to those impacts that cannot now be avoided over the next few decades, the potential risks from unmitigated climate change towards the end of this century and into the next will be very severe, particularly if global warming exceeds 2 centigrade degrees. The report warns that, during this century, climate change will increase the risk of human populations being displaced to escape shifts in extreme weather, such as floods and droughts, as well as relatively slow-onset impacts, such as desertification and sea level rise. This report presents a stark case for sharply reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts, such as the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the resultant rise in sea level, to which we will not be able to make ourselves fully resilient and which lie outside the evolutionary experience of modern Homo sapiens.”

0800 – Good morning and welcome to RTCC’s live blog pulling together all the news, analysis and reaction from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, a ‘blockbuster’ study that looks at the impacts of a warming world on people and the planet.

How to sum such a giant piece of work up? Well, it says climate change will affect our health, homes, food and safety. Key ecosystems such as coral reefs and the Arctic sea ice are likely to be affected in the short term. Over the longer term food security, crop yields, flooding, migration and conflict could also combine to make life harder.

But the authors *do* say there are opportunities for adaptation, and also underline the importance of continued efforts to cut global emissions.

0750 – More than 300 scientists from 71 countries have worked on Working Group II (WGII) of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), with further input from more than 500 expert reviewers as part of the writing process. A select group of scientists, economists and government officials spent last week in Yokohoma, Japan working through the SPM (see below).

Here’s what one of those involved, Professor Richard Betts, Head of Impacts at the Met Office thinks its main message is:

“This report draws together multiple strands of evidence to show that climate change is already having a global impact, particularly on the natural world, and that it will have bigger impacts in the future.”

You can follow Richard on twitter here:

0745 – Fascinating graph from the IPCC WGII Summary for Policymakers (the shorter document that summarises this report). As you can see, it shows that warming above 2C means danger.



0730 – The European Union’s climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says this study proves it’s “time to get serious” on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for causing climate change:

0720 – One key question is what effect will this study have on the ongoing UN climate negotiations? Here’s the view of Ed Davey, the UK’s Secretary of State for energy and climate change:

“The science has spoken. Left unchecked, climate change will have far reaching consequences for our society. The UK is leading from the front and working with our European partners. We’ve adopted some of the most ambitious climate change targets and are investing in low carbon and energy efficiency technologies. This evidence builds the case for early action in the UK and around the world to lessen the risks posed by climate change. We cannot afford to wait.”

0710 – We’re talking about a vast report, but here are some of the headlines:

– Scientists warn of “abrupt and irreversible” changes
– Marine and land species are already shifting due to warming
– Risks increase “disproportionately” between 1-3C
– Coral reefs and Arctic sea ice at “high risk” beyond 2C
– Extreme weather events will rise with temperatures
– Poorer communities at greater risk of suffering
– Warming of 3C would see ‘extensive biodiversity loss’
– Crop yields likely to decrease 0-2% per decade this century

0705 – So much to get through today – we’ll have the views of scientists involved in this study, leading climate economists like Lord Stern, and the UN’s climate chief Chrstiana Figueres. We’ll also hear from people on the frontline of climate change,

0700 BST – The UN’s climate science panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has released its long-awaited report on the impacts of climate change in Yokohama, Japan. I’m Sophie Yeo, and I’ll be taking you through what exactly this report contains, what it means, and what everyone makes of it.

The main plenary hall in Yokohoma, where scientists have gathered this week to discuss their latest findings (Pic: IISD)

The main plenary hall in Yokohoma, where scientists have gathered this week to discuss their latest findings (Pic: IISD)

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