Climate Change Threatens Irreversible and Dangerous Impacts

Climate Change ImpactsCopenhagen, Denmark - Human influence on the climate system is clear and growing, with impacts observed on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. However, options are available to adapt to climate change and implementing stringent mitigations activities can ensure that the impacts of climate change remain within a manageable range, creating a brighter and more sustainable future.

These are among the key findings of the Synthesis Report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Sunday. The Synthesis Report distils and integrates the findings of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report produced by over 800 scientists and released over the past 13 months – the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever undertaken.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that if the world maintains its “business as usual” attitude about climate change, the opportunity to keep temperature rise below the internationally target of 2 degrees Celsius, “will slip away within the next decade.” “Leaders must act,” urges Ban.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

The Synthesis Report confirms that climate change is being registered around the world and warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Since the 1950s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

“Our assessment finds that the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen and the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased to a level unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” said Thomas Stocker, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report expresses with greater certainty than in previous assessments the fact that emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic drivers have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.

The impacts of climate change have already been felt in recent decades on all continents and across the oceans.

The more human activity disrupts the climate, the greater the risks. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of wide-spread and profound impacts affecting all levels of society and the natural world, the report finds.

Synthesis Report Release at Copenhagen
Participants at press conference to launch Synthesis Report of IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, including (centre) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri. Copenhagen, Denmark (2 November 2014). © UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The Synthesis Report makes a clear case that many risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope. People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change.

Indeed, limiting the effects of climate change raise issues of equity, justice, and fairness and is necessary to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication.

“Many of those most vulnerable to climate change have contributed and contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions,” Pachauri said. “Addressing climate change will not be possible if individual agents advance their own interests independently; it can only be achieved through cooperative responses, including international cooperation.”

“Adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Adaptation is so important because it can be integrated with the pursuit of development, and can help prepare for the risks to which we are already committed by past emissions and existing infrastructure.”