March 31, 2014

IPCC report – climate impacts in a fast changing world

For those of us who follow the story of climate change, the report released today by the IPCC was not really surprising.  It is pretty much as expected.  The effects of climate change are already occurring across every continent and every ocean, with negative impacts being felt in many places already.  As a society, we are ill-prepared to deal with theses impacts that will significantly worsen as temperatures continue to rise.

But what is surprising is that the globe, who must already know most of this stuff (and if they didn’t they should do now), are doing very little (if anything) about it.  The small, tentative steps that we see being taken just aren’t enough.  There are too many excuses and delays to meaningful action that will make a difference.

What is it going to take for governments and industry to sit up,  take heed and make the appropriate policy changes – war, famine, mass migration?

Wait…, hold on a minute, isn’t that just what the IPCC report is predicting?

According to the report, climate change could threaten global food security as warmer weather reduces global crop yields and vastly reduces fish catches.  Food prices are likely to be sent spiraling upwards and many will go hungry.

Climate change also looks to be driving weather related mega-disasters.  Already between 2000 and 2009 there have been 3 times more natural disasters than in the 1980′s.  These types of disasters have high economic, social and psychological costs.  It is questionable to what degree our societies will be able to cope with the likely rise in these events.  Who will pay for it?  How will people adapt and change to new situations?

Climate change may also trigger several serious drivers of conflict.  Food riots, competing demands for water and other resources, as well as increased migration is likely to lead to strife both civil and international, in a warming world.

And who is to be affected by all this?  Well at first, of course, it will be the usual suspects, the economically, socially and politically marginalised people (aka the poor) of this planet, but ultimately no-one will be immune.

Here in Australia, in our affluent cocoon, it is easy to be complacent, but we will are, and will be effected in many ways.  We are at increasing risk of coastal erosion and flooding.  Our ability to produce our own food is likely to be reduced due to droughts and water shortages.  The number of dangerously hot days are set to multiply by a factor of as much 7, over the next 50 years, greatly increasing the likelihood of heat related disasters – fire, drought and ill-health.  Our native ecosystems will be challenged by the rising mercury.  With the range of  native species greatly contracting, many will be pushed towards extinction.  The Great Barrier reef is toast.

Sounds pretty grim.

But it is not all doom and gloom, there was a kernel of hope in the report too.  With strong action now to mitigate climate change we could significantly reduce these severe impacts. To do this we all need to work together to uncouple our economies and our lives from our dependency on fossil fuels.  We need to strive towards a clean energy future, live sustainable, thoughtful lives and tread lightly on our precious planet.  At the same time we need to be realistic about the damage already done and work towards adaptations that will shield us from serious harm.

It is time more of us started taking the need for immediate action seriously.