A United Nations science panel issued its most dire warnings yet Monday on the dangers of climate change, saying the impacts already being felt on every continent threaten to reduce crop yields, wipe out poor people’s livelihoods, inundate low-lying lands, worsen droughts and possibly even increase the risks of wars.
The new scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for immediate action to head off the worst of the damage, writing that “adaptation and mitigation choices in the near-term will affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century.”
“This report is a frightening compendium of coming catastrophe for the planet,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees international environmental issues. “If we do nothing, we will have an increasingly ice-free Arctic and a world full of food and water shortages, with deadly consequences for humans and animals everywhere.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the report “adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution.”
Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organization, said the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change means that “ignorance” is no longer an issue.
“Thirty years ago the greatest generation maybe was damaging our atmosphere on Earth out of ignorance. Now ignorance is no longer a good excuse,” he said. “We know, therefore we have the information to make a decision and act upon this information.”
The poor, along with marginalized groups, are particularly at risk from the impacts of climate change, the report says, warning that “climate-related hazards affect poor people’s lives directly through impacts on livelihoods, reductions in crop yields, or destruction of homes and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity.”
The report, released in Yokohama, Japan, outlines specific ways in which people are at risk, including:
- Agriculture: Wheat and corn yields in many places have taken a hit, the report says, adding that general food security, including access and price stability, could be affected by climate change. While climate change has had some positive effect on agriculture, mostly in high-latitude regions, the harm has been much greater.
- Global security: More populations will be displaced following crop failures, flooding or sea level rise, which will change migration patterns and introduce new security concerns. The report also warns of the possibility that 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.”
- Human health: For the next few decades, climate change will mostly affect human health by worsening existing problems through injuries and illness from more intense heat waves and wildfires, poor nutrition, and diseases carried through water and food. But as time goes on, the effects will worsen, the report says. “By 2100 for the high-emission scenario … the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors.”
- Water: Water scarcity will spread as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, hitting particularly the dry, subtropical regions, the report concludes. Some high latitudes will see increased water resources, it adds. The report also repeats warnings that sea levels will continue to rise throughout this century, particularly bad news for low-lying areas and island nations.
(Excerpted from Politico 3/31/14)