From the poles to the tropics, the earth’s climate and ecosystems are already being impacted by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and face inevitable, possibly profound, alteration, a United Nations scientific panel climate change said Friday.
In a detailed picture of the effects of climate change driven by human activities, the panel warned of the risk of widening droughts in southern Europe and the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the American Southwest and Mexico, and flooding that could imperil low-lying islands and the crowded river deltas of southern Asia. It stressed that many of the regions facing the greatest risks were among the world’s poorest.
And it said that while limits on carbon emissions could lower the long-term risks, vulnerable regions must take action to shifting weather patterns, climatic and coastal hazards, and rising seas.
People living in poverty would be worst affected by the effects of climate change, the gathered experts said.
"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
75-250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020
Crop yields could increase by 20% in East and Southeast Asia, but decrease by up to 30% in Central and South Asia
Agriculture fed by rainfall could drop by 50% in some African countries by 2020
20-30% of all plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise between 1.5-2.5°C
Glaciers and snow cover expected to decline, reducing water availability in countries supplied by melt water
The report states that the observed increase in the global average temperature was "very likely" due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific work reviewed by IPCC scientists includes more than 29,000 pieces of data on observed changes in physical and biological aspects of the natural world. Eighty-nine percent of these, it believes, are consistent with a warming world.
The wording of the summary of the report, which will be sent to world leaders in time for a G8 summit of industrialised nations in June, was finally decided after scientists and government officials from more than 100 countries worked through the night.
Several delegations, including the US, Saudi Arabia, China and India, had requested that the final version reflect less certainty than the draft.
Friday's report is the second in a series of IPCC reports coming out this year, together making up its fourth global climate assessment.
The first element, on the science of climate change, released in February, concluded it was at least 90% likely that human activities are principally responsible for the warming observed since 1950.
The third part, due in May, will focus on ways of curbing the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations and temperature.
A fourth report in November will sum up all the findings.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Conference in December in Indonesia, Parties to the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol will agree on how to shape the post- 2012 climate change regime under the auspices of the UN.
“This will be the opportunity for the international community to show commitment and to take action on adaptation and mitigation. Climate change will also be at the top of the agenda of heads of state at the upcoming G8 summit in Germany, so the appropriate political signals can already be sent from there,” said the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer.
This week, the UNFCCC secretariat also presented a new report from a 2007 small island developing States (SIDS) regional meeting which spells out further actions that can facilitate adaptation to climate change for such countries.
The report points to the projected impacts of climate change on SIDS, such as economic losses from reduced agricultural yields, the loss of mangrove forests and coral reefs due to sea level rise and the acidification of the oceans. It also points to the inundation of settlements and arable land on the coast and reduction in tourism due to increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather.
In addition, the report points out the crucial need for adaptation to be integrated into national sustainable development plans and strategies.
“Small island developing States are a good example of countries where insurance rates continue to increase from year to year. But in these countries, insurance-related action on the part of governments also provides a unique opportunity to provide incentives for risk reduction, as a tool for adaptation, while at the same time engaging the private sector in climate change response action,” said de Boer.
The UNFCCC report says the use of insurance could go beyond the traditional model, for example through innovative mechanisms such as enabling SIDS to generate carbon credits in exchange for support for insurance.