Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

IPCC Report on Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

By AusSMC

Australian, UK and NZ experts respond to the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's summary report for policy-makers.

Dr Helen McGregor is a Research Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University

“It is clear from the report that unmitigated increases in global temperature will have significant impacts globally. For Australia the clearest evidence for impacts are on river inflow in the southwest western Australia, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and livelihoods, health and economics. The agricultural sector is also likely to see impacts in the future, including reduced wheat yields. In many instances adaptation alone will not do the job and reduction of carbon emissions, and therefore the degree of warming, is essential. The schematics in the report make the scoping, analysis and implementation of adaptation strategies seem straightforward. But there will be tough decisions to make and consequences for the short and long term. For example, take areas where flooding is likely to increase in frequency and intensity. It’s balancing the cost of rebuilding, and protecting against further flooding, or in the worst case the emotional and economic cost of relocation.”

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Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is Director of the University of Queensland Global Change Institute and an IPCC Coordinating Lead Author

“Human intervention is most definitely affecting the global climate and posing risks to human and natural systems. This report identifies tourism and maritime shipping as industries likely to feel some of the earliest and most significant climate change impacts. Extreme weather events affect holidays and disrupt global transport schedules. Even a one degree Celsius temperature change above today will bring devastatingly expensive impacts for human communities and economies.

Oceans have absorbed over 90 per cent of the heat arising from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and have soaked up around 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The rate at which energy has been entering the ocean is phenomenal, equivalent to the addition of two atomic bombs every second.

The ability of ocean species to adapt genetically to increasing levels of stress brought on by rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification is not occurring fast enough, given the long generation times of many organisms such as corals and fish. Combined with temperature rise, ocean acidification could seriously impact calcifying organisms and coastal aquaculture, causing irreversible damage to oceans and economies. Experimental work in this area is starting to reveal many other aspects of ocean life that are vulnerable to ocean acidification. This experimental work continues against a backdrop of the fastest rate of change in temperature and ocean chemistry in 65 million years. We need to act urgently.”

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Associate Professor Will Howard is from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He was lead author of the Ocean Acidification section of the Marine Climate Change in Australia 2012 Report Card.

“This report provides a review of the most challenging and complex question concerning climate change: how will it affect natural systems and human society? Most importantly it provides insight for policy makers into what we can do to prepare for future climate changes, regardless of their causes.

Large uncertainties remain in our understanding of climate change impacts. This IPCC assessment also reviews the uncertainties and crucially provides direction for future research. There will be an ongoing need for data within parts of the Earth system likely to experience climate change impacts, especially the terrestrial and marine ecosystems that sustain our food supplies. Detecting and attributing climate change impacts in complex natural systems with a diverse set of natural and human processes affecting them will be a key challenge for science over coming decades.

In the marine environment much of the understanding of climate change impacts from multiple stressors such as warming, reduction of oxygen, and acidification comes from laboratory experiments and simulations. Climate change impacts are beginning to be detected in the marine environment, and this IPCC report provides one of the first major syntheses of observations and risks.”

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Professor Barbara Norman is Director of Canberra Urban & Regional Futures (CURF) at the University of Canberra. She is also a contributing author to the Australasian chapter of this IPCC report.

“This report highlights the increasing impact of floods, fire and heat on communities and infrastructure, constraints on water resources and increased fire risk in southern Australia. Increasing risks to coastal infrastructure including road and rail networks and low-lying ecosystems in Australia with continuing sea level rise.

It is no longer business as usual. There are also limits to adaptation, for example, limits to the Great Barrier Reef adapting to rapid rises in sea surface temperatures or the amount of heat that the human body can tolerate.

There are major implications for the location of new development, redevelopment and infrastructure. Planning systems throughout Australia need to be revised to include the impacts of climate change. The location of new urban growth corridor and major infrastructure has long -term consequences. However, Queensland, NSW and increasingly Victoria are removing climate change impacts as a consideration.

There are significant challenges in adapting to environmental change – lack of data, lack of an integrated approach by governments. Investment in adaptation research essential to inform critical long-term housing and infrastructure investment decisions (ports, airports, communications, energy transmission).

The lack of an adaptation strategy for Australia is making it very difficult for small local councils to implement a consistent and coordinated approach across Australia. We need an adaptation strategy for Australia agreed to by all levels of government in consultation with industry and affected communities.

The extent of impacts may mean shifting from incremental change to transformational adaptation, for example, no development in high- risk areas. This may have implications for institutional and governance arrangements.

We are not coping with extreme events already with significant loss to life and assets in recent years. The primary focus needs to be on reducing emissions to minimise future risks to the community and the extent and potential escalating costs of adaptation that will be now required.”

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Dr Andrew Glikson is an Earth and Paleo-climate scientist and Visiting Fellow at the ANU School of Anthropology and Archaeology, ANU Climate Change Institute. He was also an IPCC WGI Reviewer.

“The abrupt rise in the energy and temperature levels of the atmosphere/ocean system since the 1980s, driven by an increase in concentration of greenhouse gases arising from release of >560 giga tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere, is leading to an extreme shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system, such has almost no precedence in the recorded geological history, with the exception of events which resulted in the mass extinction of species.

As a direct consequence of the above, as well as reduction of the transient protection by albedo-enhancing industrial sulphur dioxide since mid-1980s, mean global temperatures have risen since the 1980s by about than 0.6oC. Currently, had it not been for the aerosols, mean global temperature would have been higher by an additional near to 1oC.

Allowing for the masking effect of sulphur aerosols, the total rise in temperature since the onset of the industrial age (about ~1750) is reaching levels similar to those of the Pliocene ~2.6 million years ago. The shift is occurring at the fastest rate recorded by paleoclimate studies. Whereas many species can adapt to gradual environmental changes, the current temperature rise rate resulting from ~2-3 ppm CO2/year may not be sustained.

The current change is manifested by an increase in the rate of melting of the major ice sheets, accelerating sea level rise and a rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, reflecting elevated energy level of the atmosphere-ocean system.

The consequences of continuing carbon emissions and rise of mean global temperatures would render large parts of the Earth’s land surfaces uninhabitable, due to droughts, storms and flooding of coastal, deltas and low river valleys by sea level rise – estimated as about 25+/-12 meters under Pliocene conditions, constituting an existential threat for civilization and nature.

Ongoing acidification and warming of the oceans is seriously damaging marine life and the food resources for hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Excepting injection of transient and sulphur aerosols, with negative effects on precipitation and ocean acidification, the arrest of current climate trend requires a meaningful reduction in current rate of carbon emission (~9 GtC/year) and development of new methodologies for draw-down of atmospheric CO2, by at least 50 ppm, requiring research efforts on a global scale.”

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Professor John Cole is Executive Director of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland

“Today’s Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability has special implications for regional Australia. The IPCC’s most up-to-date scientific and risk assessment points to global warming putting the economic security of our regional communities in question with particular risks for the agricultural, fishing and tourism sectors.

Climate change is already impacting negatively on a wide range of vulnerable regions and crop yields and promises to further diminish the productivity of our fisheries, particularly those in tropical waters. With so much of the regional economy dependent on primary industries and with disadvantages in infrastructure and services already apparent, regional Australians are likely to figure disproportionately among the most vulnerable in having to come up with effective adaptation strategies, including economic diversification away from climate exposed sectors.

In those warmer and drier regions the IPPC concludes there is likely to be “intensifying competition for water among sectors” – and in regional Australia that means farming versus mining, food versus fibre, or town versus farm. These impacts will be felt in rural communities in altered patterns of farm incomes and spending, major upgrades in farm production and irrigation efficiency or in other cases likely shifts in production to other areas as is being proposed for lands adjacent to the Gulf of Carpentaria to be developed for intensive agriculture.

Simply, we will buy more time to adapt to climate change if we keep emissions within a range that limits warming to 2C and for regional Australians that may well mean whether their communities have a future or not.”

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Associate Professor Frank Jotzo is Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University

“The IPCC report, drawing from a large number of recent studies, shows that climate change is already affecting nature and people, in a "widespread and consequential" way. But most impacts are still to come, and the risks of severe impacts and interactions are the key to understanding the problem.

The IPCC warns of the risks of breakdown of food systems, severe harm due to inland flooding, systemic risks to infrastructure and critical services, loss of ecosystems, and risks to human health. Many of the impacts would be irreversible: once we let them happen, there is no returning to the status quo.

Climate change could affect developing countries particularly badly, but developed countries are not immune, being rich is no protection from climate change. For Australia, the IPCC identifies the risks of increase frequency and intensity of flooding, less water availability in Southern Australia, infrastructure and health damages from heat waves, and wildfires. The IPCC also points out the potential for coastal damage from sea-level rise and reduction in agricultural producing in the Murray-Darling basin if the climate gets drier - both are relatively uncertain but could turn out very severe. Changes to coral reefs and montane ecosystems and some native species are already described as "very difficult to avoid", in the IPCC's usual understated language.

Adaptation action will help deal with many aspects of climate change, and adaptation needs to be become more central in governments' agendas. But adaptation cannot deal with the loss of ecosystems, and will struggle to deal with large scale natural impacts and flow-on effects on our societies. For example if crops and food systems fail in South Asia, then we will see the consequences in terms of regional security and global trade. No matter how well we adapt to specific impacts, there can be system-wide impacts. The answer is reducing the extent of future climate change by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the debate in the media about the IPCC report released today revolves around estimates of percentage impacts on future GDP from climate change. Future GDP impacts from climate change are very difficult to guess. Simple cost-benefit analysis doesn't do the problem justice. It will usually make the problem seem smaller than it is by ignoring ecological impacts and the risk of very bad outcomes. The key concern is the risk of deep impacts on natural systems pressures on economies that could result in the breakdown of economic and societal systems - be they health, food, trade or security. GDP could be reduced dramatically under those circumstances. Under severe scenarios, GDP is not even a particularly relevant indicator. A statistical measure of economic activity is not necessarily a good approximation of changes in living conditions.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions now, is investing in insurance against these risks.

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Dr Christine Adams-Hosking is a Research Officer at the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland

“The findings [on the impact of climate change on the koala and its critical eucalyptus trees] show a significant effect on our iconic species in terms of contractions in their geographic range due to increases in heatwaves and droughts.

This is now an additional threat to a species already living on the edge due to significant population declines caused by loss of habitat, urbanisation, cars, disease and dogs.”

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Professor Glenn Albrecht is Director of the Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University, WA

“Currently, the only issue preventing meaningful adaptive and mitigative action against further global warming is the perverse resilience of our current political and policy institutions. The messages in the IPCC Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers are clear, we need to remove the barriers for political change away from fossil fuel dependency. We must make a rapid transition to non-polluting renewable forms of energy. At the same time we need to acknowledge the urgent need to adapt to the changes we have already imposed upon ourselves. The forces that perversely want us to remain on track for catastrophic climate change are well funded and well organised. They command a dominant role in much of the commercial media and act to downplay the risks we face now and the escalating risks we face in the future in the absence of urgent greenhouse gas mitigation. Failure to adapt to imposed change will, as the IPCC thoroughly documents, harm every aspect of our lives and our own environment. Failure to mitigate will invite further change that will be beyond our ability to control and the consequences of that will be hugely negative at global scale. The IPCC have given us a thorough summary of what needs to be done. Only perverse resilience to their clear message stands in the way of protective and preventative action.”

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Professor Tim Naish, Director of the Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington & Lead Author of IPCC WG1 AR5

"The Working Group 2 report, much like the Working Group 1 report released last year, (from the IPCCs 5th assessment) confirms and strengthens the certainty around the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

"Building on the statement that 'the human influence on the climate system is clear', this latest report makes it quite clear that New Zealand is under-prepared and faces a significant 'adaptation deficit' in the context of the projected impacts and risks from global average warming of +2 to 4°C by the end of the century.

"For New Zealand's coastal communities and infrastructure a 'likely' sea-level rise of 0.5m above present combined with projected increased in storminess may exponentially increase the frequency of coastal flooding such that the 1 in 100 year event is occurring on an annual basis by the year 2100.

"Extreme weather events, such as droughts and flooding will become more frequent as the wet regions in the west of New Zealand can expect more rainfall and the already dry regions of Canterbury the far North and the East Cape become drier with significant implications for water resources, increased risk for our climate sensitive primary industries such as agriculture and horticulture and challenges for hydro-electricity generation.

"This report is a wake up call for New Zealand to take its head out of the sand, to take a longer-term view - at least longer than an electoral cycle - and rise to the challenge of adaptation if we are to future-proof this country for coming generations."

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Dr James Renwick, Assoc Prof, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

"This new WGII report, part of the overall 5th Assessment Report from the IPCC, paints a very clear picture of what the future could hold for humanity if we don't get on top of greenhouse gas emissions.

"One of the biggest issues is sea level rise and associated hazards. Every 10cm of rise triples the risk of a given inundation event, and we are expecting something like a metre of rise this century. That would make today's 1-in-100 year event a weekly occurrence by 2100. New Zealand has a great deal of valuable property and infrastructure close to the coast that will be increasingly at risk as time goes on.

"The other main issue identified is risks to food security and water availability from changing rainfall patterns, heat waves and extreme events. The report states that many problems already exist; food and water shortages, political and military conflict, and points out that climate change makes all of these existing problems worse. For New Zealand, key problems include loss of ecosystem biodiversity, especially marine and alpine ecosystems, and risks around flooding and coastal inundation.

"The report states that there has been a 'significant adaptation deficit' in many places, meaning that we have done little so far to prepare. This new report is a wake-up call. We must adapt to changes that are already underway, and it is critical to develop serious mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst of what the future has to hold."

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Dr Sally Brown, University of Southampton and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

“With rising temperatures and other climatic and non-climatic threats there is an additional environmental risk, such that extreme event today may happen more frequently. This will be most felt in those ecosystems or regions which are already very vulnerable to change, such as coral reefs or small islands: The adverse impacts of climate change will not be evenly spread and will often exacerbate existing issues. This report iterates what we have learnt since AR4, that unless we act, adverse impacts will still occur. Where we can adapt to climate change and sea-level rise, we can increase resilience and reduce risk. The challenge is the effectively manage this process, taking account the multiple causes environmental change.

“Difficult decisions need to be made regarding adaptation. At times, these may cost more in the short term, but aim to provide long-term benefits and reduce risk. Thus, it is important to strategically plan for long-term benefits, whilst taking short-term needs in mind, and this is a challenging goal. This type of planning is starting to emerge. We still have a chance to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change, either by mitigation or adaptation, and we should take the opportunity to do so. Further research needs to bring together policy makers from global, national and local scales to achieve this version.

“This report indicates that on the coast, adverse impacts are also influenced by socio-economic issues, such as rapidly growing populations. How societies evolve and respond to any type of coastal change is therefore important, and decisions ideally need to be made collectively with multiple stakeholders and at different government levels.”

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Prof Jeffrey S. Kargel, Department of Hydrology & Water Resources at the University of Arizona

“The IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability includes an accurate high-level assessment of the worldwide and region-by-region changes—dominantly shrinkage—occurring to the world’s glaciers. The report correctly attributes those changes mainly to climate change. In my research field it is known that climate change is causing mountain processes—such as landslides, glacier lake outburst floods, monsoon-driven floods, and debris flows—to change in intensity, frequency, and location. The shifting mountain hazard picture and the necessary adaptive strategies are not captured in detail in this report but the high-level, broad issues identified apply to mountain hazards. Details vary from regionally, and the report captures that fact.

“A poignant and also accurate and troubling point raised in the report is that well-intended adaptive responses to climate change to reduce short-term dangers can be maladaptive. To take an example drawn from my own work, in villages dotting many high mountain valleys an over reliance on development of warning systems or flood control systems to aid people living vulnerably on river flood plains can lend a false sense of security. If these systems are not paired with other measures to reduce exposure and vulnerability, then the risk situation may grow. Simply having a warning system installed to deal with certain types of floods, for instance, may increase the desirability and sense of security of living in such places on harm’s edge, thus further increasing exposure as vulnerable communities grow and people move into the more hazardous niches. Further protective measures may not only be expensive but may plant the seeds of immense future tragedy when such systems are eventually overwhelmed, as they will be in some cases.

“There are places on the Earth’s surface that are simply not safe to inhabit, and within vulnerable communities there are more dangerous and less dangerous spots. My experience with mountain communities is that people often do not recognize that a small shift of location can make the difference between moderately but acceptably dangerous and exceptionally foolhardy. This is a problem in poor developing countries such as Nepal, and it’s a problem in wealthy developed nations such as the U.S., as the Washington state community of Oso just discovered with a great tragedy.”

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Prof Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Review Editor of AR5 Chapter 11: Human Health.

"The IPCC report identifies a number of key risks relevant to human health. These include increased risk of death during periods of extreme heat and reduced labour productivity due to increased thermal stress in vulnerable populations. Threats to health and livelihoods arise from increased flooding in coastal areas in small islands and also due to inland flooding in some areas. Of particular concern is the increased risk of under nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions.

"The risks of severe and irreversible impacts are increased as the magnitude of warming increases. For example in the high emission scenario (RCP 8.5), by 2100 the combination of increased temperatures and humidity is projected to compromise normal human activities such as working outdoors for parts of the year in some areas. Many strategies that reduce emissions of climate active pollutants (and thus the rate and magnitude of climate change) can result in large benefits to health, for example from reduced air pollution from shifts to cleaner energy sources. Protecting and improving health should be a major focus of efforts to address the challenges posed by climate change."

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Prof Nicholas Stern, Chair of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

“This comprehensive report lays out very clearly the evidence that climate change is already having many impacts across the world, ranging from effects on human deaths from extremely hot or cold weather, crop yields, the availability of water from shrinking glaciers, and the distribution of plant and animal species. These are all happening after less than 1 centigrade degree of global warming.

"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.”

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Prof Sam Fankhauser, who was a contributing author to AR5 Chapter 17: Economics of Adaptation and who is Co-Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Co-Deputy Director of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science

“The report documents how countries are already making themselves more resilient to the impacts of climate change, but much more needs to be done. In the UK and the rest of northern Europe, we will need to cope with increasing risks from coastal and inland flooding, heat waves and droughts. The UK and all rich countries must also provide significant support to help poor countries, which are particularly vulnerable, to cope with the impacts of climate change.”

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Professor Georgina Mace FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters

“The WG2 report builds on the WG1 report issued last year. WG1 showed strong evidence for anthropogenic climate change and how this could unfold over this century. Climate change matters to people and societies primarily through the impacts it has on the environment and the weather, especially the intensity and variability over time of changes to heat and rainfall, and the impacts these have on our life support systems – a secure supply of food and freshwater, good health, security of life and livelihoods. This report examines these risks in order to support policy-making to reduce them.

“Early, proactive adaptation is likely to be more effective than later, reactive responses and more likely to enhance resilience as well as reducing risk. Because we are not well adapted now, dealing with current crises in an incremental manner may distract from making the substantial changes to infrastructure, food, water and energy systems that will be necessary. Also, in an uncertain environment, being able to learn while doing may be safer and cheaper, and reduce the risks of maladaptation. Enhancing resilience – the ability to withstand future shocks and stresses - is a step beyond adaptation and especially important to reduce the widening variation in risks and opportunities for people in different areas of the world. Recent progress in development in parts of Asia and Africa could stall if risks to large numbers of poor and vulnerable people are not averted.”

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Professor Paul Bates, member of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters

“This new report makes clear that the effects of climate change over the coming decades will be far reaching and will affect almost every aspect of our lives from food production, health, the economy to the environment. At the same time a growing global population that is increasingly urbanized and interconnected is making society more vulnerable and less resilient. There is also good evidence that climate-related hazards hit those living in poverty the hardest.

“A very important point made by the report is that reducing our exposure to current climate threats is a critical first step towards mitigating or adapting to future climate change. Current climate and its variability already pose very significant risks, of which the recent UK floods are a clear example. Coping with current threats is actually the first step in preparing for the future. We have good evidence that spending on disaster prevention is much more cost effective than spending on disaster clean up. This is a classic ‘no regrets’ strategy that can improve livelihoods and well being now and in the future.

“Whilst there are uncertainties associated with future climate change impacts, this report demonstrates an overwhelming scientific consensus about what we do, and do not, know well. Good statistical tools now exist to characterize uncertainty in future climate projections and to take optimal decisions given this imprecise knowledge. We are moving to a situation where we know more about future climate changes than we do about possible future societal changes and their impact on vulnerability, and that this needs to be a focus of work in the coming years."

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Dr Bhaskar Vira, member of the Royal Society Working Group on Human Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters

“One key message from this Report is that the consequences of climate change will be very unequally distributed across the planet, with impacts likely to enhance the vulnerability of the most marginalised groups. The risks are particularly acute for those who are already in poverty, and will further undermine already stressed livelihood options for these populations, increase their exposure to hazards and negatively impact food security.

“The debate over climate change has to be sensitive to these distributional issues, as a focus on aggregate outcomes at a global scale usually hides these differentiated impacts. Our moral compass needs to focus on the injustice that results from the unequal exposure of people around the world to the risks of climate change, caused by the actions and lifestyles of those at the opposite end of the income distribution (both in their own countries, and internationally).

“A major collective effort from decision makers acting at local, national and global scales is needed to address the grossly unfair allocation of resources in relation to adaptive capacity, and the lack of adequate social protection and insurance measures in those parts of the world that have the largest populations at risk.”

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Prof Robert Nicholls, University of Southampton and Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 6: Coastal Systems and Low-Lying Areas

"The AR5 report reaffirms the large threats associated with climate change, and better identifies the importance of and need for both adaptation and mitigation responses than earlier IPCC assessments. In the future we need to understand these responses much better at global, regional and local scales.

"The report reaffirms the importance of coastal zones as a hotspot for climate impacts. Climate adaptation for coasts has grown significantly over the last few years, and these efforts need to further developed in the coming decades."

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Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at the University of Reading

“A changing climate is just another problem for our already overburdened bees. Shifting seasonal patterns means bees are emerging earlier in the year, before enough flowering plants are in bloom to feed them. It’s like waking up to find breakfast is not served for another week.
“New climate patterns also means habitats are shifting, but bees can’t necessarily move as easily, especially as populations are already disjointed by modern land use.

“Some of our native bumblebees are already under threat of local extinction. Unless we begin to see the value of maintaining our natural environment, and understand the damage that we are inflicting on it, then we are storing up trouble for the future. Climate change is just one of the problems facing bees, and bees have enough problems as it is.

“If policymakers want one reminder of a potential victim of climate change, they need look no further than their own gardens - and the contents of their kitchen cupboards.”

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Dr Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist at the University of Reading

“The dredging of ‘pinch points’ along some river channels in the Somerset levels will help to speed up the flow of the water, and could help to move water downstream more quickly, easing the risk of localised floods. This action is supported strongly by residents and farmers, and is being carried out after the Prime Minister made specific promises that dredging would resume in the area.

“The government’s overall plan to alleviate flooding would help the Somerset Levels, but only a fraction of the £100million needed has been pledged so far by different branches of government. When money is tight, it’s important that funds are spent wisely to protect homes, businesses and farmland. Dredging is a costly, short-term solution, and I have serious doubts that this is the best way to prioritise action, compared to other longer-term solutions.

“Today’s report from the IPCC shows how risks from extreme rainfall and flooding are likely to change in the future. With increasingly difficult decisions ahead about which areas to protect, it’s important that we make sound, long term decisions based on solid evidence, not electoral cycles."

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Dr Rachel Warren, from the UEA-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and school of Environmental Sciences, and co-ordinating lead author of Chapter 19: Emergent Risks and Key Vulnerabilities

“Global temperatures have already risen by 0.8C. If we do not take action to reduce carbon emissions, global temperatures could rise by 3-6C by the end of the century.
“WGII shows that the 0.8C rise we have already experienced has impacted agriculture and ecosystems.

“If temperatures rise by 2C, there will be further impacts to ecosystems, increased levels of extreme weather and problems for crop yields and water supplies.

“If temperatures go above 2C, we will risk melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other large scale changes. By 4C there will be a high impact on global agriculture, water resources and ecosystems, and a high risk to the Greenland ice sheet. Most world regions will be affected.

“The worrying thing is that our ability to adapt to these impacts is limited. What we need to do is act fast to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2. If we do this, we can avoid a large proportion of the impacts.

“Unfortunately we have left it too late to rely on reducing emissions alone and we cannot avoid all of the impacts. Some adaptation will be needed. But acting swiftly to reduce CO2 emissions will make adaptation easier. It will be necessary to reduce our emissions and invest in adaptation to avoid most of these climate change impacts.”

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Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA

“This is not just another report, this is the scientific consensus reached by hundreds of scientists after careful consideration of all the available evidence.

“The human influence on climate change is clear. The atmosphere and oceans are warming, the snow cover is shrinking, the Arctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, some extreme weather events are on the rise, ecosystems and natural habitats will be upset. Climate change threatens food security and world economies.

“We need rapid and substantial cuts in carbon emissions and a move away from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit global climate change below two degrees and mitigate these impacts.”

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Dr Sally Brown, Research Fellow in coastal science and engineering at the University of Southampton

What are the threats and what would be the cost?
“In recent years there has been an increasing recognition that coastal change is not all about climate change and sea-level rise, but other natural or man-made processes, population and economic growth are responsible too. Multiple threats can occur in one location. As such, any adaptive response to single or multiple impacts must include all factors influencing coastal change. Awareness to the adverse effects of climate change and sea-level is increasing.

“Vulnerable coastlines are already subject to saltwater intrusion, flooding, erosion and changes in wetlands. Sea-level rise will locally exacerbate these problems. Additionally, human pressures, such as population growth, particularly in cities, could lead to greater groundwater withdrawal, which can result in local land subsidence, thus worsening the problem. Without adapting to sea-level rise and extreme events, rising sea levels could have major implications of millions of people worldwide, cost billions of pounds of damage to urban environments and infrastructure and have an adverse effect on the natural environment affecting agriculture and wetlands.”

Where are the greatest risks?
“Risks are considered highest in south, south-east and east Asia (due to low-lying land, particularly deltas and large populations), and many parts of Africa and small islands (due to reduced capacity or capital to adapt, remoteness or access to appropriate resources). Throughout the 21st century, if we did not adapt, impacts from extreme could worsen not just due to sea-level rise, but also due to increased coastal population, economic growth and assets. However, the risks to the coast as so high that we do expect adaptation to occur. Globally, there is also concern that locally ocean pH is decreasing leading to ocean acidification. This, along with local changes to sea surface temperatures could lead to coral bleaching and changes to underwater ecosystems.”

What has been the response of scientists?
“Since 2007 and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report scientists have a better understanding of how to adapt to sea-level rise, both at local and national levels. Scientists are better understanding multiple impacts at one location, which allows for more appropriate adaptation. Adaptation is happening more innovatively and at longer timescales, making scientists and engineers more prepared for adverse effects of climate change. This may include raising infrastructure or working with nature by selectively removing defences allowing space for water and increasing biodiversity – an engineering technique called managed realignment.”

What is happening in the UK?
“In the UK, through the Thames Estuary 2100 project, the Environment Agency and other organisations have determined how best to project to people of London and the surrounding area from flooding via adaptation, as the Thames Barrier (completed in 1982) has a limited lifespan. Taking global and national projections of sea-level change together with other environmental factors, they are strategically planning recommendations and actions to reduce flood risk over short (2010-2035), medium (2035-2050) and long-term (2050-2100) timescales. This adaptation planning is a little like a road map, in that you have one destination (e.g. 1m of sea-level rise), but a number of routes to reach it can differ (e.g. raise defences, flood storage, new barrier). By strategically planning multiple and flexible adaptation routes, this increases preparedness and reduces long-term risk, and thus economic costs. This kind of adaptation planning is new and innovative, and is increasing in popularity.”

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Dr Jeff Price, of the UEA-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and school of Environmental Sciences

“The IPCC process is incredibly rigorous and involves hundreds of world-leading scientists and reviewers, multiple times, from around the world. It is the culmination of four years’ work and takes into account thousands of papers to produce a scientific consensus on climate-change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The findings are a review of the peer-reviewed literature and, as a consensus document it may be alarming, but cannot be alarmist. This is especially true of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) which is meticulously (line-by-line) reviewed by the Governments in a Plenary session.

“Our research shows that climate change could greatly reduce the diversity of even common plant and animal species around the world. Loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides. There would also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.

"The good news is that swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases could prevent this biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming and buying time for plants and animals to adapt.”