What does climate change mean for our future? A summary of the recent IPCC report into impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

14 April 2014

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

On 27th September 2013 the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) Working Group 1 (WG1 – The Physical Science Basis) released its updated findings on the evidence of climate change. Its headline conclusions were:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “Human influence on the climate system is clear.”

The fifth assessment is the latest in a series of reports giving an up to date understanding of climate change and is split into four parts:
• Working Group I – The Physical Science Basis
• Working Group II – Climate Change Impacts- Adaptation and Vulnerability
• Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change
• Synthesis Report

Last week, the Working Group II report and summary for policy makers, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was published. The report considers the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems, the observed impacts and future risks of climate change, and the potential for and limits to adaptation. This most recent report demonstrates greater confidence in the extent and impact of climate change, as a result of having more data and new ways of analysing earlier measurements.

Key findings from the report include:
• Changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.
• Our weather is changing- we have less hot days and nights, and fewer cold days and nights. On the whole, wet places will get wetter and dry places will get drier.
• Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances and species interactions in response to on-going climate change.
• Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts. Climate change is expected to significantly change crop yields in the coming decades, putting a strain on food production.
• Impacts from recent climate-related extremes (such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires) reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.

Some progress has been made in terms of adaptation:
• Adaptation is becoming embedded in some planning processes
• In Europe, adaptation policy has been developed across all levels of government, with some adaptation planning integrated into coastal and water management, into environmental protection and land planning, and into disaster risk management.

The report highlights that adaptation and mitigation choices in the near-term will affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century and that uncertainties about future vulnerability, exposure and responses of interlinked human and natural systems are high.

The image below shows worldwide physical, biological and human and managed systems. Those which are outline symbols show a minor contribution of climate change, whilst those that are filled show a major contribution. Confidence in attribution to climate change is marked by dashes next to the symbol. As the map shows, the IPCC expects climate change to have major impacts on glaciers, snow and ice in all regions, and a major effect on rivers, lakes, floods and drought in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Arctic.

wg2-ar5-impacts-map-final

The underlying message of the report is that uncertainty about the scale, timing and location of physical impacts shouldn’t be a reason to delay on climate change action. The final part of the IPCC report – from Working Group 3 – deals with the topic of mitigation, and is due for release in April 2014.
The Welsh Government published an Adaptation Delivery Plan as part of its Climate Change Strategy in October 2011 and statutory guidance under the Climate Change Act 2008 on Preparing for a Changing Climate – Part 3: Planning in March 2013. The Welsh Government’s latest Annual Report on the Climate Change Strategy identifies actions taken on adaptation for individual sectors. The independent commentary on the annual report from the Climate Change Commission for Wales welcomes the publication of statutory guidance but expresses concerns about the lack of progress on the production of Sectoral Adaptation Plans.