Survival of the fittest?

10th April 2014

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Related tags

  • Mitigation ,
  • Adaptation



Following the publication of the IPCC's latest report, Paul Suff argues that its time policymakers start making better choices on adaptation and mitigation

No one will be untouched by the impacts of climate change, said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the launch in Yokohama, Japan, of the latest report from the UN body.

Yet some will be more touched than others, and many are already suffering the consequences of rising temperatures. The report, which focused on the risks posed by climate change, cites flooding, storm surges, sea-level rise, droughts and heatwaves as key hazards, and forecasts an increase over the coming decades in violent conflicts, food shortages and infrastructure damage.

A growing number of animals and marine species, meanwhile, will face a high risk of extinction. According to the scientists contributing to the 2,600-page report, global food supply is already being affected by higher temperatures, with yields of crops including wheat and maize beginning to decline. Ultimately, they warn of the potential for humanitarian crisis.

While heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought and water scarcity pose hazards for people and assets in developed economies, these risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in poor-quality housing and exposed areas, says the report.

Developed countries, such as the UK, will be able to adapt by improving housing and building resilient infrastructure systems to reduce vulnerability – though this will come at a hefty price. The total cost of the flooding of the Somerset Levels has yet to be calculated, but insurers have estimated losses at around £1 billion. Government action to improve flood management in the area has started with stretches of the rivers Parrett and Tone being dredged, but such measures are not cheap and will cost around £1 million a mile.

Many governments, particularly in the developing world, simply do not have systems or resources to properly protect their populations. That’s why the IPCC, while making it clear that measures must be taken to adapt to the climate changes already locked into after years of unabated greenhouse gas emissions, is keen that the report findings be used to galvanise global mitigation efforts now.

Indeed, the world is finding it increasingly hard to cope with the changes wrought by the 0.8°C rise in global temperature that has occurred since 1880, so even higher temperatures – and the current trajectory is a 4°C rise by the end of the century – will test our ability, and that of ecosystems, to adapt.

“The one message that comes out of [the IPCC report] is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate,” said Pachauri. Let’s hope that policymakers are listening and they finally agree a way to tackle climate change effectively.


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