It’s Time to Listen to the Scientists

By Nessim Ahmad

The messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are clear—human induced climate change is happening, climate impacts on humans and natural systems will be significant, and dramatic mitigation needs to happen very soon.

Have any doubts on climate change? Look no further than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is the most authoritative source of information on the subject. IPCC may not conduct its own research, but it acts as a clearing house for the vast amount of work published by scientists around the world. The process it follows is without parallel in terms of its rigor, transparency, and level of government engagement.

IPCC conducts its assessments through three working groups, which have each released their latest reports over the last few months. The first working group looks at the physical science of climate change, the second assesses the impacts of climate change and adaptation options, while the third reviews options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The messages are clear—human induced climate change is happening, climate impacts on humans and natural systems will be significant, and dramatic mitigation needs to happen very soon.

To get a better handle on the issues,  we organized a briefing recently on the findings of Working Group II, assisted by Richard Jones of the UK Met Office, a lead author of the report.  

This was a path-breaking report prepared over the last seven years by 310 experts who reviewed thousands of published research papers. It has undergone peer review by thousands of scientists and experts—and, of course, IPCC member governments.

Compared to the previous report in 2007, the new edition concludes with higher levels of  confidence that climate change is already now having impacts on all continents and across the oceans. These impacts are projected to intensify throughout the century, especially without adequate climate mitigation. And, as the report confirms, the Asia and the Pacific region will be particularly hit hard, with the poor and most vulnerable suffering most. Water and food shortages, a sea level rise, flooding, and loss of livelihoods and infrastructure remain key risks for the region.  

The report emphasizes that adaptation to climate change is essential. However, it points out there are limits to adaptation and adaptation by itself won’t be enough. Urgent action must be taken to reduce greenhouse emissions (GHGs). This is critical to avoid dangerous climate change associated with increased mean average surface temperatures above 2 degrees Centigrade. 

The report from Working Group 3 highlights the dramatic cuts in GHG emissions needed if we are to stay within the hoped for so-called 2 degree scenario.  As the Chairman of IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, recently said, “The high speed mitigation train needs to leave the station now!”

But even with aggressive climate mitigation, the estimates for global adaptation cost are substantially greater than available adaptation funding and investment, particularly in developing countries. The most recent global adaptation cost estimates suggest needed funding to be between $70 billion and $100 billion per year till 2050. However, funding needs may be even bigger. Our estimates suggest $40 billion a year just to climate-proof critical infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific. There is a funding gap and a growing adaptation deficit that must be overcome.

IPCC is preparing a Synthesis Report collecting together the Working Groups material for policymakers, and this will be finalized on 31 October 2014.  We expect this 5th IPCC Assessment report will be key as Governments strive toward negotiating a new climate agreement in 2015. The scientists will have provided their assessment, and Parties will hopefully take decisive action.