Global warming dials up our risks, UN report says (Update)

Mar 31, 2014 by Seth Borenstein
In this Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. In an authoritative report due out Monday, March 31, 2014, a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral "out of control," the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he's not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying "the costs of inaction are catastrophic."

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: "it is a call for action." Without reductions in emissions, he said, impacts from warming "could get out of control."

One of the study's authors, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, "If we don't reduce greenhouse gases soon, risks will get out of hand. And the risks have already risen."

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report's authors said.

"We're now in an era where isn't some kind of future hypothetical," said the overall lead author of the report, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. "We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential."

Nobody is immune, Pachauri and other scientists said.

"We're all sitting ducks," Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the main authors of the report, said in an interview.

After several days of late-night wrangling, more than 100 governments unanimously approved the scientist-written 49-page summary—which is aimed at world political leaders. The summary mentions the word "risk" an average of about 5 1/2 times per page.

"Changes are occurring rapidly and they are sort of building up that risk," Field said.

These risks are both big and small, according to the report. They are now and in the future. They hit farmers and big cities. Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.

In this Oct. 22, 2005 file photo, a motorcyclist rides past a mountain of trash, sheet rock and domestic furniture, removed from homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, at one of three dump areas setup for that purpose, in New Orleans, LA. In the cases of the big storms like Haiyan, Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the poor were the most vulnerable, a United Nations scientific panel reports said. The report talks about climate change helping create new pockets of poverty and "hotspots of hunger" even in richer countries, increasing inequality between rich and poor. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

"Things are worse than we had predicted" in 2007, when the group of scientists last issued this type of report, said report co-author Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University in Bangladesh. "We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated."

The problems have gotten so bad that the panel had to add a new and dangerous level of risks. In 2007, the biggest risk level in one key summary graphic was "high" and colored blazing red. The latest report adds a new level, "very high," and colors it deep purple.

You might as well call it a "horrible" risk level, said van Aalst: "The horrible is something quite likely, and we won't be able to do anything about it."

The report predicts that the highest level of risk would first hit plants and animals, both on land and the acidifying oceans.

In this Dec. 17, 2011 file photo, an Egyptian protester throws a stone toward soldiers, unseen, as a building burns during clashes near Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt. In an authoritative report due out Monday, March 31, 2014, a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees. (AP Photo/Ahmad Hammad, File)

Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report. And on the other end, it will act as a brake slowing down the benefits of a modernizing society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production, it says.

"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans," the report says.

And if society doesn't change, the future looks even worse, it says: "Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts."

While the problems from will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won't be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women, van Aalst said.

But the report's authors say this is not a modern day version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Much of what they warn of are more nuanced troubles that grow by degrees and worsen other societal ills. The report also concedes that there are uncertainties in understanding and predicting future climate risks.

The report, the fifth on warming's impacts, includes risks to the ecosystems of the Earth, including a thawing Arctic, but it is far more oriented to what it means to people than past versions.

In this Aug. 7, 2010 file photo, a firefighter tries to stop a forest fire near the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya in Nizhny Novgorod region, some 410 km (255 miles) east of Moscow. Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, says a massive new report from a Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists released early Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr., File)

The report also notes that one major area of risk is that with increased warming, incredibly dramatic but ultra-rare single major climate events, sometimes called tipping points, become more possible with huge consequences for the globe. These are events like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would take more than 1,000 years.

"I can't think of a better word for what it means to society than the word 'risk,'" said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the study's main authors. She calls global warming "maybe one of the greatest known risks we face."

Global warming is triggered by heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, that stay in the atmosphere for a century. Much of the gases still in the air and trapping heat came from the United States and other industrial nations. China is now by far the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter, followed by the United States and India.

This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, shows an aerial view of the damage to an amusement park left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, in Seaside Heights, N.J. Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

Unlike in past reports, where the scientists tried to limit examples of extremes to disasters that computer simulations can attribute partly to man-made warming, this version broadens what it looks at because it includes the larger issues of risk and vulnerability, van Aalst said.

Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, he said.

And in the cases of the big storms like Haiyan, Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the poor were the most vulnerable, Oppenheimer and van Aalst said. The report talks about climate change helping create new pockets of poverty and "hotspots of hunger" even in richer countries, increasing inequality between rich and poor.

In this Nov. 10, 2013 file photo, a survivor walks by a large ship after it was washed ashore by strong waves caused by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines. Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

Report co-author Maggie Opondo of the University of Nairobi said that especially in places like Africa, climate change and extreme events mean "people are going to become more vulnerable to sinking deeper into poverty." And other study authors talked about the fairness issue with climate change.

"Rich people benefit from using all these fossil fuels," University of Sussex economist Richard Tol said. "Poorer people lose out."

Huq said he had hope because richer nations and people are being hit more, and "when it hits the rich, then it's a problem" and people start acting on it.

Part of the report talks about what can be done: reducing carbon pollution and adapting to and preparing for changing climates with smarter development.

The report echoes an earlier U.N. climate science panel that said if greenhouse gases continue to rise, the world is looking at another about 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 or 4 degrees Celsius) of warming by 2100 instead of the international goal of not allowing temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius). The difference between those two outcomes, Princeton's Oppenheimer said, "is the difference between driving on an icy road at 30 mph versus 90 mph. It's risky at 30, but deadly at 90."

Tol, who is in the minority of experts here, had his name removed from the summary because he found it "too alarmist," harping too much on risk.

This Nov. 9, 2013 file photo provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by astronaut Karen L. Nyberg aboard the International Space Station. Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/NASA, Karen L. Nyberg, File)

But the panel vice chairman, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, said that's not quite right: "We are pointing for reasons for alarm ... It's because the facts and the science and the data show that there are reasons to be alarmed. It's not because we're alarmist."

The report is based on more than 12,000 peer reviewed scientific studies. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, a co-sponsor of the climate panel, said this report was "the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline."

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who wasn't part of this report, said he found the "very conservative" because it is based on only peer reviewed studies and has to be approved unanimously.

This May 6, 2008 file photo, shows an aerial view of devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, seen at an unknown location in Myanmar. Freaky storms like 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, 2012's Superstorm Sandy and 2008's ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change's ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/File)

There is still time to adapt to some of the coming changes and reduce heat-trapping emissions, so it's not all bad, said study co-author Patricia Romero-Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

"We have a closing window of opportunity," she said. "We do have choices. We need to act now."

Explore further: Big climate report: Warming is big risk for people

More information: Climate change: regional impact: phys.org/news/2014-03-climate-regional-impact.html

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch

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User comments : 8

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orti
1.8 / 5 (10) Mar 31, 2014
Seth, you (and the UN) are engaging in the crudest of fear mongering.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (8) Mar 31, 2014
Seth, you (and the UN) are engaging in the crudest of fear mongering.

And still, the denialists deny.
namarrgon
4 / 5 (8) Mar 31, 2014
It never ceases to amaze me how as every year more scientific evidence piles up, steadily decreasing the uncertainty to the point where we can *see* climate change happening around us, and respected scientists and institutions reiterate their results showing how the risks of dramatic change (and associated adaption costs) have increased still further...

Yet instead of the overwhelming evidence changing the minds of the remaining few, they only shout the louder about "hoaxes" and "fear-mongering". Just astonishing.
Lab7
2.5 / 5 (6) Mar 31, 2014
Top MIT Prof. (Ethos here does not get any greater)
Speaking in regards to Massachusetts' new $50 million climate change proposal, MIT Professor Richard Lindzen, a leading figure in the climate change movement, pointed out the absurdity of blaming every weather event on global warming and climate change.
"The changes that have occurred due to global warning are too small to account for. "It has nothing to do with global warming, it has to do with where we live."
Although supporting the theory of man-made global warming, Lindzen admitted that rhetoric from the political class and green movement has been nothing more than over-the-top "catastrophism.""Even many of the people who are supportive of sounding the global warning alarm, back off from catastrophism," Lindzen said. "It's the politicians and the green movement that like to portray catastrophe.
Maggnus
3.9 / 5 (7) Apr 01, 2014
ubavontuba
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 01, 2014
It never ceases to amaze me how as every year more scientific evidence piles up, steadily decreasing the uncertainty to the point where we can *see* climate change happening around us, and respected scientists and institutions reiterate their results showing how the risks of dramatic change (and associated adaption costs) have increased still further...

Yet instead of the overwhelming evidence changing the minds of the remaining few, they only shout the louder about "hoaxes" and "fear-mongering". Just astonishing.
If the warmists were really concerned about the warming, why is it none of them are happy the globe is cooling?

http://www.woodfo...14/trend

Obviously the warmists don't really care about the environment. as they fight tooth and claw to hide this fact from the populace. Therefore it appears they're in it for the money and political control.


namarrgon
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 01, 2014
ubavontuba: Ah, the classic climate escalator. Cherry-picked data doesn't mean the globe is cooling; that's just natural variation. Try a larger range to see the full trend:

http://www.woodfo...14/trend

Better still, try including ocean temperatures too, since they absorb the huge majority of incoming heat:

http://www.carbon...x392.jpg
http://www.nodc.n...CONTENT/
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2014
ubavontuba: Ah, the classic climate escalator. Cherry-picked data doesn't mean the globe is cooling; that's just natural variation. Try a larger range to see the full trend:

http://www.woodfo...14/trend
Here you just proved my point. You are trying to hide the recent cooling by adding a bunch of extraneous data.

Better still, try including ocean temperatures too, since they absorb the huge majority of incoming heat:
HadCRUT3 includes ocean temperatures.

http://www.carbon...x392.jpg
LOL More of "The ocean ate my global warming." nonsense. What a riot.

And still not a single logical explanation as to how the supposed excess IR heat from CO2 in the atmosphere magically skips all the way down into the deep blue. What a hoot!

http://www.nodc.n...CONTENT/
Suspect data based on a preconceived notion (and subsequent formulation) that the ocean is warming and therefore the sea level must be rising, whereas actual measurements put this theory in doubt:

http://nzclimates...levl.pdf