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Sober assessment of high risk

The leading international body responsible for formulating policy on climate change has dramatically upped the ante by announcing that climate crisis is looming several decades earlier than previously thought, requiring major infrastructure changes immediately.

Even if global warming is limited to the EU’s ‘difficult” target of a 2C rise, the world will still have to adapt to major consequences of climate change, the scientists warned yesterday, as they accused politicians of attempting to water down their findings.

Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the effects of climate change were happening faster than expected and many were already apparent. “We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it’s us,” said Professor Martin Parry, a scientist with the British Met Office.

He added politicians had wasted a decade by focusing only on ways to cut emissions, and had only recently woken up to the need to adapt. “Mitigation has got all the attention, but we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world.”

The scientists warned Africa, Asian mega-deltas, small islands and the Arctic would be most hit by climate change, with the world’s poor, elderly, young and marginalised people suffering the brunt of its effects.

Even with just a 2C rise, as many as two billion people will face water shortages and possible decreases in crop yields.

Details from the IPCC Working Group II’s fourth assessment, the summary of which was published in April, also show people will be at increased risk of death from floods, heatwaves and diseases. The scientists said politicans had pressured them over semantics to amend detals in the report at that time.

According to the assessment, up 600 million people in Africa will face water shortages, along with as many as one billion in Asia.

There will also be an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 more heat-related deaths in Australia and New Zealand, but increased water availability and crop yields in Northern Europe.

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Professor Parry, chairman of the Working Group, said adaptation to the changing world – which has been ignored over the past decade by policy makers in favour of mitigating rising carbon emissions – was crucial.

Adaptation measures could include irrigation schemes, growing of drought resistant crops and water management, as long as infrastructure changes.

Prof Parry said of limiting global temperature rises to 2C: ‘It will be difficult to achieve, and even if it is achieved there will still be major impacts.”

But he said that was not a reason to give up and do nothing.

‘If we mitigate very soon within the next 10 years, we can avoid the most serious impacts and avoid the ceiling of adaptive capacity being exceeded.”

Prof Parry added people were facing a choice between ‘a future with a damaged world which we will have to adapt to and reduce the damage and a future with a more damaged world”.

Chairman of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri warned 2015 was about the last year in which the world could still see increases of greenhouse gas emissions.

‘After that we have to have a reduction,” he said.

He said countries such as the Maldives – which is threatened by rising sea levels – gave a sense ‘of the kind of danger people are living in”, while India was already seeing a fall in wheat yields.

And the experts warned that the changes people expected would occur in their children’s or grandchildren’s generations are in fact happening in our own lifetimes.

Scientists were outlining the report’s assessment of the challenges the world faces at a meeting at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

In response to the warnings, Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace’s climate campaign, said: ‘It’s critical that the EU meets its 2C target because the climate is approaching a tipping point.

‘Go past this and the most catastrophic effects become almost inevitable. This means massive damage to ecosystems like tropical rainforests, melting ice sheets, sea level rise, disease, famine and further misery for sub-Saharan Africa.”

He added: ‘The EU needs to adopt a science-based cap on emissions, ditch plans for new dirty coal plants and nuclear power stations that will give tiny emission cuts at enormous and dangerous cost, end aviation expansion and ban wasteful products like incandescent lightbulbs, whilst massively upping investment in energy efficiency and renewables as part of a super-efficient decentralised energy system.”

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