Climate change leads to instability, unrest

A resident of Tacloban City, Leyte. The Secretary General visited Tacloban City to assess the relief and rehabilitation efforts for the survivors of super typhoon "Yolanda".

UN climate experts who met in Yokohama, Japan last week have released the latest status report on the consequences of climate change. Global warming will affect each and every continent and result in more conflicts. While it is possible to mitigate the damages, the price tag will likely be exorbitantly high. Susanne Steffen reports from Tokyo.

Rajendra Pachauri could not have put it more clearly: “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change”. But it gets worse. If we do not do anything about climate change, “the very social stability of human systems could be at stake,” warned the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at Monday’s press conference following the release of its latest report.

Floods, migration, hunger

The scientists describe their report as the most comprehensive assessment to date on the effects of global climate change. The report, the second part IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on climate change, analysed dozens of scientific studies to consider the impacts of climate change, the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems, and the potential for and limits to adaptation. In the first part of the report, released last September on the physical science of climate change, scientists concluded that there is more than a 95 per cent probability that humankind is responsible for climate change. The report released in Yokohama is the first update in seven years analysing the scientific assessments on the consequences of global warming.

The predictions today are significantly worse than they were in 2007 when the Fourth Assessment Report came out: If Earth warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius, it will have devastating impacts on global harvests and water reservoirs, explain the scientists. Sea level rise and flooding will cause mass migrations. Weather extremes will threaten urban infrastracture, and in many places throughout the world heat waves will cause death and illness, according to the assessment. By no later than 2050, reduced food crops will threaten food security in many regions – especially as the global demand for food will continue to rise in the face of a growing world population. Global economic output will shrink by 02. to 2 per cent, predicts the UN experts.

Lack of resources will cause conflicts

For the first time ever, the IPCC made a direct link between global warming and international conflicts. Although climate change itself is not the cause of conflict, it will exacerbate conflicts as resources become more and more scarce. In the chapter on national security, the scientists write that there is “robust evidence” that “human security will be progressively threatened as climate changes.”

And yet there is some good news in an otherwise grim, almost apocalyptic report. “The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” said Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC. “In every case we could make smart decisions that put us in position to more successfully cope with risks that are present now, and put us in a better position to deal with them in the future.”

Mitigation costs dearly

Adapting to a changing climate will cost money. A lot of it, too. In the first version of their summary for member governments, the authors estimated that in developing countries alone it would cost between 70 billion dollars to 100 billion dollars annually by 2050 to mitigate the damages caused by global warming. Interestingly – or ominously – this paragraph was removed from the final version published on Monday. According to various reports, the question of costs was one of the most controversial points to be debated at the Yokohama conference. Hardly a surprise given that developing and developed countries fought dearly over mitigation costs at the Warsaw climate conference last November.

 

Picture credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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