Reports point to growing risks from climate change

The World Bank says it is helping developing countries to cut emissions Copyright: Flickr/Universal Pops

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As the UN climate change talks continue in Doha, Qatar, several reports over the past month have highlighted a sombre picture of the Earth’s changing climate, raising alarm bells in particular for the world’s poorest regions.

A report from the World Bank launched last month (18 November) warns that the planet "is on track for a four degrees Celsius warmer world" by 2100, marked by extreme heat waves, declining food stocks, loss of biodiversity and life-threatening sea level rise. This is double the generally accepted two degrees Celsius threshold beyond which catastrophic climate change impacts are expected.

According to the report, ‘Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided’, the negative effects of a warming climate would especially hit the world’s poorest regions.

Erick Fernandes, who co-leads the Global Expert Team for Climate Change Adaptation that commissioned the report, tells SciDev.Net that the Latin American region in particular "is likely to bear the brunt of the combined effects of sea-level rise, an increased number and intensity of storms, a loss of farmland, reduced agricultural productivity and irreversible loss of the region’s biodiversity".

The World Bank has doubled lending for climate change adaptation in the past year and plans to step up efforts to support countries’ efforts to mitigate carbon emissions, the report says.

"The bank is supporting action on the ground to finance the kind of projects that help the poor grow their way out of poverty, increase their resilience to climate change and achieve emissions reductions," Fernandes adds.

Last month (19 November) the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that atmospheric greenhouse gas levels reached a record high in 2011.

The elevated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is "causing our planet to warm further and is impacting on all aspects of life on Earth", said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud in a media release.

The role of carbon sinks such as forests and oceans that absorb CO2 is pivotal in the overall carbon equation, the bulletin says. This is because, up until now, they have absorbed nearly half the CO2 that humans have emitted into the atmosphere, but this may not continue in the future, it says.

WMO scientist Oksana Tarasova tellsSciDev.Net: "At the moment, we do not have a comprehensive system for observing carbon fluxes and analysing carbon stocks on land, in the oceans or in the atmosphere. Many research groups are working on the issue of [fully understanding the] carbon cycle."

Finally, a paper published in Environmental Research Letters last week (27 November) found that sea levels have been rising 60 per cent faster than projected by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The rise, measured from satellite data, was 3.2 millimetres a year from the early 1990s until 2011 instead of the two millimetres a year the IPCC projected, which means that the current estimates of how quickly the sea level will rise may be too low.

Although these recent reports set out serious climatic impacts, Fernandes says "the intention is to avoid being alarmist and instead provide science-based evidence and guidance to all stakeholders globally".

But José Antonio Milán Pérez, climate change professor at the University of Commercial Science, Nicaragua, tells SciDev.Net that there is not "much practical value in continuing to produce studies and publications to estimate the catastrophic effects of climate change because there is already enough information available to all audiences, including decision-makers, for them to understand the risk of an increase of [even] two degrees Celsius this century".

Link to the World Bank report

Link to the World Meteorological Organization 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

Link to the Environmental Research Letters paper

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