Climate Change Report ‘Should Jolt People into Action,’ says IPCC Chief
UN science panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, says report on impacts of rising temperatures should push leaders to act
By Susan Goldenberg
The head of the United Nations climate panel said he hoped its report on the rising threat of climate change would “jolt people into action”.
Photo by Kris Krüg for PopTech
The report, released on Monday, is a 2,600-page catalogue of the risks to life and livelihood from climate change – now and in the future.
Rajendra Pachauri, who has headed the IPCC for 12 years, said he hoped it would push government leaders to deal with climate change before it is too late.
“I hope these facts will - for want of a better word - jolt people into action,” he said.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, took a similar line.
“Read this report and you can't deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” Kerry said in a statement. "Let's make our political system wake up and let's make the world respond."
The report was built on the work of more than 300 scientists drawing from 12,000 scholarly articles to produce the most comprehensive picture of climate risks to date. Pachauri said the report provided all that governments could need for coming up with a strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting populations from climate change.
The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report in 2007, and the findings make an increasingly detailed picture of how climate change – in tandem with existing fault lines such as poverty and inequality – poses a much more direct threat to life and livelihoods.
This was reflected in the language. The summary mentioned the word “risk” more than 230 times, compared to just over 40 mentions seven years ago, according to a count by the Red Cross.
“On the basis of this report they should be able to formulate a very clear plan of action,” Pachauri said.
The report found the strongest evidence of climate change in the thawing permafrost in the Arctic and in the destruction of coral reefs. It found many freshwater and marine species had shifted their geographical range due to climate change.
But the report said climate change was growing more evident in human systems as well, where it posed a series of risks.
Climate change was already beginning to affect crop yields, especially for wheat and maize, and the report says that yields could decline sharply towards the middle of the century.
The scientists found climate change was a driver of violent conflicts and migration, and was exacerbating inequality, making it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty.
Climate change was also a factor in the rise of mega-disasters. The report said climate change was driving recent heatwaves and droughts, and was a risk factor for wildfires.
At the forefront of those risks was the potential for humanitarian crisis. The report catalogued some of the disasters that have been visited around the planet since 2000: killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in Australia, and deadly floods in Pakistan.
“We are now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical,” said the leading author of the report, Chris Field of Stanford University. “We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential.”
Within the United Nations, the report is seen as leverage for a high-level climate summit hosted by the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, at the United Nations in September.
Ban has said he hopes to use the event to build momentum for negotiations for a climate deal in Paris next year.