The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on Monday the first part of its highly discussed and anticipated Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which provides an update on the state of the planet and a look at the lasting impact of climate change.
It has concluded that humans, without a doubt, are responsible for climate change, and that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. The changes in the environment go as far back as the 1950s, says the report.
Qin Dahe, IPCC Working Group I co-chair, said, “Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
“Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,” added Thomas Stocker, another co-chair.
This report presents scientific evidence on climate system changes collected and reviewed by over 800 climate scientists and experts from 60-plus countries. It comes after a week of intense debate in Stockholm, where the final wording was arranged for the release of a summary report for policymakers earlier on Friday.
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions
Thomas Stocker, IPCC Working Group I co-chair
Effects on Asia
So what does the report mean for Asia? Experts say it makes a stronger case for vulnerable communities in Asia to put in place adaptation measures to combat climate change, and for the wider global community to take bold steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Change Commission of the Philippines Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering told Eco-Business via email that the report further strengthened the scientific view that human activities contributed to global warning.
“These human activities are closely linked to economic pursuits… The resistance of curbing emissions is based on the possibility that it will also curb economic growth especially in emerging economies,” she said.
Dr Saleemul Huq, a coordinating lead author in the IPCC Working Group II, stressed, “Climate change ignores borders,” noting that the developing world is aware of it due to the effects of extreme weather and rich countries are just as vulnerable.
Since the assessment report gives hard facts on a worldwide scale, “there is also value in what the IPCC report does not say, such as how the climate will change from place to place”, said Dr Camilla Toumlin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
“Climate models are not yet robust enough to predict impacts at local and regional scales, but it is clear from the experience of the many people with whom we work, who have faced loss and damage this year alone, that everybody is vulnerable in some way,” she added.
The science as shown in the AR5 demands developed countries to fulfill their targets, take deep emissions cuts, and be serious in providing finance and technology transfer to developing countries so that the latter can pursue the emergency climate pathway that will allow us to pursue our right to development and at the same time saving the planet
Yeb Saño, head of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines
According to a June 2013 World Bank report called “Turn Down the Heat”, coastal cities in Southeast Asia, with increasingly large populations, are at risk from climate change, especially the urban poor in Vietnam and the Philippines, where there is no proper drainage system and damage to any water and sanitation facility pose health threats.
Also, it noted: “Without adaptation, the area of Bangkok is projected to be inundated due to flooding linked to extreme rainfall events and sea-level rise increases from around 40 per cent under 15 cm sea-level rise above present (which could occur by the 2030s).”
Aside from flooding, the rise in sea temperature brought about climate change could lead to coral reef loss and degradation that would severely impact marine fisheries and tourism, added the World Bank report.
Agricultural production, likewise, will be affected, specifically in the Mekong Delta, which accounts for 50 per cent of Vietnam’s entire agricultural production and a great portion of rice exports, due to sea level rise and salinity intrusion.
In India, still with a largely agriculture dependent population, droughts are already a threat to livelihood, as well as intense monsoons. Just this June, more than 5,000 people were reported missing due to flash floods in the northern region of India, considered to be the worst natural disaster after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
In the city of Ahmedabad, the fifth largest in India, the municipal government has developed the 2013 Heat Action Plan to combat the impact of extreme heat. They cite the 2010 heat wave as their wake up call.
As for China, most populous country in Asia and the world and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, a critical concern currently is air pollution, which has stifled the urban areas and prompted several protests and impact reports since the start of the year.
The national government, as a result, recently issued coal consumption reduction targets, which will cut down the fossil fuel to below 65 per cent of primary energy use by 2017 and ban new coal power plants. China will instead boost its nuclear power and natural gas for energy sources.
Despite such moves to reduce emissions, the IPCC AR5 report states that “most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped”.
A substantial and sustained reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is required to limit climate change, the assessment emphasised.
Quamrul Chowdhury, lead climate negotiator for the Least Developed Countries at the UN Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, said: “This IPCC report asks all of us to act fast, act in a more robust way, act together, act all over the world.”
He noted that developed countries must take the lead in reducing emissions and supporting climate adaptation in developing countries.
Agreeing, climate change commissioner of the Philippines Yeb Saño told Eco-Business: “All countries must take climate action according to fair share and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities, bearing in mind that the science as shown in the AR5 demands developed countries to fulfill their targets, take deep emissions cuts, and be serious in providing finance and technology transfer to developing countries so that the latter can pursue the emergency climate pathway that will allow us to pursue our right to development and at the same time saving the planet.”
Sec. Sering added that the Philippines is doing its part through climate adaptation and resiliency policy initiatives such as low emission development strategy and green growth. “The government of the Philippines, especially relevant agencies, is now starting to capacitate themselves in greenhouse gas inventories of all sectors and have a better understanding on how the Philippines can contribute,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it will assess the IPCC report at country level to update national knowledge and resilience plans, which will be carried out in the 2nd National Climate Change Study. Currently, the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) is working with the UK Met Office to project climate parameters in greater detail, said NEA.
The IPCC report should translate to policy action, stressed Nick Robbins, head of climate partnership at HSBC.
“We expect the succession of IPCC reports into 2014 to provide a renewed impetus to policy and business action through to the finalization of negotiations in December 2015,” he said.
“We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action,” urged Commissioner Saño.
Some other conclusions from the 36-page scientific document from the IPCC, which started in 1988 under the United Nations, include:
- Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40 per cent since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions.
- From 1750 to 2011, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have released 365 GtC (gigatonnes) to the atmosphere, while deforestation and other land use change are estimated to have released 180 GtC.
- The release of these emissions, and other greenhouse gases, has contributed to the vast amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere.
- Energy stored in the climate system is dominated by the increase in ocean warming, accounting for 90 per cent of accumulated energy from 1971 to 2010.
- Ocean warming is largest near the surface, and the upper 75 meters warmed by 0.11 °C per decade over the same period.
- The Earth warming links to the rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century, which has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia
- While the sea level rise will not be same throughout, it is very likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95 per cent of the ocean area by the end of this century.
- About 70 per cent of the coastlines worldwide are projected to experience sea level change within 20 per cent of the global mean sea level change