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Climate Change 2001 Assessment

5. How could Climate Change affect us in the future?

  • 5.1 What would be the effects on and vulnerability of the natural systems?
    • 5.1.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of hydrology and water resources?
    • 5.1.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of agriculture and food security?
    • 5.1.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems?
    • 5.1.4 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of coastal zones and marine ecosystems?
  • 5.2 What would be the effects on and vulnerability of the human systems?
    • 5.2.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human health?
    • 5.2.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human settlements, energy, and industry?
    • 5.2.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of insurance and other financial services?
  • 5.3 How does climate change vulnerability vary across regions?
    • 5.3.1 How are the different regions affected?

5.1 What would be the effects on and vulnerability of the natural systems?

    • 5.1.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of hydrology and water resources?
    • 5.1.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of agriculture and food security?
    • 5.1.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems?
    • 5.1.4 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of coastal zones and marine ecosystems?

5.1.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of hydrology and water resources?

The source document for this Digest states:

The effect of climate change on streamflow and groundwater recharge varies regionally and between climate scenarios, largely following projected changes in precipitation. A consistent projection across most climate change scenarios is for increases in annual mean streamflow in high latitudes and southeast Asia, and decreases in central Asia, the area around the Mediterranean, southern Africa, and Australia (medium confidence (see Figure SPM-36) ; the amount of change, however, varies between scenarios.

For other areas, including mid-latitudes, there is no strong consistency in projections of streamflow, partly because of differences in projected rainfall and partly because of differences in projected evaporation, which can offset rainfall increases. The retreat of most glaciers is projected to accelerate, and many small glaciers may disappear (high confidence6). In general, the projected changes in average annual runoff are less robust than impacts based solely on temperature change because precipitation changes vary more between scenarios. At the catchment scale, the effect of a given change in climate varies with physical properties and vegetation of catchments, and may be in addition to land-cover changes. [4.1 ] Links...

Approximately 1.7 billion people, one-third of the world's population, presently live in countries that are water-stressed (defined as using more than 20% of their renewable water supply, a commonly used indicator of water stress). This number is projected to increase to around 5 billion by 2025, depending on the rate of population growth. The projected climate change could further decrease the streamflow and groundwater recharge in many of these water-stressed countries—for example in central Asia, southern Africa, and countries around the Mediterranean Sea—but may increase it in some others. [4.1 ; see also 5.1.1 , 5.2.3 , 5.3.1 , 5.4.1 , 5.5.1 , 5.6.2 , and 5.8.4  for regional-scale information] Links...

Demand for water is generally increasing due to population growth and economic development, but is falling in some countries because of increased efficiency of use. Climate change is unlikely to have a big effect on municipal and industrial water demands in general, but may substantially affect irrigation withdrawals, which depend on how increases in evaporation are offset or exaggerated by changes in precipitation. Higher temperatures, hence higher crop evaporative demand, mean that the general tendency would be towards an increase in irrigation demands. [4.1 ] Links...

Flood magnitude and frequency could increase in many regions as a consequence of increased frequency of heavy precipitation events, which can increase runoff in most areas as well as groundwater recharge in some floodplains. Land-use change could exacerbate such events. Streamflow during seasonal low flow periods would decrease in many areas due to greater evaporation; changes in precipitation may exacerbate or offset the effects of increased evaporation. The projected climate change would degrade water quality through higher water temperatures and increased pollutant load from runoff and overflows of waste facilities. Quality would be degraded further where flows decrease, but increases in flows may mitigate to a certain extent some degradations in water quality by increasing dilution. Where snowfall is currently an important component of the water balance, a greater proportion of winter precipitation may fall as rain, and this can result in a more intense peak streamflow which in addition would move from spring to winter. [4.1 ] Links...

The greatest vulnerabilities are likely to be in unmanaged water systems and systems that are currently stressed or poorly and unsustainably managed due to policies that discourage efficient water use and protection of water quality, inadequate watershed management, failure to manage variable water supply and demand, or lack of sound professional guidance. In unmanaged systems there are few or no structures in place to buffer the effects of hydrologic variability on water quality and supply. In unsustainably managed systems, water and land uses can add stresses that heighten vulnerability to climate change. [4.1 ] Links...

Water resource management techniques, particularly those of integrated water resource management, can be applied to adapt to hydrologic effects of climate change, and to additional uncertainty, so as to lessen vulnerabilities. Currently, supply-side approaches (e.g., increasing flood defenses, building weirs, utilizing water storage areas, including natural systems, improving infrastructure for water collection and distribution) are more widely used than demand-side approaches (which alter the exposure to stress); the latter is the focus of increasing attention. However, the capacity to implement effective management responses is unevenly distributed around the world and is low in many transition and developing countries" [4.1 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 9 & 10

5.1.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of agriculture and food security?

The source document for this Digest states:

Based on experimental research, crop yield responses to climate change vary widely, depending upon species and cultivar; soil properties; pests, and pathogens; the direct effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) on plants; and interactions between CO2, air temperature, water stress, mineral nutrition, air quality, and adaptive responses. Even though increased CO2 concentration can stimulate crop growth and yield, that benefit may not always overcome the adverse effects of excessive heat and drought (medium confidence6). These advances, along with advances in research on agricultural adaptation, have been incorporated since the Second Assessment Report (SAR) into models used to assess the effects of climate change on crop yields, food supply, farm incomes, and prices. [4.2 ] Links...

Costs will be involved in coping with climate-induced yield losses and adaptation of livestock production systems. These agronomic and husbandry adaptation options could include, for example, adjustments to planting dates, fertilization rates, irrigation applications, cultivar traits, and selection of animal species. [4.2 ] Links...

When autonomous agronomic adaptation is included, crop modeling assessments indicate, with medium to low confidence6, that climate change will lead to generally positive responses at less than a few °C warming and generally negative responses for more than a few °C in mid-latitude crop yields. Similar assessments indicate that yields of some crops in tropical locations would decrease generally with even minimal increases in temperature, because such crops are near their maximum temperature tolerance and dryland/rainfed agriculture predominates. Where there is also a large decrease in rainfall, tropical crop yields would be even more adversely affected. With autonomous agronomic adaptation, crop yields in the tropics tend to be less adversely affected by climate change than without adaptation, but they still tend to remain below levels estimated with current climate. [4.2 ] Links...

Most global and regional economic studies not incorporating climate change indicate that the downward trend in global real commodity prices in the 20th century is likely to continue into the 21st, although confidence in these predictions decreases farther into the future. Economic modeling assessments indicate that impacts of climate change on agricultural production and prices are estimated to result in small percentage changes in global income (low confidence6), with larger increases in more developed regions and smaller increases or declines in developing regions. Improved confidence in this finding depends on further research into the sensitivity of economic modeling assessments to their base assumptions. [4.2  and Box 5-5 ] Links...

Most studies indicate that global mean annual temperature increases of a few °C or greater would prompt food prices to increase due to a slowing in the expansion of global food supply relative to growth in global food demand (established, but incomplete 6). At lesser amounts of warming than a few °C, economic models do not clearly distinguish the climate change signal from other sources of change based on those studies included in this assessment. Some recent aggregated studies have estimated economic impacts on vulnerable populations such as smallholder producers and poor urban consumers. These studies find that climate change would lower incomes of the vulnerable populations and increase the absolute number of people at risk of hunger, though this is uncertain and requires further research. It is established, though incompletely, that climate change, mainly through increased extremes and temporal/ spatial shifts, will worsen food security in Africa." [4.2 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 9 - 11

5.1.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems?

The source document for this Digest states:

Vegetation modeling studies continue to show the potential for significant disruption of ecosystems under climate change (high confidence6). Migration of ecosystems or biomes as discrete units is unlikely to occur; instead at a given site, species composition and dominance will change. The results of these changes will lag behind the changes in climate by years to decades to centuries (high confidence6). [4.3 ] Links...

Distributions, population sizes, population density, and behavior of wildlife have been, and will continue to be, affected directly by changes in global or regional climate and indirectly through changes in vegetation. Climate change will lead to poleward movement of the boundaries of freshwater fish distributions along with loss of habitat for cold- and cool-water fishes and gain in habitat for warm-water fishes (high confidence6). Many species and populations are already at high risk, and are expected to be placed at greater risk by the synergy between climate change rendering portions of current habitat unsuitable for many species, and land-use change fragmenting habitats and raising obstacles to species migration. Without appropriate management, these pressures will cause some species currently classified as "critically endangered" to become extinct and the majority of those labeled "endangered or vulnerable" to become rarer, and thereby closer to extinction, in the 21st century (high confidence6). [4.3 ] Links...

Possible adaptation methods to reduce risks to species could include: 1) establishment of refuges, parks, and reserves with corridors to allow migration of species, and 2) use of captive breeding and translocation. However, these options may have limitations due to costs. [4.3 ] Links...

Terrestrial ecosystems appear to be storing increasing amounts of carbon. At the time of the SAR, this was largely attributed to increasing plant productivity because of the interaction between elevated CO2 concentration, increasing temperatures, and soil moisture changes. Recent results confirm that productivity gains are occurring but suggest that they are smaller under field conditions than indicated by plant-pot experiments (medium confidence6). Hence, the terrestrial uptake may be due more to change in uses and management of land than to the direct effects of elevated CO2 and climate. The degree to which terrestrial ecosystems continue to be net sinks for carbon is uncertain due to the complex interactions between the factors mentioned above (e.g., arctic terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands may act as both sources and sinks) (medium confidence6). [4.3 ]Links...

Contrary to the SAR, global timber market studies that include adaptations through land and product management, even without forestry projects that increase the capture and storage of carbon, suggest that a small amount of climate change would increase global timber supply and enhance existing market trends towards rising market share in developing countries (medium confidence6). Consumers may benefit from lower timber prices while producers may gain or lose depending on regional changes in timber productivity and potential dieback effects." [4.3 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 11

5.1.4 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of coastal zones and marine ecosystems?

The source document for this Digest states:

Large-scale impacts of climate change on oceans are expected to include increases in sea surface temperature and mean global sea level, decreases in sea-ice cover, and changes in salinity, wave conditions, and ocean circulation. The oceans are an integral and responsive component of the climate system with important physical and biogeochemical feedbacks to climate. Many marine ecosystems are sensitive to climate change. Climate trends and variability as reflected in multiyear climate-ocean regimes (e.g., Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and switches from one regime to another are now recognized to strongly affect fish abundance and population dynamics, with significant impacts on fish-dependent human societies. [4.4 ] Links...

Many coastal areas will experience increased levels of flooding, accelerated erosion, loss of wetlands and mangroves, and seawater intrusion into freshwater sources as a result of climate change. The extent and severity of storm impacts, including storm-surge floods and shore erosion, will increase as a result of climate change including sea-level rise. High-latitude coasts will experience added impacts related to higher wave energy and permafrost degradation. Changes in relative sea level will vary locally due to uplift and subsidence caused by other factors. [4.4 ] Links...

Impacts on highly diverse and productive coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, atolls and reef islands, salt marshes and mangrove forests will depend upon the rate of sea-level rise relative to growth rates and sediment supply, space for and obstacles to horizontal migration, changes in the climate-ocean environment such as sea surface temperatures and storminess, and pressures from human activities in coastal zones. Episodes of coral bleaching over the past 20 years have been associated with several causes, including increased ocean temperatures. Future sea surface warming would increase stress on coral reefs and result in increased frequency of marine diseases (high confidence6). [4.4 ] Links...

Assessments of adaptation strategies for coastal zones have shifted emphasis away from hard protection structures of shorelines (e.g., seawalls, groins) toward soft protection measures (e.g., beach nourishment), managed retreat, and enhanced resilience of biophysical and socioeconomic systems in coastal regions. Adaptation options for coastal and marine management are most effective when incorporated with policies in other areas, such as disaster mitigation plans and land-use plans." [4.4 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 11 - 12

5.2 What would be the effects on and vulnerability of the human systems?

    • 5.2.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human health?
    • 5.2.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human settlements, energy, and industry?
    • 5.2.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of insurance and other financial services?

5.2.1 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human health?

The source document for this Digest states:

The impacts of short-term weather events on human health have been further elucidated since the SAR, particularly in relation to periods of thermal stress, the modulation of air pollution impacts, the impacts of storms and floods, and the influences of seasonal and interannual climatic variability on infectious diseases. There has been increased understanding of the determinants of population vulnerability to adverse health impacts and the possibilities for adaptive responses. [4.7 ] Links...

Many vector-, food-, and water-borne infectious diseases are known to be sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. From results of most predictive model studies, there is medium to high confidence6 that, under climate change scenarios, there would be a net increase in the geographic range of potential transmission of malaria and dengue-two vector-borne infections each of which currently impinge on 40-50% of the world population10.Within their present ranges, these and many other infectious diseases would tend to increase in incidence and seasonality-although regional decreases would occur in some infectious diseases. In all cases, however, actual disease occurrence is strongly influenced by local environmental conditions, socioeconomic circumstances, and public health infrastructure. [4.7 ] Links...

Projected climate change will be accompanied by an increase in heat waves, often exacerbated by increased humidity and urban air pollution, which would cause an increase in heat-related deaths and illness episodes. The evidence indicates that the impact would be greatest in urban populations, affecting particularly the elderly, sick, and those without access to air-conditioning (high confidence6). Limited evidence indicates that in some temperate countries reduced winter deaths would outnumber increased summer deaths (medium confidence6); yet, published research has been largely confined to populations in developed countries, thus precluding a generalized comparison of changes in summer and winter mortality. [3.5  and 4.7 ] Links...

Extensive experience makes clear that any increase in flooding will increase the risk of drowning, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, and, in developing countries, hunger and malnutrition (high confidence6). If cyclones were to increase regionally, devastating impacts would often occur, particularly in densely settled populations with inadequate resources. A reduction in crop yields and food production because of climate change in some regions, particularly in the tropics, will predispose food-insecure populations to malnutrition, leading to impaired child development and decreased adult activity. Socioeconomic disruptions could occur in some regions, impairing both livelihoods and health. [3.5 , 4.1 , 4.2 , 4.5 , and 4.7 ] Links...

For each anticipated adverse health impact there is a range of social, institutional, technological, and behavioral adaptation options to lessen that impact. Adaptations could, for example, encompass strengthening of the public health infrastructure, health-oriented management of the environment (including air and water quality, food safety, urban and housing design, and surface water management), and the provision of appropriate medical care facilities. Overall, the adverse health impacts of climate change will be greatest in vulnerable lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries. Adaptive policies would, in general, reduce these impacts." [4.7 ] Links...

5.2.2 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of human settlements, energy, and industry?

The source document for this Digest states:

A growing and increasingly quantitative literature shows that human settlements are affected by climate change in one of three major ways:

  1. The economic sectors that support the settlement are affected because of changes in resource productivity or changes in market demand for the goods and services produced there. [4.5 ] Links...
  2. Some aspects of physical infrastructure (including energy transmission and distribution systems), buildings, urban services (including transportation systems), and specific industries (such as agroindustry, tourism, and construction) may be directly affected. [4.5 ] Links...
  3. Populations may be directly affected through extreme weather, changes in health status, or migration. The problems are somewhat different in the largest (<1 million) and mid- to small-sized population centers. [4.5 ] Links...

The most widespread direct risk to human settlements from climate change is flooding and landslides, driven by projected increases in rainfall intensity and, in coastal areas, sea-level rise. Riverine and coastal settlements are particularly at risk (high confidence6), but urban flooding could be a problem anywhere that storm drains, water supply, and waste management systems have inadequate capacity. In such areas, squatter and other informal urban settlements with high population density, poor shelter, little or no access to resources such as safe water and public health services, and low adaptive capacity are highly vulnerable. Human settlements currently experience other significant environmental problems which could be exacerbated under higher temperature/increased precipitation regimes, including water and energy resources and infrastructure, waste treatment, and transportation. [4.5 ] Links...

Rapid urbanization in low-lying coastal areas of both the developing and developed world is greatly increasing population densities and the value of human-made assets exposed to coastal climatic extremes such as tropical cyclones. Model-based projections of the mean annual number of people who would be flooded by coastal storm surges increase several fold (by 75 to 200 million people depending on adaptive responses) for mid-range scenarios of a 40-cm sea-level rise by the 2080s relative to scenarios with no sea-level rise. Potential damages to infrastructure in coastal areas from sea-level rise have been projected to be tens of billions US$ for individual countries—for example, Egypt, Poland, and Vietnam. [4.5 ] Links...

Settlements with little economic diversification and where a high percentage of incomes derive from climate-sensitive primary resource industries (agriculture, forestry, and fisheries) are more vulnerable than more diversified settlements (high confidence6). In developed areas of the Arctic, and where the permafrost is ice-rich, special attention will be required to mitigate the detrimental impacts of thawing, such as severe damage to buildings and transport infrastructure (very high confidence6). Industrial, transportation, and commercial infrastructure is generally vulnerable to the same hazards as settlement infrastructure. Energy demand is expected to increase for space cooling and decrease for space heating, but the net effect is scenario- and location-dependent. Some energy production and distribution systems may experience adverse impacts that would reduce supplies or system reliability while other energy systems may benefit. [4.5  and 5.7 ] Links...

Possible adaptation options involve the planning of settlements and their infrastructure, placement of industrial facilities, and making similar long-lived decisions in a manner to reduce the adverse effects of events that are of low (but increasing) probability and high (and perhaps rising) consequences." [4.5 ] Links...

5.2.3 What will be the effects on and vulnerability of insurance and other financial services?

The source document for this Digest states:

The costs of ordinary and extreme weather events have increased rapidly in recent decades. Global economic losses from catastrophic events increased 10.3-fold from 3.9 billion US$ yr-1 in the 1950s to 40 billion US$ yr-1 in the 1990s (all in 1999US$, unadjusted for purchasing power parity), with approximately one-quarter of the losses occurring in developing countries. The insured portion of these losses rose from a negligible level to 9.2 billion US$ yr-1 during the same period. Total costs are a factor of two larger when losses from smaller, non-catastrophic weather-related events are included. As a measure of increasing insurance industry vulnerability, the ratio of global property/casual insurance premiums to weather related losses fell by a factor of three between 1985 and 1999. [4.6 ] Links...

The costs of weather events have risen rapidly despite significant and increasing efforts at fortifying infrastructure and enhancing disaster preparedness. Part of the observed upward trend in disaster losses over the past 50 years is linked to socioeconomic factors, such as population growth, increased wealth, and urbanization in vulnerable areas, and part is linked to climatic factors such as the observed changes in precipitation and flooding events. Precise attribution is complex and there are differences in the balance of these two causes by region and type of event. [4.6 ] Links...

Climate change and anticipated changes in weather-related events perceived to be linked to climate change would increase actuarial uncertainty in risk assessment (high confidence6). Such developments would place upward pressure on insurance premiums and/or could lead to certain risks being reclassified as uninsurable with subsequent withdrawal of coverage. Such changes would trigger increased insurance costs, slow the expansion of financial services into developing countries, reduce the availability of insurance for spreading risk, and increase the demand for government-funded compensation following natural disasters. In the event of such changes, the relative roles of public and private entities in providing insurance and risk management resources can be expected to change. [4.6 ] Links...

The financial services sector as a whole is expected to be able to cope with the impacts of climate change, although the historic record demonstrates that low-probability high-impact events or multiple closely spaced events severely affect parts of the sector, especially if adaptive capacity happens to be simultaneously depleted by non-climate factors (e.g., adverse financial market conditions). The property/casualty insurance and reinsurance segments and small specialized or undiversified companies have exhibited greater sensitivity, including reduced profitability and bankruptcy triggered by weather-related events. [4.6 ] Links...

Adaptation to climate change presents complex challenges, but also opportunities, to the sector. Regulatory involvement in pricing, tax treatment of reserves, and the (in)ability of firms to withdraw from at-risk markets are examples of factors that influence the resilience of the sector. Public- and private-sector actors also support adaptation by promoting disaster preparedness, loss-prevention programs, building codes, and improved land-use planning. However, in some cases, public insurance and relief programs have inadvertently fostered complacency and maladaptation by inducing development in at-risk areas such as U.S. flood plains and coastal zones. [4.6 ] Links...

The effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in the developing world, especially in countries reliant on primary production as a major source of income. Some countries experience impacts on their GDP as a consequence of natural disasters, with damages as high as half of GDP in one case. Equity issues and development constraints would arise if weather-related risks become uninsurable, prices increase, or availability becomes limited. Conversely, more extensive access to insurance and more widespread introduction of micro-financing schemes and development banking would increase the ability of developing countries to adapt to climate change." [4.6 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 13 - 14

5.3 How does climate change vulnerability vary across regions?

    • 5.3.1 How are the different regions affected?

The source document for this Digest states:

The vulnerability of human populations and natural systems to climate change differs substantially across regions and across populations within regions. Regional differences in baseline climate and expected climate change give rise to different exposures to climate stimuli across regions. The natural and social systems of different regions have varied characteristics, resources, and institutions, and are subject to varied pressures that give rise to differences in sensitivity and adaptive capacity. From these differences emerge different key concerns for each of the major regions of the world. Even within regions however, impacts, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability will vary. [5 ] Links...

In light of the above, all regions are likely to experience some adverse effects of climate change. Table SPM-2  presents in a highly summarized fashion some of the key concerns for the different regions. Some regions are particularly vulnerable because of their physical exposure to climate change hazards and/or their limited adaptive capacity. Most less-developed regions are especially vulnerable because a larger share of their economies are in climate-sensitive sectors and their adaptive capacity is low due to low levels of human, financial, and natural resources, as well as limited institutional and technological capability. For example, small island states and low-lying coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to increases in sea level and storms, and most of them have limited capabilities for adaptation. Climate change impacts in polar regions are expected to be large and rapid, including reduction in sea-ice extent and thickness and degradation of permafrost. Adverse changes in seasonal river flows, floods and droughts, food security, fisheries, health effects, and loss of biodiversity are among the major regional vulnerabilities and concerns of Africa, Latin America, and Asia where adaptation opportunities are generally low. Even in regions with higher adaptive capacity, such as North America and Australia and New Zealand, there are vulnerable communities, such as indigenous peoples, and the possibility of adaptation of ecosystems is very limited. In Europe, vulnerability is significantly greater in the south and in the Arctic than elsewhere in the region." [5 ] Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 14 - 16

5.3.1 How are the different regions affected?

worldmap
North America Latin America Africa Europe Asia Small Island States Polar Region Polar Region Australia and New Zealand northamerica Small Island States Small Island States Small Island States

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 14 - 17


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