The much awaited Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was just released today. No doubt, a document that will be scrutinized by policymakers all over the world, and will inspire
much discussion in the media as well.
I feel it is important to not muddle the findings of the report with my own commentaries, and to let the facts speak for themselves. Here are the eighteen key points from the twenty three page report:
#1 Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
#2 Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.
#3 There is medium confidence that other effects of regional climate change on natural and human environments are emerging, although many are difficult to discern due to adaptation and non-climatic drivers.
#4 Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.
#5 Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousand of years.
#6 Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHC concentrations. It is likely there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)
#7 Advances since the TAR show that discernible human influences extend beyond average temperature to other aspects of climate.
#8 Anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has likely had a discernible influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems.
#9 There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHC emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades.
#10 Continued GHC emissions at or above the current rates would cause further warming and incuce many changes in the global climate system during hte 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.
# 11 There is now higher evidence than in the TAR in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation, and some aspects of extremes and sea ice.
#12 Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feebacks, even if GHC concentrations were stabilized.
#13 Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.
#14 A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change. There are barriers, limits and costs, which are not fully understood.
#15 Adaptive capacity is intimately connected to social and economic development but is unevenly distribute across and within societies.
#16 Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is high agreement and much evidence of substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHC emissions over the coming decades that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels. while top-down and bottom-up studies are in line at the global level there are considerable differences at the sectoral level.
#17 Altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems.
#18 A wide variety of policies and instruments are available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action. Their applicability depends on national circumstances and sectoral content.
The report also gives examples of some projected regional impacts. Here is what we can expect in our part of the world (North America):
- Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.
- In the early decades of the century, moderate climate change is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or which depend on highly utilized water resources.
- During the course of this century, cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential of adverse health impacts.
- Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.
All is not lost. The report also provides selected examples of policies, measures and instruments shown to be environmentally effective, along with some key constraints or opportunities for each recommendation:
- Energy supply:
- Reduction of fossil fuel subsidies; Taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels; Resistance by vested interests may make them difficult to implement
- Feed-in tariffs for renewabe energy technologies; Renewable energy obligations; Producer subsidies; May be appropriate to create markets for low emissions technologies
- Mandatory fuel economy, biofuel blending and CO2 standards for road transport; Partial coverage of vehicle fleet may limit effectiveness
- Taxes on vehicle purchase, registration, use and motor fuels, road and parking pricing; Effectiveness may drop with higher incomes
- Influence mobility needs through land use regulations, an infrastructure planning; Investment in attractive public transport facilities and non-motorized forms of transport; Particularly appropriate for countries that are building up their transportations systems
- Appliance standards and labeling; Periodic revision of standards needed
- Building codes and certification; Attractive for new buildings; Enforcement can be difficult
- Demand-side management programs; Need for regulations so that utilities may profit
- Public sector leadership programs, including procurement; Government purchasing can expand demand for energy-efficient products
- Incentives for energy service companies (ESCOs); Success factor: Access to third party financing
- Provision of benchmark information; Performance standards; Subsidies, tax credits; May be appropriate to stimulate technology update; Stability of national policy important in view of international competitiveness
- Tradable permits; Predictable allocation mechanisms and stable price signals important for investments
- Voluntary agreements; Success factors include: clear targets, a baseline scenario, third party involvement in design and review of formal provisions of monitoring, close cooperation between government and industry
- Financial incentives and regulations for improved land management, maintaining soil carbon content, efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation; May encourage synergy with sustainable development and with reducing vulnerability to climate change, thereby overcoming barriers to implementation
- Financial incentives (national and international) to increase forest area, to reduce deforestation, and to maintain and manage forests; Land-use regulation and enforcement; Constraints include lack of investment capital and land tenure issues; Can help poverty alleviation
- Financial incentives for improved waste and wastewater management; May stimulate technology diffusion
- Renewable energy incentives or obligations; Local availability of low-cost fuel
- Waste management regulations; Most effectively applied at national level with enforcement strategies
This recommendation obviously only deals with the policy part of the climate change solution.