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Africa/Global: Climate Change Summary Report

AfricaFocus Bulletin
November 11, 2014 (141111)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The world's top scientists and governments have issued their bluntest plea yet to the world: Slash carbon pollution now (at a very low cost) or risk 'severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.' Scientists have 'high confidence' these devastating impacts occur 'even with adaptation' -- if we keep doing little or nothing." - Joe Romm, Editor, Climate Progress

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( has now issued its 5th assessment synthesis report, with devastating conclusions from a process designed to produce the "least common denominator" of scientific consensus.

Even the "Approved Summary for Policymakers" runs to 40 pages, and, while authoritative, is not an easy read for the non-specialist. But the conclusions are of life-and-death significance for all of us to understand. The devastating impacts of climate change, disproportionately on those who are already most vulnerable, are already real, will be getting worse, and without significant action will become irreversible.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, not sent out by email but available on the web at, contains two short summaries in accessible language by Joe Romm, editor of the Climate Progress blog and by Martin Khor, the executive director of the South Centre.

It also contains a "summary of the summary," that is, highlighted points in the original wording, extracted from the 40-page Approved Summary for Policymakers.

Another AfricaFocus sent out today by email, and available on the web at, highlights recent developments in the fast-growing fossilfuel divestment movement aimed at countering the dominance of the fossil-fuel energy and its destructive effects on the planet.

For talking points and previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the environment and climate change, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

World's Scientists Warn: We Have 'High Confidence' In The 'Irreversible Impacts' Of Climate Inaction

by Joe Romm, November 2, 2014 / direct URL:

The world's top scientists and governments have issued their bluntest plea yet to the world: Slash carbon pollution now (at a very low cost) or risk "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems." Scientists have "high confidence" these devastating impacts occur "even with adaptation" -- if we keep doing little or nothing.

On Sunday, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the "synthesis" report of their fifth full scientific climate assessment since 1990. More than 100 governments have signed off line by line on this review of more than 30,000 studies on climate science, impacts, and solutions.

Like every recent IPCC report, it is cautious to a fault -- as you would expect from "its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree," as one climatologist explained to the New York Times. And that "lowest common denominator" is brought to an even blander and lower level in the summary reports since they need to end up with language that satisfies every member government.

The authors clearly understand this is the last time they have a serious shot at influencing the world's major governments while we still have a plausible chance of stabilizing at non-catastrophic levels. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said this report will "provide the roadmap by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change." That global agreement is supposed to be achieved over the next year and finalized at the December 2015 international climate talks in Paris.

And yet, as conservative as the process is, this final synthesis is still incredibly alarming -- while at the same time it is terrifically hopeful.

How hopeful? The world's top scientists and governments make clear for the umpteenth time that the cost of action is relatively trivial: "Mitigation scenarios that are likely to limit warming to below 2 degrees C" entail "an annualized reduction of consumption growth by 0.04 to 0.14 (median: 0.06) percentage points over the century relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6 percent and 3 percent per year (high confidence)."

Translation: The cost of even the most aggressive action -- the kind needed to stave off irreversible disaster -- is so low that it would not noticeably change the growth curve of the world economy this century. With high confidence, we would be reducing annual consumption growth from, say, 2.4 percent per year down to "only" a growth level of 2.34 percent per year.

How bad can it get if we won't devote that tiny fraction of the world's wealth to action? The IPCC already explained that in the science report from last fall (see "Alarming IPCC Prognosis: 9 degrees F Warming For U.S., Faster Sea Rise, More Extreme Weather, Permafrost Collapse"). And they expanded on that in the impacts report (see "Climate Panel Warns World Faces 'Breakdown Of Food Systems' And More Violent Conflict").

The synthesis report ties it all together:

In most scenarios without additional mitigation efforts ... warming is more likely than not to exceed 4 degrees C [7 degrees F] above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The risks associated with temperatures at or above 4 degrees C include substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation in some cases (high confidence).

Translation: There is high confidence that if we keep doing little or nothing [the RCP8.5 case], we will create a postapocalyptic "hunger games" world beyond adaptation.

Ever cautious, the IPCC euphemistically writes of "consequential constraints on common human activities." Elsewhere they explain that "by 2100 for RCP8.5, the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is expected to compromise common human activities, including growing food and working outdoors (high confidence)."

Translation: We are at risk of making large parts of the planet's currently arable and populated land virtually uninhabitable for much of the year -- and irreversibly so for hundreds of years.

Indeed, the report makes clear that future generations can't plausibly undo whatever we are too greedy and shortsighted to prevent through immediate action. And as bad as the impacts described in this report are, things will be even worse after 2100 in every case but the one where we aggressively act ASAP to stabilize at 2 degrees C total warming.

And remember, this is a super-cautious, consensus-based, "lowest common denominator" report. The Washington Post has an excellent piece on the inherently conservative nature of these reports and why they "often underestimate the severity of global warming."

So things are probably going to be much, much worse for our children and grandchildren and future generations if we fail to act. Do we really want to find out just how much worse things could be?

Comment on IPCC's Final Climate Report

By Martin Khor

[Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre. Contact:]

The IPCC's final report, known as the Synthesis Report, indicates the world is doomed if present climate and emission trends continue, but the key solutions are as elusive as before.

Imagine our world getting more and more polluted, and little space left for the Earth to absorb more pollutants before all kinds of disasters take place.

And imagine that we have not yet found the solutions to really slow down the emissions or to prevent the catastrophe that lies ahead.

This look into our scary future was evident at the recent meeting in Copenhagen to finalise the last climate change report of the IPCC (inter-governmental panel on climate change).

The IPCC produces the most comprehensive reports on the state of climate change. Over a thousand scientists came together to produce three huge reports on science, adaptation and mitigation.

And then a synthesis report was finalised at the Copenhagen meeting, with hundreds of government representatives going over, debating and finally approving a "summary for policymakers" (SPM) together with the authors.

The synthesis report and its SPM make very interesting reading. You can find information on the damage that climate change has already caused, and the many more harms that lie ahead.

But the most interesting scientific picture is found between the lines. The report reveals that between 1750 and 2011, cumulative anthropogenic (human-induced) carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere were 2,040 giga tonnes (one giga tonne, or Gton, equals a billion tonnes).

About 40% of these emissions, or 880 Gton of CO2, have remained in the atmosphere. The rest was stored on land (in plants and soils) and in the ocean. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the CO2, causing acidification of the seas.

Emissions have continued to increase in recent decades, reaching a 2010 level of around 49 Gton of CO2 equivalent.

Total CO2 emissions since 1870 have to remain below about 2900 Gton, if global warming is to be kept at less than 2 degrees C (relative to the period 1861-1880) with a probability of over 66%. However, about 1,900 Gton of CO2 has already been emitted by 2011.

From the above figures in the IPCC synthesis report, you can do the simple maths, and it's frightening.

If total emissions since 1870 till now and the future have to be kept at 2,900 Gton, and 1,900 Gton have already been emitted, then there is "space" for only 1,000 Gton of CO2 to be emitted from now to the future.

But the IPCC report also says that in 2011, the emission level was 49 Gton of CO2 equivalent.

Thus, in 20 to 25 years, if the current rate of emissions continues, the ability of the Earth to absorb the gases (within the limit of keeping warming below 2 degrees C) would have been exhausted.

Even at this scenario of 2 degrees warming there would be widespread and serious damage, with a rise of extreme weather events. With more warming, say 3 degrees C, it would be catastrophic.

While the IPCC synthesis report is rich in scientific data and with scenarios drawn from computer models, it is unfortunately very thin on how to achieve the global solutions.

It does assess the technologies and physical changes needed to reduce emissions in various sectors. It also gives estimates of the economic costs needed to make mitigation work.

But it is shy about even hinting at the kind of global deal that is needed to get both developed and developing countries to seriously take actions.

At the negotiations in the United Nations climate convention, the developing countries have long made the point that they require funding and technology to support policies that shift their economic growth towards environmentally sustainable pathways.

The climate-related actions they take should blend with their continued development, and not be at the expense of development.

The synthesis report hardly deals with the key issues of finance and technology for developing countries. Indeed, there were attempts by some developed countries to even strike out the term "technology transfer" from the report's summary. It took quite a battle by several developing countries to re-insert that term.

The North-South tangle was most evident in a working group to draw up a box in the report on the key relevant messages to be transmitted by the IPCC to the climate convention and its negotiators.

The draft by the IPCC authors was filled with data and required mitigation pathways, but developing countries' delegates complained that there was almost total absence of any mention on sustainable development, finance, technology and adaptation.

After days of discussion, the scientists finally agreed to include a paragraph on sustainable development and a few lines mentioning financing, technology transfer and adaptation.

However, when the new draft was brought to the plenary, whose closing had to be postponed for a full day, it was rejected by several developed countries.

Thus, the IPCC's final report is missing on what was to have been its most important message –ndash; the box on IPCC's relevant findings for the climate convention.

My conclusion is that the science of climate change has made progress in showing why we have to act, but that getting action agreed to as a community of nations and people is still a long way off.

The next conference of the climate convention will be in Peru at the end of this month. Hopefully, some progress will be made there on the much-needed action.

Climate Change 2014

Synthesis Report

Approved Summary for Policymakers 1 November 2014

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Note: The text below contains highlighted extracts only from the original 40-page Approved Summary, which is available at the link above.


This Synthesis Report is based on the reports of the three Working Groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including relevant Special Reports. It provides an integrated view of climate change as the final part of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

This summary follows the structure of the longer report, which addresses the following topics: Observed changes and their causes; Future climate change, risks and impacts; Future pathways for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development; Adaptation and mitigation.

In the Synthesis Report, the certainty in key assessment findings is communicated as in the Working Group Reports and Special Reports. It is based on the author teams' evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain)1. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers.

1. Observed Changes and their Causes

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. {1}

1.1 Observed changes in the climate system

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen. {1.1}

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (medium confidence). ...

1.2 Causes of climate change

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. {1.2, 1.3.1}

1.3 Impacts of climate change

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate. {1.3.2}

Evidence of observed climate-change impacts is strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems. In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality (medium confidence). Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change (high confidence). Some impacts on human systems have also been attributed to climate change, with a major or minor contribution of climate change distinguishable from other influences (Figure SPM.4). Assessment of many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops shows that negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence). Some impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms have been attributed to human influence (medium confidence). {1.3.2}

1.4. Extreme events

Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions. {1.4}

It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. It is very likely that human influence has contributed to the observed global scale changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes since the mid-20th century. It is likely that human influence has more than doubled the probability of occurrence of heat waves in some locations. There is medium confidence that the observed warming has increased heatrelated human mortality and decreased cold-related human mortality in some regions. {1.4}

There are likely more land regions where the number of heavy precipitation events has increased than where it has decreased. Recent detection of increasing trends in extreme precipitation and discharge in some catchments imply greater risks of flooding at regional scale (medium confidence). It is likely that extreme sea levels (for example, as experienced in storm surges) have increased since 1970, being mainly a result of rising mean sea level. {1.4}

Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). {1.4}

2. Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks. {2}

2.1 Key drivers of future climate

Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Projections of greenhouse gas emissions vary over a wide range, depending on both socio-economic development and climate policy. {2.1}

2.2 Projected changes in the climate system

Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise. {2.2}

2.3 Future risks and impacts caused by a changing climate

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development. {2.3}

Risk of climate-related impacts results from the interaction of climate-related hazards (including hazardous events and trends) with the vulnerability and exposure of human and natural systems, including their ability to adapt. Rising rates and magnitudes of warming and other changes in the climate system, accompanied by ocean acidification, increase the risk of severe, pervasive, and in some cases irreversible detrimental impacts. Some risks are particularly relevant for individual regions (Figure SPM.8), while others are global. The overall risks of future climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change, including ocean acidification. The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger abrupt and irreversible change remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing such thresholds increases with rising temperature (medium confidence). For risk assessment, it is important to evaluate the widest possible range of impacts, including low-probability outcomes with large consequences. {1.5, 2.3, 2.4, 3.3, Box Introduction 1, Box 2.3, Box 2.4}


Climate change is projected to undermine food security (Figure SPM.9). Due to projected climate change by the mid-21st century and beyond, global marine species redistribution and marine biodiversity reduction in sensitive regions will challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services (high confidence). For wheat, rice, and maize in tropical and temperate regions, climate change without adaptation is projected to negatively impact production for local temperature increases of 2 degrees C or more above late-20th century levels, although individual locations may benefit (medium confidence). Global temperature increases of ~4 degrees C or more14 above late-20th century levels, combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally (high confidence). Climate change is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources in most dry subtropical regions (robust evidence, high agreement), intensifying competition for water among sectors (limited evidence, medium agreement). {2.3.1, 2.3.2}

2.4 Climate change beyond 2100, irreversibility and abrupt changes

Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases. {2.4}

3. Future Pathways for Adaptation, Mitigation and Sustainable Development

Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development. {3.2, 3.3, 3.4}

3.1 Foundations of decision-making about climate change

Effective decision making to limit climate change and its effects can be informed by a wide range of analytical approaches for evaluating expected risks and benefits, recognizing the importance of governance, ethical dimensions, equity, value judgments, economic assessments and diverse perceptions and responses to risk and uncertainty. {3.1}

Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies. Limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication. Countries' past and future contributions to the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere are different, and countries also face varying challenges and circumstances and have different capacities to address mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation and adaptation raise issues of equity, justice, and fairness. Many of those most vulnerable to climate change have contributed and contribute little to GHG emissions. Delaying mitigation shifts burdens from the present to the future, and insufficient adaptation responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development. Comprehensive strategies in response to climate change that are consistent with sustainable development take into account the co-benefits, adverse side-effects and risks that may arise from both adaptation and mitigation options. {3.1, 3.5, Box 3.4}

3.2 Climate change risks reduced by mitigation and adaptation

Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side-effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts. {3.2, 3.4}

Mitigation and adaptation are complementary approaches for reducing risks of climate change impacts over different time scales (high confidence). Mitigation, in the near-term and through the century, can substantially reduce climate change impacts in the latter decades of the 21st century and beyond. Benefits from adaptation can already be realized in addressing current risks, and can be realized in the future for addressing emerging risks. {3.2, 4.5}

3.3 Characteristics of adaptation pathways

Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness, especially with greater magnitudes and rates of climate change. Taking a longer-term perspective, in the context of sustainable development, increases the likelihood that more immediate adaptation actions will also enhance future options and preparedness. {3.3}

Adaptation can contribute to the well-being of populations, the security of assets, and the maintenance of ecosystem goods, functions and services now and in the future. Adaptation is place- and context-specific (high confidence). A first step towards adaptation to future climate change is reducing vulnerability and exposure to present climate variability (high confidence). Integration of adaptation into planning, including policy design, and decision making can promote synergies with development and disaster risk reduction. Building adaptive capacity is crucial for effective selection and implementation of adaptation options (high agreement, robust evidence). {3.3}

3.4 Characteristics of mitigation pathways

There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2 degrees C relative to preindustrial levels. These pathways would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emissions of CO 2 and other long-lived GHGs by the end of the century. Implementing such reductions poses substantial technological, economic, social, and institutional challenges, which increase with delays in additional mitigation and if key technologies are not available. Limiting warming to lower or higher levels involves similar challenges, but on different timescales. {3.4}

4. Adaptation and Mitigation

Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives. {4}

4.1 Common enabling factors and constraints for adaptation and mitigation responses

Adaptation and mitigation responses are underpinned by common enabling factors. These include effective institutions and governance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods, and behavioral and lifestyle choices. {4.1}

4.2 Response options for adaptation

Adaptation options exist in all sectors, but their context for implementation and potential to reduce climate-related risks differs across sectors and regions. Some adaptation responses involve significant co-benefits, synergies and trade-offs. Increasing climate change will increase challenges for many adaptation options. {4.2}

4.3 Response options for mitigation

Mitigation options are available in every major sector. Mitigation can be more cost-effective if using an integrated approach that combines measures to reduce energy use and the GHG intensity of end-use sectors, decarbonize energy supply, reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sinks in land-based sectors. {4.3}

4.4 Policy approaches for adaptation and mitigation, technology and finance

Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on policies and measures across multiple scales: international, regional, national and sub-national. Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for responses to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaptation and mitigation. {4.4}

4.5 Trade-offs, synergies and interactions with sustainable development

Climate change is a threat to sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities to link mitigation, adaptation and the pursuit of other societal objectives through integrated responses (high confidence). Successful implementation relies on relevant tools, suitable governance structures and enhanced capacity to respond (medium confidence). {3.5, 4.5}

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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