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Adapting to change

The world is mostly ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate the effects of which are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued today, writes Clive Simpson.

‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’ details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.

A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors and review editors drawn from 70 countries were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors and 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world and says the nature of the risks are becoming increasingly clear – though there will also be surprises.

Identifying vulnerable people, industries and ecosystems around the world, it finds that risks from a changing climate come from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends).

Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods.

One striking feature of these is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.

Commenting on the report’s release, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, said: “This evidence strengthens the case for early action in the UK and around the world to lessen the significant risks posed by climate change. We cannot afford to wait.

“The science has clearly spoken. Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society.

“The recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.”

Chris Field, co-chairman of the working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), called for more positivity about the “really exciting opportunities” to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

He acknowledged that the impacts of climate change set out in the report were overwhelmingly negative.

“It’s true we couldn’t find very many benefits of climate change and I believe that’s because there aren’t that many.”

However, Mr Field urged policymakers to approach the issue with more positive thinking.

“If climate change is a total downer because everything looks so serious and the only way to cope effectively is to give up all good things in life, it’s going to be really hard to take action.

“If dealing effectively is taking an innovative, creative, entrepreneurial approach, building great businesses and communities, then it’s a problem that we can deal with.”

He said that many of the real opportunities for innovation this century were going to be in the energy industries, building sustainable housing and creating new transportation systems – key areas for tackling climate change.

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