UN Report on Climate Change Warns of "Severe and Irreversible" Changes

Yesterday, the U.N. released a new report on climate change. Basically, we're fucked: According to the report, the damage from global warming is likely to be "severe, pervasive and irreversible" and will almost certainly lead to environmental and economic disaster, including widespread famine in the world's poorer countries.

"Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s report said.

The report, based on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed studies, placed special emphasis on climate change's effect on the ability of farmers in poorer countries to grow food, especially in warmer areas or along low-lying coasts.

"When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn't have enough food," Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report, told the New York Times. "When some people don't have food, you get starvation. Yes, I'm worried."

The effect of climate change is already evident in the world's oceans, where water levels are rising and increasing in temperature, forcing marine life to migrate to cooler water or go extinct. And as frozen tundras in the Arctic thaw, even more greenhouse gas is being released into the atmosphere, speeding global warming.

And then there's the potential armed conflict over land and water resources. From the New York Times:

The report also cited the possibility of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly "by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks." The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just a problem of the distant future, but is happening now.

Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is some hope that governments can adapt to the changes. "Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation," Chris Field, one of the report's 745 authors, said. "This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change."

An example of such an adaptation from the Times:

A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.

The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and conduct a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes.

Field did, however, add that "even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits" unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.

[Image via AP]