Climate, floods, and food security: Reading experts comment on UN climate change report
Release Date 31 March 2014
The world faces widespread and potentially serious effects from climate change, including floods, droughts, food shortages and habitat loss, the UN has warned in a comprehensive report published today.
The second working group of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its outline summary this morning. University of Reading scientists have continued to play a key role in the IPCC process, contributing scientific studies and helping to compile evidence for all three working groups.
Professor Arnell said: "The latest IPCC report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability is a massive achievement. It has had to summarise scientific information from an incredibly wide range of scientific disciplines. Much of this information relates to potential impacts and responses at the local scale, and drawing global scale conclusions is very challenging. Climate change can affect individuals, organisations, societies and ecosystems in many different ways. I have been privileged to have been part of this process, as an author of the water chapter, and it has been a really stimulating experience.
"The report shows that climate change can have potentially vary large impacts in many parts of the world and across many sectors - water, food, health, along the coast and in cities. It also shows two things relevant to how we cope with climate change. First, it shows that if we reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, then we can reduce the impacts we can expect at the end of the century - but we do not eliminate them.
"Second, our estimates of impacts at a particular place can be very uncertain, and this makes adaptation challenging. But another key conclusion of the report is that many more organisations are already seeking to adapt to future climate change - partly based on their experience of recent events - and that we know a lot more about how to apply risk-based approaches to dealing with climate change risks alongside other types of risk. The UK is very well placed here. We have good assessments of potential impacts through the Climate Change Risk Assessment and, through many years of effort by UKCIP (UK Climate Impacts Programme) and more recently the Environment Agency, we have a toolbox of methods which organisations are beginning to use to manage their exposure to climate change risks.
"The IPCC report is a great summary of what we know about potential impacts of climate change and how we can cope with them. It also highlights were we need to learn more. For example, we still don't really know that much about how climate change will manifest itself over the next few decades: we need to build on the new science of decadal forecasting discussed in the Working Group I report. And whilst we know that many organisations are seeking to adapt, we don't really know how effective these adaptations will be and what information is really needed to help adaptation."
The report highlights impacts on a number of areas, including citing evidence from Professor Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at the University of Reading, about the impact of climate change on bees and other crucial pollinating insects.
Professor Potts said: "A changing climate is just another problem for our already overburdened bees. Shifting seasonal patterns means bees are emerging earlier in the year, before enough flowering plants are in bloom to feed them. It's like waking up to find breakfast is not served for another week.
"New climate patterns also means habitats are shifting, but bees can't necessarily move as easily, especially as populations are already disjointed by modern land use.
"Some of our native bumblebees are already under threat of local extinction. Unless we begin to see the value of maintaining our natural environment, and understand the damage that we are inflicting on it, then we are storing up trouble for the future. Climate change is just one of the problems facing bees, and bees have enough problems as it is.
"If policymakers want one reminder of a potential victim of climate change, they need look no further than their own gardens - and the contents of their kitchen cupboards."
Meanwhile, the IPCC report highlighted how changing patterns of extreme weather could cause more floods around the world from seas and rivers.
Following the wettest winter on record for southern Britain, and flooding of the Somerset Levels, the UK government has restarted dredging of rivers in Somerset.
Dr Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, said:
"Today's report from the IPCC shows how risks from extreme rainfall and flooding are likely to change in the future. With increasingly difficult decisions ahead about which areas to protect, it's important that we make sound, long term decisions based on solid evidence, not electoral cycles. Dredging is a costly, short-term solution, and I have serious doubts that this is the best way to prioritise action, compared to other longer-term solutions.
"The dredging of ‘pinch points' along some river channels in the Somerset Levels will help to speed up the flow of the water, and could help to move water downstream more quickly, easing the risk of localised floods. This action is supported strongly by residents and farmers, and is being carried out after the Prime Minister made specific promises that dredging would resume in the area.
"The government's overall plan to alleviate flooding would help Somerset, but only a fraction of the £100million needed has been pledged so far by different branches of government. When money is tight, it's important that funds are spent wisely to protect homes, businesses and farmland."