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IPCC Releases Fifth Assessment Report WGII Paper on Climate Change Impacts and Risks

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the world’s foremost authority on climate change. Every 5-7 years the IPCC issues a series of three documents describing the state of climate change, the implications for society today and in the future, and suggestions for mitigation or abatement strategies. The second paper of the most recent Fifth Assessment Report, WGII, was released today. The WGII paper was contributed to by 243 lead authors and 436 contributing authors from around the world. Twelve thousand peer reviewed scientific research studies are cited – double the amount of scientific literature cited in the previous IPCC report from 2007. The WGII paper focuses on how patterns of risks and potential benefits are shifting due to climate change. It also considers how impacts and risks related to climate change can be reduced and managed through adaptation and mitigation. Considering the emphasis of the report on the implications of climate change for society, we think it is a useful resource for companies working to assess how climate change can impact their business.

Specific Key Risk Areas resulting from climate change are identified in the report. The IPCC uses the UNFCC definition of key risks as “potential severe impacts due to high hazard or vulnerability of societies and systems exposed, or both.” Identification of key risks was based on “expert judgment using specific criteria of large magnitude, high probability, or irreversibility of impacts; timing of impacts; persistent vulnerability or exposure contributing to risks; or limited potential to reduce risks through adaptation or mitigation.”

Key risks resulting from climate change that were identified with a high degree of confidence in the report were as follows:

  • Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.
  • Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.
  • Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.
  • Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.
  • Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.
  • Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.
  • Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.
  • Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.

These risks and other findings are explained in far greater detail in the report. Those interested in reviewing the report findings can download the full report or the more manageable 44 page Summary for Policymakers here. For those looking for a higher level perspective, the New York Times also summarized some of the key findings in its headline article here.