Summary of climate change impacts

This is a re-post from And Then There's Physics

I commented that I’d like to understand the actual impacts of anthropogenic climate change better than I currently do. It’s one thing to understand that if we continue to increase our emissions, we’ll continue to warm, sea level will rise, polar ice will melt, and the hydrological cycle will intensify; it’s another to understand quite what impact these changes will actually have.

VTG, quite rightly, pointed out that there is already a lot of information about this in the IPCC reports, so I went and looked where he suggested. The WGII Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) – in particular Table 1 – is very detailed and probably illustrates Victor’s point; impact studies are inherently regional, which introduces large uncertainties. It also seems to make communicating this quite difficult; there are many regions and multiple impacts per region. Therefore, there’s isn’t a small set of nice soundbites that can be used to illustrate these impacts; you really do need to delve into them in quite some detail.

So, I thought I would try and do a bit of that here. The table in the SPM recommended by VTG is actually pretty detailed; it includes a range of impacts for each region, the confidence in each projection, the climate drivers, the risks for different timeframes, and the potential for adaptation (being WGII, this report focused mainly on adaptation). What I thought I would do below is reproduce the part of the table for each region and highlight one impacts, for each region, for which there is high confidence.

Africa :








North America:


Central and South America:


Polar regions:


Small Islands:



Reduced biodiversity, fisheries abundance, and coastal protection by coral reefs due to heat-induced mass coral bleaching and mortality increases, exacerbated by ocean acidification, e.g., in coastal boundary systems and sub-tropical gyres. Under a high-emission pathway, the long-term risk is very high with no potential for adaptation.


So, there’s my attempt to look at some of the projected climate impacts. I’ve only highlighted one per region, but these are risks for which there is high-confidence and there is more information in the tables themselves. It’s clear that this is a very complex issue with no obviously easy way to communicate these potential risks. However, I do think that this is a very important issue and I would certainly like to understand it better, and also see it more prominently communicated.

Posted by on Monday, 9 March, 2015

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