The Global Challenge of Climate Change

Sep 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Adaptation, Advocacy, Biodiversity, Disaster and Emergency, Disasters and Climate Change, Earthquake, Ecosystem Functions, Flood, Glaciers, Information and Communication, International Agencies, IPCC, Land, Lessons, Mitigation, News, Population, Publication, Resilience, Vulnerability, Water, Weather

Alertnet: The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came up with some simple but far-reaching findings. It stated for instance, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level”. Further it also found that most of the warming that had taken place since the middle of the last century was very likely the result of increase in the concentration of anthropogenic or human-induced greenhouse gases. In this context the term ‘very likely’ denotes a probability of over 90 %. We, therefore, need to understand the extent of human influence on the earth’s climate.

One general misconception that exists in the minds of the public on the very nature and manifestation of climate change is to view climate change as merely an increase in surface temperatures across the globe. In actual fact climate change has a range of impacts that have important implications for human activities and the condition of various ecosystems. These impacts could also pose risks to life and property. In particular, our knowledge on this subject has improved significantly with the completion and release in November, 2011 of IPCC’s Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).

This report found, for instance, that the estimates of economic losses from weather and climate related disasters have increased, but with large spatial and inter annual variability. For instance, estimates of annual losses have ranged since 1980 from a few US $ billion to above $ 200 billion (in 2010 $), with the highest value for 2005, which was the year of Hurricane Katrina. It was also stated that loss estimates are lower bound estimates because many impacts, such as loss of human lives, cultural heritage and ecosystem services are difficult to value and monetize, and thus they are poorly reflected in estimates of losses. Impacts on the informal or undocumented economy as well as indirect economic effects can be very important in some areas and sectors, but are generally not counted in reported estimates of losses.

During the period from 1970 to 2008, over 95% of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing countries. Middle-income countries with rapidly expanding asset bases have borne the largest burden. During the period from 2001 to 2006, losses amounted to about 1% of GDP for middle-income countries, while this ratio has been about 0.3% of GDP for low-income countries and less than 0.1% of GDP for high-income countries, based on limited evidence. In small exposed countries, particularly small island developing states, losses expressed as a percentage of GDP have been particularly high, exceeding 1% in many cases and 8% in the most extreme cases, averaged over both disaster and non-disaster years for the period from 1970 to 2010.

It has also been found by the IPCC that the entire system related to the impacts of climate change has various forms of inbuilt inertia. As a result, therefore, even if we had been able to hold global emissions at the level reached in the year 2000, climate change would continue for several decades.

Consequently, it would be necessary for human society to adapt to the impacts of climate change in view of the inevitable changes that would take place even in the face of stringent mitigation measures. The SREX clearly found a major increase in heat waves and extreme precipitation events, and in order to adapt to these occurrences, the intensity and frequency of which is likely to increase, it would be essential to take in hand urgently certain low regrets measures. These include, for instance, the institution of early warning systems and general awareness about the nature of impacts and adaptation measures to be taken in hand. Local capacity among communities and improvement of government structures at a decentralized level would also have major benefits in minimizing the risks and reducing the losses from some of these impacts.

However, there are limits to resilience faced when thresholds or tipping points associated with social and/ or natural systems are exceeded. Hence, while adaptation is essential at the local level, mitigation of emissions of greenhouse gases at the global level would have to be an important part of the strategy to deal with the challenge of climate change.

The attractiveness of mitigation action lies largely in the substantial co-benefits which include higher energy security, lower levels of pollution at the local level with consequent health benefits and higher agricultural yields. It is also relevant to observe that a large number of low cost or even no cost opportunities exist for mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the AR4 it was indicated that mitigation opportunities with net negative cost have the potential to reduce emissions by about 6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in 2030. However, realizing these requires dealing with implementation barriers. It was also found that the economic mitigation potential, which is generally greater than the market mitigation potential, can only be achieved when adequate policies are in place and barriers removed. It is important for human society to now focus on removal of these barriers, for which the first step would be to create awareness on the scientific realities of climate change.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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