Climate hotspots identified

Climate change will lead to human rights’ violations specifically in relation to the Inuit people. Picture: Tom Brandt / Kajsa Lindqvist/ Creative Commons.

Regional food and water security, coral reefs and Arctic sea ice are at risk at warming levels of 1.5–2°C.

A new report has been published recently which comprises a compilation of local and regional cases where near-term projected climate change is of high relevance to human livelihoods. The report also discusses assessments of “dangerous” climate change, referring to Article 2 of the Climate Convention.

According to Dr. W. L. Hare, one of the the authors, the report looks at four areas of possible dangerous climate change – adverse declines in regional food and water security, loss of Arctic sea ice with projected extinction of species, large-scale sea-level rise and loss of coral reef systems. These issues affect a number of different regions including Africa, South Asia, and Small Island Developing States. Dr Hare reports that significant risks to vulnerable regions and systems at warming levels of 1.5–2°C above pre-industrial are identified. The direct effects of CO2 concentration increases in terms of ocean acidification are identified as relevant to Article 2 because of the risks posed to coral reefs. Hare states that the ultimate CO2 stabilisation levels that allow for the long-term viability of coral reefs likely are below 350 ppm CO2.

The report further argues that defining and implementing Article 2 of the UNFCCC remains a challenge. “The question of what is dangerous climate change is not a purely scientific one, as danger necessarily has a subjective dimension and its definition requires judgment and precaution. The report attempts to navigate this problem, by offering an overview of the latest scientific findings in the context of risks and uncertainties, and assesses some key vulnerabilities that might lead to dangerous climate change.”

The report gives numerous detailed case studies of large-scale projected damage to ecosystem values, food security and human rights in China, Nepal, the Himalayas, South Asia, Sahelian Africa, Southern Africa, Tunisia, tropical Andes, Australia, coral reef ecosystems, Pacific Islands, ecosystems in the high Arctic, Alaska’s North Slope and Russia. Here are some of the comments:

  • “With about a 2°C warming the endemic flora of southern Africa has an average reduction by about 40 per cent in habitat-specific species richness. For a higher warming of 3–3.5°C, projections for 5,197 African plant species show that 25–42 per cent could lose all suitable range by 2085.”
  • “For Australia, high risks for warming are in the range of 1.5–2°C for the Australian Alpine region, the Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage rainforests and wetlands.”
  • “In Europe an increasing and substantial risk of extinction with increasing warming, so that by around 3°C warming, 25 per cent of the species are projected to disappear from Mediterranean Europe and Northern European ecosystems are transformed with 35 per cent of species there newly introduced.”
  • “Ecosystem changes in China show that large and rapid movements in ecosystems are projected. The loss of grasslands, high-elevation meadows and steppe in particular could lead to losses of biological diversity.”
  • “The Tibetan Plateau is one of the more sensitive regions containing many unique environments that are very sensitive and vulnerable to climate change and human disturbances. Warming of this region will accelerate the loss of permafrost and thereby contribute to the process of desertification.”
  • “Unmitigated climate change is projected to threaten sustainable economic development in a number of regions, causing significant problems in areas as diverse as health, water supply, agriculture, infrastructure damages and financial and other economic services.”
  • “Projected adverse impacts on the economic development of small islands are dangerous. Direct threats to communities in mountain regions were identified for the Andes and for the Himalayas. Glacial retreat is causing an enhanced risk of glacial lake outbursts and reducing water security during dry seasons. These changes threaten livelihoods directly through increased natural hazards and indirectly due to negative economic impacts on water security.”
  • “Climate change will lead to human rights’ violations specifically in relation to indigenous people and communities, particularly in polar and mountain regions.”

The report discusses in depth very important attempts to define dangerous climate change and the widely endorsed goal from climate policy of limiting global warming to 2 degrees.

Reinhold Pape

Reference:  Regional Environmental Change; Volume 11, Supplement: Hare W. L., Cramer W., Schaeffer M., Battaglini A., & Jaeger C. C. Climate hotspots: key vulnerable regions, climate change and limits to warming. Published 2011. 274 pages.

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