Climate change is affecting all parts of the globe, and the gap between the latest science on climatic change and government action to cut greenhouse emissions remains large, according to a sweeping U.N. report out today.
"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts ... on all continents and across the oceans," according to a landmark report released early Monday in Yokohama, Japan, by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's most comprehensive climate change report ever created.
The devastating effects of recent extreme events and extreme weather disasters also prove that our ability to adapt to a changing climate is low, according to the report.
If left unchecked, the report finds that climate-change risks include:
•Coastal flooding, which will devastate areas near the shore.
•Widespread hunger due to warming, drought and severe downpours.
•Damage to big cities because of inland flooding.
•Extreme weather and storms, damaging some of the things we take for granted, like electricity, running water and emergency services.
"We live in an era of man-made climate change," said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the group that prepared the report. "In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face."
Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability is the second in a series of four reports prepared by hundreds of the world's top climate scientists through the IPCC.
The report states that climate change has already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems, water supplies and some people's livelihoods. The striking feature of the effects, said the report, is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.
"The report concludes that people, societies and ecosystems are vulnerable around the world, but with different vulnerability in different places, said Stanford's Chris Field, one of the report co-chairs. "Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk."
There is no new science in this report, which assesses recent science since the previous IPCC report in 2007.
"There's been a tremendous increase in the past seven years of the understanding of climate-related risks," said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.
The report states that the chances and possible outcomes of many of the risks of climate change could still be diminished. However, strong action would have to be enacted to decrease the emissions of the greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) that cause global warming. In addition, the report also states that governments can protect their people from those risks, if they do so now.
Despite the warnings given by the IPCC in its reports over the past two decades, the gap between the science and what governments are doing remains huge, says Sandeep Chamling Rai, head of the World Wildlife Fund's delegation to the meeting.
A heavy haze hangs over Shanghai, China, in December.(Photo: Eugene Hoshiko, AP)
"The science is clear and the debate is over," he said. "Climate change is happening and humans are the major cause of emissions, driven mainly by our dependence on fossil fuels. This is driving global warming. This report sets out the impacts we already see, the risks we face in the future and the opportunities to act."
Overall, the take-home message from the report is that today's choices are going to define the world we live in for the rest of the century, said Kelly Levin of the World Resources Institute in Washington.
The third report will be released next month in Berlin.