Foreign Policy Blogs

"Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its second report of the year yesterday in Brussels. (I referenced this in "Headlines" below on April 3.) The IPCC Report is titled "Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability" , that's a mouthful. Go to the IPCC website for all the material relevant to this including the "Summary for Policymakers" and a video of the press conference. There will be 16 regional press briefings around the world in the next couple of weeks, including one in Washington on April 16. There are over a thousand news articles about this listed by Google. I won't get into the specifics too much here. Suffice it to say that the headlines read like this one from Reuters:  "U.N. panel issues stark climate change warning." The BBC has this informative interactive map by region and by area of concern to describe what's being reported. (I touched on some of the impacts that are being found in "Bits and Bobs" from March 30 below.)

One serious bone of contention between some of the 2,500 scientists who've been involved in this year's series of IPCC updates and some of the government representatives who represent political interests is how much damage global warming has already been responsible for causing. (This particular 1,572-page report was prepared by more than 200 scientists, and a 21-page summary was endorsed by officials from more than 120 countries.) But, the conclusion, after all the jockeying, is that human activity causing global warming " over the last three decades has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems." One of the co-chairs of the report team said:  "We're no longer arm-waving with models. This is empirical information on the ground."

It's clear, for instance, that carbon dioxide has been making the world's oceans more acidic. Harvey Marchant, lead author on polar regions for the report, said: "Carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere continue to rise, putting a greater strain on the world's oceans which are being forced to absorb more of these emissions than ever before and with potentially catastrophic effects." Elizabeth Kolbert, the brilliant and passionate journalist and author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, had a stunning article on this in "The New Yorker" on November 20 last year:  "The Darkening Sea , What carbon emissions are doing to the ocean."Another immediate concern is the vulnerability of certain populations, many of which live in coastal regions. I referenced the 634 million people who live in vulnerable shore areas under Global Ecology in "Bits and Bobs" below, and a report on the dangers from storms and rising seas. See also this terrific slide show from Andrew Revkin and the "NY Times." Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, said:  "It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit." In a report timed to coincide with the IPCC schedule, "Save the Children" claimed "Children's future in jeopardy as climate change set to create up to 175m young disaster victims every year."

So, we're hearing again that it's past time to act. Ed Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the U.S. House of Representatives, said:  "This Congress must rise to the challenge of transitioning from energy sources that threaten the planet and preparing for the damage we can no longer avoid." (See more from Markey.) Hans Verolme of WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) said: "The urgency of this report…should be matched with an equally urgent response by governments." Michael Oppenheimer, a world leader in public interest science for many years and an author of the report, said: "The actual outcome in terms of damages and ruined lives and costs depends heavily on the response ‚ the response of individuals to deal with the changes and governments to organize and anticipate and deal with this in advance."

Winston Churchill said:  "I never worry about action, but only inaction."



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change