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Climate Report Warns of 'Severe' and 'Irreversible Impacts'

Mar 31, 2014
Originally published on March 31, 2014 2:14 pm

The United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change released its fifth report on climate change today.

The report details recent impacts of climate-related extremes such as wildfires, droughts and floods and predicts the vulnerability of human and natural resources, including a stress on crops and water resources.

Noah Diffenbaughclimate scientist at Stanford University and one of the co-authors of the IPCC report, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the details.

“We have a tremendous amount of new information about climate risk, and how physical changes in the climate system — like heat waves, like storm surges, like heavy rainfall — how those change in response to global warming, and also how different natural and human systems are impacted,” Diffenbaugh said.

Diffenbaugh says we can expect to see “extreme climate events” that are more frequent and more intense, but that there are ways to prepare and adapt for the changing climate.

“We have opportunities to manage the risk of those extremes, in terms of our exposure and our vulnerability,” Diffenbaugh said. “There are a lot of examples of managing these climate risks, and we see that in terms of how different countries are dealing with sea level rise … We see in terms of the strength of community networks, there’s a lot of new research showing that the stronger the community network, the more resilience there is when an extreme event does happen.”

Guest

  • Noah Diffenbaugh, climate scientist at Stanford University and visiting fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. He co-authored today’s IPCC report.
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JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson here with Robin Young. And let's get to that United Nations report on climate change that was released today in Japan. It warns that increased warming of the planet raises the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. Here's Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaking today.

RAJENDRA PACHAURI: Why should the world pay attention to this report? Well, we have assessed impacts as they are happening and impacts on natural and human systems, on all continents and oceans, and I would like to emphasize that in view of these impacts and those that we have projected for the future, nobody on this planet is going to be untouched.

HOBSON: Well, for more on the report we're joined by Noah Diffenbaugh. He's a climate scientist at Stanford University and a senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He was a co-author of today's report and he's with us now from New York to discuss. Noah, welcome.

NOAH DIFFENBAUGH: Thank you.

HOBSON: Well, when we hear that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched, explain what that means.

DIFFENBAUGH: Well, we know that global warming is happening and now in this new assessment we know that - that climate change is having impacts, and those impacts are global, they're across the continents and also in the oceans. And so as further global warming unfolds, we're likely to see continued impacts in those areas.

HOBSON: And it seems that every time a group of scientists, climate scientists, get together, they come out with a report that says basically this. What's new here?

DIFFENBAUGH: We have a tremendous amount of new information about climate risk and how physical changes in the climate system like heat waves, like storm surges, like heavy rainfall, how those change in response to global warming and also how different natural and human systems are impacted. So we actually have a lot of new information now.

HOBSON: When we think about the impacts of climate change, we think about the bigger storms that we've heard about that will be happening more frequently, we think of, of course, Sandy in the New York/New Jersey area, the huge typhoon that hit last year in the Philippines. But what are the places that you're looking to that could be affected in a permanent way - in other words, not by a storm surge but by a rising sea that doesn't retreat?

DIFFENBAUGH: Well, we certainly see that the Arctic Ocean, the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is reaching lower and lower levels much more quickly than the scientific community had thought even seven years ago when the last report was issued. And I also think that, you know, it's important to consider that this gradual sea level rise really does have impacts when there is a storm. And so we do see this - what some people call systemic risk but really is the risk of extreme events that comes from gradual global warming, gradual sea level rise, and it really is these extreme events where we are most vulnerable as humans.

HOBSON: And there are warnings here about humanitarian crises, the risks of that. Tell us more about what you're expecting there.

DIFFENBAUGH: So we know from looking, whether it's in the United States year to year, the billion dollar weather disasters that occur every year, or other examples around the world that we see every year, we know that we are highly vulnerable to these extreme climate events. And so as we look at continued global warming over the next several decades, we know with high confidence that many of those kinds of extremes are likely to increase in their intensity, increase in their frequency of occurrence. And so we have opportunities to manage the risk of those extremes in terms of our exposure and our vulnerability, but we do know now with high confidence that we're likely to see more stress from the climate system.

HOBSON: Is any country doing a great job, in your view, of adapting to this?

DIFFENBAUGH: So there are a lot of examples of managing these climate risks, and you know, we see that in terms of how different countries are dealing with sea level rise in terms of - particularly in coastal areas. We see in terms of the strength of community networks, there's a lot of new research showing that the stronger the community networks, the more resilience there is when an extreme event does happen. So we are seeing a lot of good examples.

HOBSON: Noah Diffenbaugh, climate scientist at Stanford University and a co-author of today's report, thanks so much for joining us.

DIFFENBAUGH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.