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NEWS: Climate change will worsen global poverty without concerted action to cut global emissions – IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a crystal clear assessment of how human activity is affecting the climate and what we can do about it. Mairi Dupar of CDKN outlines the IPCC’s key conclusions and Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive, together with Carl Wesselink and Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN’s Africa and Asia Directors, provide a response. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of irreversible, negative impacts to human societies and ecosystems if the world does not make deep, rapid cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. The strongly-worded findings were contained in the final synthesis of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, released in Copenhagen yesterday.

The scientific body found it ‘extremely likely’ that recent rises in average global temperature are caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. As a result, the period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30 year period in the past 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate change is already having severe impacts on vulnerable populations around the world, through increased droughts, flooding, high temperatures and sea level rise. The world’s “most disadvantaged people” will bear the heaviest burden from future impacts and climate change.

The message for global efforts to combat poverty is clear: climate change will undercut the global fight against poverty unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero levels this century. Efforts to adapt to climate change across societies will play a key role in reducing climate-related risks. However, no amount of adaptation action can make climate change safe and manageable unless the source of manmade climate change: greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, making cement, cutting forests and other land use changes, are combatted – starting now.

The IPCC’s scientific conclusions, which have been authored by more than 800 specialists and rigorously reviewed by thousands of expert reviewers, are that human society has a ‘carbon budget’ – an amount of carbon equivalent (from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) to which we must adhere if we are to collectively limit global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The two degree limit, measured since the beginning of the industrial revolution, is widely held by scientists to be the threshold beyond which warming levels are broadly ‘dangerous’ and ‘unmanageable’ (although even this figure is disputed by the leaders of small island states today, which are already beset by damaging heat, droughts and rising sea levels). Of that carbon budget to keep climate change within more manageable levels, 65% had already been used up by 2011.

Critically for world leaders, who are grappling with perennial issues of economic growth, employment and human development, the IPCC also provides a robust economic case for taking strong action on climate mitigation. It finds that the cost of taking near-term action to cut emissions is less than the cost of attempting to deal with dangerous climate change impacts later. The technologies and economic policy instruments to transition to a net zero-carbon economy are available now. Eagle-eyed economists will also note several footnotes in the text which provide key assumptions for this conclusion: such as the existence of a single global carbon price, at a level which reflects the damaging impacts of carbon pollution and is high enough to force businesses and consumers toward energy-saving and low-carbon alternatives to ‘business as usual’.

“The IPCC’s clear statement about the linkages between climate change and poverty reduction lays the groundwork for  world leaders who are working toward a set of Sustainable Development Goals for the period 2015-2030, and toward a global climate change agreement to be agreed in Paris in late 2015,” said Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). “In the light of this stark and unequivocal  science, nothing but the highest common denominator, the very highest ambition in tackling climate change at the global level is now acceptable. The IPCC has also found that, nationally and subnationally, countries are building up increasing experience with merged climate mitigation, adaptation and development approaches, which simultaneously reduce climate-related risks, strengthen the livelihood prospects of disadvantaged groups and aid in the transition to a zero-carbon future;  here is where CDKN is mobilising world-class technical expertise and new research, and supporting the exchange of knowledge among decision-makers and practitioners, so that we can build upon each other’s experience in the years ahead.”

“The latest findings of the IPCC add the scientific validity to the climate change and impacts which we are seeing on the ground in Asia,” said Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN’s Asia Director. “The world’s leading scientists have given a strong message to global leaders: global averages hide the fact that individual locations have experienced deeper changes and indeed, dangerous levels of climate change already. The picture from Asia region confirms this, from widespread flooding, frequent glacial lake outburst floods, tragic loss of life in the Kashmir and downstream regions, heat waves occurring across the region, and the slowly changing patterns of monsoon which are putting farmer’s yields and incomes at risk.An ambitious and equitable climate change deal is needed at the upcoming UNFCCC meeting to respond to this important report.”

Carl Wesselink, CDKN’s Africa Director, said: “The IPCC Synthesis report again highlights that climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. The report reaffirms that the risks are unevenly distributed and will “generally” be greater for the poor. This is evident daily in Africa, the continent that contains more climate-sensitive economies than other regions of the world. The report underlines the need for immediate action on climate compatible development.

Worryingly, the report also shows that there are insufficient funds for adaptation in relation to the scale of need. Both adaptation and mitigation will be needed in every sector of the economy. But finance alone will not solve the problem. As the report states: ‘Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself.’

Economy-wide, coordinated policy interventions are needed to prioritise climate compatible investment and secure our developmental gains. Africa needs to mainstream climate into policy and practices and this needs to be evident by national implementation and the channeling of finance into sustainable economic development. Several states in Africa have accepted this challenge and the need for ambitious economic transformation. National budgets are starting to reflect this, but success for these national efforts is a responsibility we share globally.

The report is clear on what is needed: Both adaptation and mitigation will be key in every sector of the economy without which we run a high risk of ‘severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally.’”

Editors’ notes

  • The synthesis of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report reinforces some of the key risks to individual regions – such as freshwater insecurity in Central and South America, flooding of coastal settlements in Asia, and food insecurity in Africa and Asia – which were outlined in the earlier section of the Fifth Assessment on Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation. These region-specific trends and risks are highlighted in CDKN’s guides to the Fifth Assessment for developing country decision-makers: The Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for developing countries? which are available for free download with associated infographics, images and slide packs on
  • CDKN is in partnership with the IPCC to deliver a range of outreach events for policy-makers, development practitioners and journalists in developing countries, which continues this month with events at the LEDS Asia Forum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on 10 November, and in Johannesburg, South Africa on 10-12 November. For more details and to register, please visit
  • CDKN and its partners in the Development & Climate Days 2014 have launched a story and sound art competition calling for readers’ descriptions of their experiences of climate impacts, and their big ideas for solutions that will deliver ‘Zero Poverty, Zero Emissions, Within a Generation.’ Selected entries will be announced and celebrated in Lima at the ‘Zero Poverty-Zero Emissions’ event of 6-7 December, and will be widely publicised on the sponsors’ websites.



Image: Burkina Faso, courtesy Oxfam International.

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