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A photo of a waves hitting a lighthouse in Sussex. England.

Waves hit a lighthouse in Newhaven, England, on February 15, amid record levels of flooding. More intense storms are an example of extreme weather brought on by climate change, experts say.

PHOTOGRAPH BY TOBY MELVILLE, REUTERS VIA CORBIS

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published March 31, 2014

The world is not ready for the impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather and the likelihood that populated parts of the planet could be rendered uninhabitable, says the planet's leading body of climate scientists in a major new UN report.

The 772 scientists who wrote and edited the report argue that world leaders have only a few years left to reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming, which would produce significant sea level rise and large-scale shifts in temperatures that would dramatically disrupt human life and natural ecosystems.

"Observed impacts of climate change are widespread and consequential," according to the report, which is from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was released Monday morning in Yokohama, Japan.

The report uses stronger language around current impacts of climate change than past IPCC releases.

It warns that the impacts from changing climate are already happening, calling out "high risk levels" for spread of disease in Africa; property loss and mortality due to wildfires in North America; and decreased food production and food quality in South America. (See video: "Global Warming 101.")

The report also warns of more dire consequences to come and says governments are ill-prepared for the effects.

It shows that "today's choices are going to significantly affect the risk that climate change will pose for the rest of the century," says Kelly Levin, a scientist who studies climate change impacts at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the report an "S.O.S. to the world."

"Crossing a Threshold"

The new report, from a body known as the UN panel's Working Group II, warns that the world is close to missing a chance to limit the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.

World leaders had previously agreed on a target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Beyond that point, "impacts will begin to be unacceptably severe," the authors wrote. (Quiz: What You Don't Know About Climate Science.)

"There is potential for crossing a threshold that leads to large system changes, and that's a very unknown world that has severe consequences," Levin says.

If the warming were to go beyond 6-to-7 degrees Fahrenheit (about four degrees Celsius), she says, as predicted by some climate models, "we would see extensive changes in agriculture."

Even at the lower end of predictions, the report warns: "Climate change will lead to increased frequency, intensity and/or duration of extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, warm spells and heat events, drought, intense storm surges and associated sea-level rise."

Levin hopes the report will spur international leaders to negotiate more aggressive attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (How does the greenhouse effect work?)

People Get Ready

Levin says the IPCC report's bottom line is that governments need to invest more in planning for the impacts of climate change. Communities that are already marginalized, she says, including the urban poor, are most at risk.

Some communities should be moved to less risky areas, and support services need to be bolstered, she says: "We need more fast-acting institutions and early-warning systems. We are already committed to significant warming, so adaptation is a great necessity."

Energy companies and governments are actively planning and building the infrastructure that will be in service for decades, she notes.  As climate change continues, power plants will need to have enough water for cooling their systems in places that are likely to get hotter and drier.

"Whether we pick a low-emission or high-emission pathway, we may not see changes immediately," Levin says. "But in terms of a century it is a drastically different world."

The new report specifically calls out risks to agriculture.

"In the U.S. we have seen acute effects of severe heat on corn, cotton, and soy yields," says Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University and one of the lead authors of the North American section of the document.

"That kind of severe heat is likely to increase in response to continued global warming," he says.

Understanding the IPCC

The IPCC was founded in 1988 and has released a report on the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change roughly every five years.

The new Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) updates the science since the last report was issued in 2007.

The massive report, running hundreds of pages, is being released in three sections, each prepared by a different working group.

Working Group I focused on the physical science behind climate change; its report was published last September (see the report's five key takeaways).

In April, Working Group III will address how governments can work to mitigate climate change.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

84 comments
Hunter Straughan
Hunter Straughan

Thank you, Brian Howard, for communicating to us that we need to start now on our quest to conquer the idea of global warming. 

meto slm
meto slm

we have to be more sensible and mindful about our new generations !

Mojtaba Najafy
Mojtaba Najafy

I think the main question here is can we do away with the excessive carbon emitting projects or not and what are the gains and what are the losses of them. Governments are so blinded by the power and economy contest in the world that they do not see the consequences of their actions. We are destroying the very thing that matters the most in how we live: where we live.  We are succumbed to wrong ideals and don't see that  the most valuable thing we may hand down to our children and our people is at stakes here. Even if the threat is not an imminent one, it sure is an urgent one.

Tre Lee
Tre Lee

we need to cut down on the amount of hairspray and things like that.

Philip Heywood
Philip Heywood

Here is the item you will not find with the alarmist camp. Well, I probably shouldn’t generalize. We need alarmists and we need active people. But the standard geology texts tell us that atmospheric carbon about 50 yrs ago was about 0.0003 atmospheres (it is now more like 0.0004) and that was very low in geologic terms. Yes, I could be corrected by the (questionable) lower ice-core results but whether those CO2 readings are exact, or no, there is a bigger picture. The total amount of carbon buried in the earth/oceans means that our atmosphere handled of the order of 12 atmospheres of the equivalent of nothing but pure CO2, to get us here.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me think there is a temperature moderating mechanism, or thermostat.

Which implies a guiding Providence. Who happens to have given us permission to mine minerals — “out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass”. And who also happens to have given a pointer to the mechanism of thermo-control involved.
I do publish all this and even receive thanks and acknowledgement from government ministers.

So if anyone wishes really to get alarmed, check carbon greenhouse gas against certain properties of our magnetic field. Carbon is rocketing and the field is doing something almost the opposite.

It all ties in but I am not about to copy and paste rheems of ‘paper’.  A search under 'Climate Moderation', plus or minus my full name, should do the trick. 

A climate moderating mechanism is against some people’s religion. It certainly isn’t against the geologic record, or he latest geophysics. I can provide much more practical information here -- actual climate science, as distinct from fear-driven confusion. 

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

I see global warming deniers in the same light as cigarette smokers. If millions of individuals are willing to ruin their only set of lungs, surely it's built into human psychology to ignore much larger threats to our life support system? People are entirely capable of deadly rationalizations when things (like smoking and burning oil) make them feel good.


I bet a day will come when climate deniers (mostly Republicans) will be heavily sued for wasting time confusing the public over a non-existent scientific "debate." Remember, Creationists have been plying a similar ruse for over 150 years. Climate denial is a dangerous spin-off of that same anthropocentric worldview.

Steve Jenkins
Steve Jenkins

This June will be the worst tornado season in our nations history. By the end of this year, even the most thick headed fools will finally wake up..mark my words. To all of you that listen to the Gospel According to Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh..aka The Three Stooges. Ask yourself this question. In what way do the high School diplomas of the three stooges qualify them to provide an educated thesis on any topic concerning meteorology? While you are at it, see if you can explain how 792 Scientists are ALL WRONG CONCERNING CLIMATE CHANGE, while the 3 stooges are absolutely correct!!!  Let's hear your educated responses. 

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

You Kool-Aid drinkers are hilarious. We are now in the 16th year of ZERO warming and all of your predictive models have failed miserably. How cold is it going to have to get to shut you up? Since you love high taxes and hate energy so much, give away all your money, have your electricity and gas shut off and start walking. And leave the rest of us alone to enjoy life.

David Lean
David Lean

Try to stop a block of ice from melting, if you don't have the temperature to freeze it back

Andrew Roberts
Andrew Roberts

There is also a report out from NIPCC that contradicts 90% of the findings of the IPCC report.  The UN needs to stop playing Chicken Little and actually do good science and research.


http://nipccreport.org/


You can also find synopsis around for it.  I trust it more as it is not governmental driven or UN driven and scientists on it are just as well known if not better than the IPCC scientists.  Time to wake up and realize you are being fed nonsense.

Stefan Pfaff
Stefan Pfaff

 

This is one of the best articles, I’ve read about “climate change”. We’re not being scolded, cursed or threatened to stop using carbon emitting fossil fuels, rather we’re being warned, that using these fuels, certainly doesn’t help with what is happening; that the earth is warming up. I’m not a scientist, nor am I am I an extreme environmentalist, I am glad to have the IPCC point out that we’re not doing enough to prepare for what’s happening.

Thank you Brian.

Gerry Vankoughnett
Gerry Vankoughnett

NEWS FLASH!

Earth continues to warm following the last ICE AGE.

Mother Nature does not need analysis only Man for the purpose of men.

Natural events are inevitable so enjoy the ride!

Tamal Lahiri
Tamal Lahiri

so is there any hope or that will be our fate .

Rodolfo Alonzo
Rodolfo Alonzo

It's comical how one mentions global warming. And you hear Al Gores name. California produces a lot of our food supplies. That state is in a severe drought. Look up in the sky. Now look at the dry dirt on the ground. Individual farming may be the future. And since I can not grow a weed. I will starve! My last dying words will be. I had a blast. Not crying about Al Gore.

Adrian P.
Adrian P.

Okay, so we should factor out any effect the sun may have on earth, remove any effects a weakening magnetic field may have on ourselves and all other living creatures, and then what? Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely for managing resources, conservation and preservation as well as regeneration of forests and our environment, but save me the head pounding on the carbon topic! I think a lot of us see that we need to improve the way we live our lives and the need to reduce our consumption of luxury and non essential products and goods. 

But we cannot leave out the external factors with which we have no input or effect over....

I am sure a lot of people will make comments on our earth being through many periods of both cooling and warming! Look I think a lot of us have researched this topic extensively and come to a similar conclusion. For those of you who haven't bothered to do their research, I strongly recommend you do because we all need to play our part in being well informed!.... NOT misinformed, because if most of us are misinformed we will be persuaded to make the wrong decisions and allow unnecessary political changes to be passed (get my drift). 

Lets all be responsible as far as our environment goes and yes lets "reduce our footprint" but lets not be naïve to what is really happening here either, Al Gore without doubt manipulated his graphs and figures to create an effective argument which brought about climate changers and government policies in the first place, he omitted extremely important data/time periods which would have brought things into perspective. He basically cheated us into all thinking this all was from our activity on this earth, but it is NOT.

Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

I feel sorry for impactless scrawlers like Howard who have to crank out ream upon ream of the tripe from the colonized minds. He'll never amount to anything as a writer as long as he pumps this dreck for a check.

Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

"Progressives know that dumb people believe the Earth is 5,000 years old, and there was a great flood due to man’s sin.


Progressives know that smart people believe the Earth will end in 100 years, due to a great flood caused by man’s sin."  - - Real Science

Eric Schneck
Eric Schneck

TIL we have 772 people calling themselves "scientists" ...

Dodge Barden
Dodge Barden

Paul M.- At best science is 99.99% accurate. But by your logic, nothing that can be said about anything can be proven or 100% true- e.g. any sort of idea of "god- (G)", any theory of education, information of health, what causes cancer, etc. 

Whether or not it is happening, that doesn't mean there should be any less incentive to change the way we run our energy grid.

Paul M.
Paul M.

Deny this;

Remaining "believers", lazy news editors and you pandering politicians that are promising the voters to provide us with better weather if elected;

Your consensus of "belief" does not matter, science's does so prove that science "believes" as much as you do and prove that science "believes" that the worst crisis imaginable "will" happen as much as the scientists "believe" smoking WILL cause cancer, evolution is "proven" and comet hits are "eventual". 
Not one IPCC warning agrees beyond; "could be" and so that is all you remaining "believers" can tell our children; that it still "could be" a crisis not WILL be as you "believers" "believe"!

If science can't say; "proven" or "inescapable" or 100% for their own 32 year old "threat to the planet" then it means you "believers" cant say it either. 

Deny that.

William Cody
William Cody

What a cop out using the term "Climate Change".

Philip Heywood
Philip Heywood

@Dayalsingh Ailsinghani  Er, (Ahem).  Very good question.  One which certain johnny-come-lately climate 'experts' do not answer.    Theoretically, any of a number of factors, certainly including increased warming, courtesy of the sun, but also including events here on Earth such as changes in atmospheric composition.  There are good reasons for suspecting that atmospheric carbon gases may play a part. But this is only the beginning of the story. The sun constantly interplays with Earth via the magnetic fields and these fields concurrently interplay with subatomic 'plasmas' of Space, which in turn are brought into existence and are constantly modified by the sun, the Earth, and other celestial bodies.  Heat transfer is not necessarily straightforward in our situation. No physicist worthy of the title would claim it is fully understood and quantified. Only last year, end of last year, was the mystery of the heat source for the (very hot) solar corona, decided.  Well, they think it has been decided -- and the decision makes sense, and has ramifications.  


Since the solar system and especially the sun-earth-moon part of it, is a complex and largely not understood machine of a sort, and since our current understanding of physics is embryonic in that regard ---- our climate absolutely can not be mathematically modelled.  One item which can be mathematically modelled is the greenhouse effect of carbon gasses in a test tube so to speak.  Like the mariners of old, the  modern so-called 'climate scientists' cling to the fragment of the map of the world that has real data and rely on dragons and monsters of the deep to account for what happens once we stray beyond the known.


Modern science, centering around geophysics in combination with geology, is working on it -- and pointing to things which need not make us feel comfortable but at least need not make us believe the end of the planet through suffocation/heat is imminent.    Please see my post below.  

Andrea D.
Andrea D.

@Dayalsingh Ailsinghani  It is a natural anthropocentric process which occurs over a cyclic period as a result of the GHG in the atmosphere. This is actually attributed to climate variability. The issue here is that with the increased industrialization of humans there is now  too much Co2, and various other GHG in the atmosphere, this is resulting in an amplified change of the natural changes that occurred. all in all it is not the general global warming that we should be concerned with but rather the effect which take place due to the increased energy that is being forced into the climate system as a result of the enhanced anthropocentric process. This energy is what  forces climate shifting and the occurrence of natural disasters. 

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

I see global warming doomsday prophets in the same light as religious cultist, blindly following their masters' commands and possessing no ability to reason for themselves or to value evidence and logic.

I bet a day will come when doomsday prophets will be heavily mocked and ridiculed for wasting billions of dollars and destroying the middle class over a non-existent issue. Global warming doomsday prophecy is a dangerous, and expensive, spin-off of that same cultic, totalitarian worldview.

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@David Seabaugh  You're just repeating that 1998 cherry-picked El Nino spike lie. Surely you've been told to study that graph for the subsequent TREND vs the distracting spike?


More heat has gone into the oceans than expected, but we are collectively adding 250 trillion joules per second of heat to the Earth and it won't dissipate because the GOP (Greedy Old Polluters) refuse to accept its existence.


FYI, the Polar Vortex is analogous to opening your freezer door briefly. That 2014 winter blast was merely diverted cold, not "extra" cold that came from nowhere.

Ken Zimmerman
Ken Zimmerman

@Andrew Roberts   It is interesting that you cite a report that has links to ALEC and the Heartland institute.  The NIPCC is not credible.  It is the denial of science plain and simple.     


The lead authors have ties to The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change,  which has recieved funding from Exxon Mobil in the past.  Now they refuse to divulge their funding sources.  I wonder why?


http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2013/09/09/heartland-institute-nipcc-fail-the-credibility-test/


http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Center_for_the_Study_of_Carbon_Dioxide_and_Global_Change



Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@Stefan Pfaff  No need to inject veiled self-righteousness into this. The laws of physics could care less whether people are being scolded, regulated or whatever. The climate simply reacts to forcings, be they natural or man-made. There's nothing fair about it.


The article below should be read several times by every Republican legislator. It describes why CO2 is such a powerful "trace gas." That's a concept many people can't grasp because it's not mere "common sense."


"CO2: The Thermostat that Controls Earth's Temperature" (Andrew Lacis, October 2010, NASA website)


The populist idea that scientists don't know much more than laymen is laughable. Try to design even the crudest pocket calculator without a good education. Or make a sophisticated medicine. The list goes on. Most people simply aren't in that league of knowledge. They just cherry-pick scientists' work when it suits them.


Doc Climate
Doc Climate

This ain't natural, Gerry. We're causing it this time by pumping over 37 trillion tons of excess CO2 into the atmosphere, jut last year alone, way too much to be absorbed naturally. This is climate change in steroids.

A common skeptic argument is that climate has changed naturally in the past, long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants, and this somehow tells us that humans can't be the main cause of the current global warming. Peer-reviewed research and simple logic show this is not the case.

Rob Honeycutt
Rob Honeycutt

@Gerry Vankoughnett  ...not.


Actually, if you were to look at the data, we came out of the last glacial period over 10,000 years ago. We reached a peak in global temperature about 5000 years ago and have been in a slow, orbitally forced cooling trend since then.


That cooling trend was abruptly ended by human emissions of greenhouse gases starting with the industrial revolution.

Rob Honeycutt
Rob Honeycutt

@Tamal Lahiri   There certainly is hope but we are running out of time to act. We have to bring carbon emissions down to zero in the next 50 years, which is nothing short of a massive task. And we need to start now in order to get to that point.


Science has been telling us about this for the past 40 years and we've done almost nothing. Another 10-15 years of delay and it will likely be too late to act.

Chris Golledge
Chris Golledge

@Adrian P.  I would recommend starting your research over, beginning with an understanding of the laws regarding conservation of matter and energy.  It is our CO2 that is reducing the outbound flow of the energy the sun gives us.

Doc Climate
Doc Climate

Climate scientists can't prove that a specific weather event will occur or just how much damage climate change will cause and where. It doesn't work that way; Climate is not weather. But they can say for certain how much excess Co2 we've put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels; it's now over 400ppm. The safe level for humans is 350ppm. We're in uncharted territory now because humans have never experienced conditions over 350ppm. We don't feel it yet because there is a time delay while the CO2 heats up, but we'll be finding out just what the "unsafe for humans" is like pretty soon.

Philip Heywood
Philip Heywood

@Mandi Kraft @Philip Heywood  What, you mean a technical explanation of how life was enabled to continue on Earth for 4 thou mill. yrs? How nonsensical to research the geologic record, tie it with modern physics, and draw conclusions! 

Obviously, it isn't politico-religiously correct to apply logic, reason and science.  It's only correct to be politico-religiously correct. 


My apologies if that wasn't what you meant but your reply is void of anything other than the denial of normal process.  

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

@Alex Sevins. Your entire argument debunked by Roy W. Spencer Ph.D. Please look it up for yourself.

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

@Steve Jenkins you must have been boiling to post this attack twice. Please see comment above for risk aversion techniques.

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

@Steve Jenkins. Wow, seem to have really hit a nerve. Noticed that you went straight for the ad hominem attack, the first refuge of those who are unable to adequately defend their position. If you would like to compare degrees, I will be happy to provide mine. Bet I'm more educated than you. HeHeHe.

Also, on a personal note: you probably have a history of high blood pressure and anger management issues. I humbly recommend that you relax and look into mindfulness meditation.

P.S. "Kool-Aid drinker" is a common euphemism for gullibility.

David Seabaugh
David Seabaugh

@Alex Sevins. Let me see if I have it now. Scientists' work that you disagree with is "cherry-picked". Scientists' work that you agree with is not. Skipped those analytical logic classes in college I presume.

Doc Climate
Doc Climate

To phase out fossil fuels in time to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need an escalating carbon tax, making them more expensive than clean energy. Give the tax money directly to consumers instead of the government and they will use it to buy renewable energy, which will get cheaper as it scales up and technology improves. No government growth or regulation, a market-driven solution.

See the Citizens Climate Lobby website for details. This plan has been endorsed by many mainline economists, including eight Nobel Prize winners and prominent Republicans. The economy does. It have to take a hit and we save the planet. If you like what you read at The Citizens Climate Lobby get involved, and at least write your Congressional Representatives. All we lack is the political will to get this done.

We've been taxed over a trillion dollars so far for climate change disasters caused by fossil fuels ( NOAA website). It's time to make fossil fuels pay up. The sooner we put them out of business the better.

Tamal Lahiri
Tamal Lahiri

@Rob Honeycutt @Tamal Lahiri .yes that is why I am worried for our children and ai India will be worst affected  but you see the political leaders are not worried at all . The developed countries blame the underdeveloped and it is going on

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