WG II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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1. Scope and Approach of the Assessment 1.1. Mandate of the Assessment

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1988 to assess scientific, technical, and socioeconomic information that is relevant in understanding human-induced climate change, its potential impacts, and options for mitigation and adaptation. The IPCC currently is organized into three Working Groups: Working Group I (WGI) addresses observed and projected changes in climate; Working Group II (WGII) addresses vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation related to climate change; and Working Group III (WGIII) addresses options for mitigation of climate change.

This volume -- Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability -- is the WGII contribution to the IPCC's Third Assessment Report (TAR) on scientific, technical, environmental, economic, and social issues associated with the climate system and climate change.1 WGII's mandate for the TAR is to assess the vulnerability of ecological systems, socioeconomic sectors, and human health to climate change as well as potential impacts of climate change, positive and negative, on these systems. This assessment also examines the feasibility of adaptation to enhance the positive effects of climate change and ameliorate negative effects. This new assessment builds on previous IPCC assessments, reexamining key findings of earlier assessments and emphasizing new information and implications from more recent studies.

1.2. What is Potentially at Stake?

Figure TS-1: Scope of the Working Group II assessment.

Human activities -- primarily burning of fossil fuels and changes in land cover -- are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents or properties of the surface that absorb or scatter radiant energy. The WGI contribution to the TAR -- Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis -- found, "In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations." Future changes in climate are expected to include additional warming, changes in precipitation patterns and amounts, sea-level rise, and changes in the frequency and intensity of some extreme events.

The stakes associated with projected changes in climate are high. Numerous Earth systems that sustain human societies are sensitive to climate and will be impacted by changes in climate (very high confidence). Impacts can be expected in ocean circulation; sea level; the water cycle; carbon and nutrient cycles; air quality; the productivity and structure of natural ecosystems; the productivity of agricultural, grazing, and timber lands; and the geographic distribution, behavior, abundance, and survival of plant and animal species, including vectors and hosts of human disease. Changes in these systems in response to climate change, as well as direct effects of climate change on humans, would affect human welfare, positively and negatively. Human welfare would be impacted through changes in supplies of and demands for water, food, energy, and other tangible goods that are derived from these systems; changes in opportunities for nonconsumptive uses of the environment for recreation and tourism; changes in non-use values of the environment such as cultural and preservation values; changes in incomes; changes in loss of property and lives from extreme climate phenomena; and changes in human health. Climate change impacts will affect the prospects for sustainable development in different parts of the world and may further widen existing inequalities. Impacts will vary in distribution across people, places, and times (very high confidence), raising important questions about equity.

Although the stakes are demonstrably high, the risks associated with climate change are less easily established. Risks are a function of the probability and magnitude of different types of impacts. The WGII report assesses advances in the state of knowledge regarding impacts of climate stimuli to which systems may be exposed, the sensitivity of exposed systems to changes in climate stimuli, their adaptive capacity to alleviate or cope with adverse impacts or enhance beneficial ones, and their vulnerability to adverse impacts (see Box 1). Possible impacts include impacts that threaten substantial and irreversible damage to or loss of some systems within the next century; modest impacts to which systems may readily adapt; and impacts that would be beneficial for some systems.

Figure TS-1 illustrates the scope of the WGII assessment and its relation to other parts of the climate change system. Human activities that change the climate expose natural and human systems to an altered set of stresses or stimuli. Systems that are sensitive to these stimuli are affected or impacted by the changes, which can trigger autonomous, or expected, adaptations. These autonomous adaptations will reshape the residual or net impacts of climate change. Policy responses in reaction to impacts already perceived or in anticipation of potential future impacts can take the form of planned adaptations to lessen adverse effects or enhance beneficial ones. Policy responses also can take the form of actions to mitigate climate change through greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions and enhancement of sinks. The WGII assessment focuses on the central box of Figure TS-1 -- exposure, impacts, and vulnerabilities -- and the adaptation policy loop.

Box 1. Climate Change
Sensitivity, Adaptability, and Vulnerability

Sensitivity is the degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate-related stimuli. Climate-related stimuli encompass all the elements of climate change, including mean climate characteristics, climate variability, and the frequency and magnitude of extremes. The effect may be direct (e.g., a change in crop yield in response to a change in the mean, range or variability of temperature) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of coastal flooding due to sea-level rise).

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change, including climate variability and extremes, to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

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