IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Executive summary

During the course of this century the resilience of many ecosystems (their ability to adapt naturally) is likely to be exceeded by an unprecedented combination of change in climate, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification) and in other global change drivers (especially land-use change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources), if greenhouse gas emissions and other changes continue at or above current rates (high confidence).

By 2100, ecosystems will be exposed to atmospheric CO2 levels substantially higher than in the past 650,000 years, and global temperatures at least among the highest of those experienced in the past 740,000 years (very high confidence) [4.2, 4.4.10, 4.4.11; Jansen et al., 2007]. This will alter the structure, reduce biodiversity and perturb functioning of most ecosystems, and compromise the services they currently provide (high confidence) [4.2, 4.4.1, 4.4.2-4.4.9, 4.4.10, 4.4.11, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1]. Present and future land-use change and associated landscape fragmentation are very likely to impede species’ migration and thus impair natural adaptation via geographical range shifts (very high confidence) [4.1.2, 4.2.2, 4.4.5, 4.4.10].

Several major carbon stocks in terrestrial ecosystems are vulnerable to current climate change and/or land-use impacts and are at a high degree of risk from projected unmitigated climate and land-use changes (high confidence).

Several terrestrial ecosystems individually sequester as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere (very high confidence) [4.4.1, 4.4.6, 4.4.8, 4.4.10, 4.4.11]. The terrestrial biosphere is likely to become a net source of carbon during the course of this century (medium confidence), possibly earlier than projected by the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) (low confidence) [4.1, Figure 4.2]. Methane emissions from tundra frozen loess (‘yedoma’, comprising about 500 Pg C) and permafrost (comprising about 400 Pg C) have accelerated in the past two decades, and are likely to accelerate further (high confidence) [4.4.6]. At current anthropogenic emission rates, the ongoing positive trends in the terrestrial carbon sink will peak before mid-century, then begin diminishing, even without accounting for tropical deforestation trends and biosphere feedback, tending strongly towards a net carbon source before 2100, assuming continued greenhouse gas emissions and land-use change trends at or above current rates (high confidence) [Figure 4.2, 4.4.1, 4.4.10, Figure 4.3, 4.4.11], while the buffering capacity of the oceans will begin to saturate [Denman et al., 2007, e.g., Section]. While some impacts may include primary productivity gains with low levels of climate change (less than around 2°C mean global change above pre-industrial levels), synergistic interactions are likely to be detrimental, e.g., increased risk of irreversible extinctions (very high confidence) [4.4.1, Figure 4.2, 4.4.10, Figure 4.3, 4.4.11].

Approximately 20 to 30% of plant and animal species assessed so far (in an unbiased sample) are likely to be at increasingly high risk of extinction as global mean temperatures exceed a warming of 2 to 3°C above pre-industrial levels (medium confidence) [4.4.10, 4.4.11, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1].

Projected impacts on biodiversity are significant and of key relevance, since global losses in biodiversity are irreversible (very high confidence) [4.4.10, 4.4.11, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1]. Endemic species richness is highest where regional palaeoclimatic changes have been muted, providing circumstantial evidence of their vulnerability to projected climate change (medium confidence) [4.2.1]. With global average temperature changes of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species (particularly endemics across the globe) are at a far greater risk of extinction than in the recent geological past (medium confidence) [4.4.5, 4.4.11, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1]. Globally about 20% to 30% of species (global uncertainty range from 10% to 40%, but varying among regional biota from as low as 1% to as high as 80%) will be at increasingly high risk of extinction, possibly by 2100, as global mean temperatures exceed 2 to 3°C above pre-industrial levels [4.2, 4.4.10, 4.4.11, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1]. Current conservation practices are generally poorly prepared to adapt to this level of change, and effective adaptation responses are likely to be costly to implement (high confidence) [4.4.11, Table 4.1, 4.6.1].

Substantial changes in structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems are very likely to occur with a global warming of more than 2 to 3°C above pre-industrial levels (high confidence).

Between about 25% (IPCC SRES B1 emissions scenario; 3.2°C warming) and about 40% (SRES A2 scenario; 4.4°C warming) of extant ecosystems will reveal appreciable changes by 2100, with some positive impacts especially in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere arid regions, but extensive forest and woodland decline in mid- to high latitudes and in the tropics, associated particularly with changing disturbance regimes (especially through wildfire and insects) [4.4.2, 4.4.3, 4.4.5, 4.4.10, 4.4.11, Figure 4.3].

Substantial changes in structure and functioning of marine and other aquatic ecosystems are very likely to occur with a mean global warming of more than 2 to 3°C above pre-industrial levels and the associated increased atmospheric CO2 levels (high confidence).

Climate change (very high confidence) and ocean acidification (medium confidence) will impair a wide range of planktonic and shallow benthic marine organisms that use aragonite to make their shells or skeletons, such as corals and marine snails (pteropods), with significant impacts particularly in the Southern Ocean, where cold-water corals are likely to show large reductions in geographical range this century [4.4.9, Box 4.4]. Substantial loss of sea ice will reduce habitat for dependant species (e.g., polar bears) (very high confidence) [4.4.9, 4.4.6, Box 4.3, 4.4.10, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1, 15.4.3, 15.4.5]. Terrestrial tropical and sub-tropical aquatic systems are at significant risk under at least SRES A2 scenarios; negative impacts across about 25% of Africa by 2100 (especially southern and western Africa) will cause a decline in both water quality and ecosystem goods and services (high confidence) [4.4.8].

Ecosystems and species are very likely to show a wide range of vulnerabilities to climate change, depending on imminence of exposure to ecosystem-specific, critical thresholds (very high confidence).

Most vulnerable ecosystems include coral reefs, the sea-ice biome and other high-latitude ecosystems (e.g., boreal forests), mountain ecosystems and mediterranean-climate ecosystems (high confidence) [Figure 4.4, Table 4.1, 4.4.9, Box 4.4, 4.4.5, 4.4.6, Box 4.3, 4.4.7, 4.4.4, 4.4.10, 4.4.11]. Least vulnerable ecosystems include savannas and species-poor deserts, but this assessment is especially subject to uncertainty relating to the CO2-fertilisation effect and disturbance regimes such as fire (low confidence) [Box 4.1, 4.4.1, 4.4.2, Box 4.2, 4.4.3, 4.4.10, 4.4.11].