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

Magnitudes of impact

Magnitudes of impact can now be estimated more systematically for a range of possible increases in global average temperature.

Since the IPCC Third Assessment, many additional studies, particularly in regions that previously had been little researched, have enabled a more systematic understanding of how the timing and magnitude of impacts may be affected by changes in climate and sea level associated with differing amounts and rates of change in global average temperature.

Examples of this new information are presented in Figure SPM.2. Entries have been selected which are judged to be relevant for people and the environment and for which there is high confidence in the assessment. All examples of impact are drawn from chapters of the Assessment, where more detailed information is available.

Key impacts as a function of increasing global average temperature change

(Impacts will vary by extent of adaptation, rate of temperature change, and socio-economic pathway)
Figure SPM.2

Figure SPM.2. Illustrative examples of global impacts projected for climate changes (and sea level and atmospheric carbon dioxide where relevant) associated with different amounts of increase in global average surface temperature in the 21st century [T20.8]. The black lines link impacts, dotted arrows indicate impacts continuing with increasing temperature. Entries are placed so that the left-hand side of the text indicates the approximate onset of a given impact. Quantitative entries for water stress and flooding represent the additional impacts of climate change relative to the conditions projected across the range of Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) scenarios A1FI, A2, B1 and B2 (see Endbox 3). Adaptation to climate change is not included in these estimations. All entries are from published studies recorded in the chapters of the Assessment. Sources are given in the right-hand column of the Table. Confidence levels for all statements are high.

Depending on circumstances, some of these impacts could be associated with ‘key vulnerabilities’, based on a number of criteria in the literature (magnitude, timing, persistence/reversibility, the potential for adaptation, distributional aspects, likelihood and ‘importance’ of the impacts). Assessment of potential key vulnerabilities is intended to provide information on rates and levels of climate change to help decision-makers make appropriate responses to the risks of climate change [19.ES, 19.1].

The ‘reasons for concern’ identified in the Third Assessment remain a viable framework for considering key vulnerabilities. Recent research has updated some of the findings from the Third Assessment [19.3].

Impacts due to altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, climate and sea-level events are very likely to change.

Since the IPCC Third Assessment, confidence has increased that some weather events and extremes will become more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense during the 21st century; and more is known about the potential effects of such changes. A selection of these is presented in Table SPM.1.

The direction of trend and likelihood of phenomena are for IPCC SRES projections of climate change.

Table SPM.1. Examples of possible impacts of climate change due to changes in extreme weather and climate events, based on projections to the mid- to late 21st century. These do not take into account any changes or developments in adaptive capacity. Examples of all entries are to be found in chapters in the full Assessment (see source at top of columns). The first two columns of the table (shaded yellow) are taken directly from the Working Group I Fourth Assessment (Table SPM-2). The likelihood estimates in Column 2 relate to the phenomena listed in Column 1.

Phenomenona and direction of trend  Likelihood of future trends based on projections for 21st century using SRES scenarios  Examples of major projected impacts by sector 
Agriculture, forestry and ecosystems [4.4, 5.4] Water resources [3.4] Human health [8.2, 8.4] Industry, settlement and society [7.4] 
Over most land areas, warmer and fewer cold days and nights, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights  Virtually certainb Increased yields in colder environments; decreased yields in warmer environ-ments; increased insect outbreaks Effects on water resources relying on snow melt; effects on some water supplies Reduced human mortality from decreased cold exposure Reduced energy demand for heating; increased demand for cooling; declining air quality in cities; reduced disruption to transport due to snow, ice; effects on winter tourism 
Warm spells/heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas Very likely Reduced yields in warmer regions due to heat stress; increased danger of wildfire Increased water demand; water quality problems, e.g., algal blooms Increased risk of heat-related mortality, espec-ially for the elderly, chronically sick, very young and socially-isolated Reduction in quality of life for people in warm areas without appropriate housing; impacts on the elderly, very young and poor 
Heavy precipitation events. Frequency increases over most areas Very likely Damage to crops; soil erosion, inability to cultivate land due to waterlogging of soils Adverse effects on quality of surface and groundwater; contamination of water supply; water scarcity may be relieved Increased risk of deaths, injuries and infectious, respiratory and skin diseases Disruption of settlements, commerce, transport and societies due to flooding; pressures on urban and rural infrastructures; loss of property 
Area affected by drought increases Likely Land degradation; lower yields/crop damage and failure; increased livestock deaths; increased risk of wildfire More widespread water stress Increased risk of food and water shortage; increased risk of malnutrition; increased risk of water- and food-borne diseases  Water shortages for settlements, industry and societies; reduced hydropower generation potentials; potential for population migration 
Intense tropical cyclone activity increases  Likely Damage to crops; windthrow (uprooting) of trees; damage to coral reefs Power outages causing disruption of public water supply  Increased risk of deaths, injuries, water- and food-borne diseases; post-traumatic stress disorders Disruption by flood and high winds; withdrawal of risk coverage in vulnerable areas by private insurers, potential for population migrations, loss of property 
Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis)c Likelyd Salinisation of irrigation water, estuaries and freshwater systems Decreased freshwater availability due to saltwater intrusion Increased risk of deaths and injuries by drowning in floods; migration-related health effects Costs of coastal protection versus costs of land-use relocation; potential for movement of populations and infrastructure; also see tropical cyclones above  

a See Working Group I Fourth Assessment Table 3.7 for further details regarding definitions.

b Warming of the most extreme days and nights each year.

c Extreme high sea level depends on average sea level and on regional weather systems. It is defined as the highest 1% of hourly values of observed sea level at a station for a given reference period.

d In all scenarios, the projected global average sea level at 2100 is higher than in the reference period [Working Group I Fourth Assessment 10.6]. The effect of changes in regional weather systems on sea level extremes has not been assessed.

Some large-scale climate events have the potential to cause very large impacts, especially after the 21st century.

Very large sea-level rises that would result from widespread deglaciation of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets imply major changes in coastlines and ecosystems, and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas. Relocating populations, economic activity, and infrastructure would be costly and challenging. There is medium confidence that at least partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1-4°C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea-level rise of 4-6 m or more. The complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet would lead to a contribution to sea-level rise of up to 7 m and about 5 m, respectively [Working Group I Fourth Assessment 6.4, 10.7; Working Group II Fourth Assessment 19.3].

Based on climate model results, it is very unlikely that the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) in the North Atlantic will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century. Slowing of the MOC during this century is very likely, but temperatures over the Atlantic and Europe are projected to increase nevertheless, due to global warming. Impacts of large-scale and persistent changes in the MOC are likely to include changes to marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, ocean carbon dioxide uptake, oceanic oxygen concentrations and terrestrial vegetation [Working Group I Fourth Assessment 10.3, 10.7; Working Group II Fourth Assessment 12.6, 19.3].

Impacts of climate change will vary regionally but, aggregated and discounted to the present, they are very likely to impose net annual costs which will increase over time as global temperatures increase.

This Assessment makes it clear that the impacts of future climate change will be mixed across regions. For increases in global mean temperature of less than 1-3°C above 1990 levels, some impacts are projected to produce benefits in some places and some sectors, and produce costs in other places and other sectors. It is, however, projected that some low-latitude and polar regions will experience net costs even for small increases in temperature. It is very likely that all regions will experience either declines in net benefits or increases in net costs for increases in temperature greater than about 2-3°C [9.ES, 9.5, 10.6, T10.9, 15.3, 15.ES]. These observations confirm evidence reported in the Third Assessment that, while developing countries are expected to experience larger percentage losses, global mean losses could be 1-5% GDP for 4°C of warming [F20.3].

Many estimates of aggregate net economic costs of damages from climate change across the globe (i.e., the social cost of carbon (SCC), expressed in terms of future net benefits and costs that are discounted to the present) are now available. Peer-reviewed estimates of the SCC for 2005 have an average value of US$43 per tonne of carbon (i.e., US$12 per tonne of carbon dioxide), but the range around this mean is large. For example, in a survey of 100 estimates, the values ran from US$-10 per tonne of carbon (US$-3 per tonne of carbon dioxide) up to US$350 per tonne of carbon (US$95 per tonne of carbon dioxide) [20.6].

The large ranges of SCC are due in the large part to differences in assumptions regarding climate sensitivity, response lags, the treatment of risk and equity, economic and non-economic impacts, the inclusion of potentially catastrophic losses, and discount rates. It is very likely that globally aggregated figures underestimate the damage costs because they cannot include many non-quantifiable impacts. Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time [T20.3, 20.6, F20.4].

It is virtually certain that aggregate estimates of costs mask significant differences in impacts across sectors, regions, countries and populations. In some locations and among some groups of people with high exposure, high sensitivity and/or low adaptive capacity, net costs will be significantly larger than the global aggregate [20.6, 20.ES, 7.4].