Five Key Takeaways From the Frightening IPCC Climate Change Report

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Typhoon Haiyan survivors walk through the ruins of their neighborhood on the outskirts of Tacloban, central Philippines on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest report today. It focuses on how climate change will affect human society in coming years painting a picture of a world destabilized by a rapidly changing environment. While many of the events it details are familiar to those who follow the research on climate change, taken together in the 2,600-page report assembled by more than 300 scientists, they’re almost overwhelming to consider.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report declared.

The longer we dither about taking action, it warns, the worse the impacts of climate change will be.

Here are five takeaways from the report:

1. The food supply is in trouble –> “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said at a news conference presenting the report. Climate change has already affected the global food supply; crop yields for wheat, for example, are beginning to decline even as the human population continues to grow.

2. The poor will be hit hardest, but the rich will feel it too –> As with most natural disasters and food shortages, the poor will be hit hardest. But the rich will also feel it. “A warmer world will push food prices higher, trigger ‘hotspots of hunger’ among the world’s poorest people, and put the crunch on Western delights like fine wine and robust coffee,” Seth Borenstein reports for the AP. “Food prices are likely to go up somewhere in a wide range of 3 percent to 84 percent by 2050 just because of climate change, the report said.”

3. The world will become less stable –> A dwindling food supply coupled with an increase in natural disasters will exacerbate tensions in already-tense areas “by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks,” the report says. This could mean more or worse regional conflicts and civil wars, like what has unfolded in recent years in drought-stricken Syria, with national security implications for the US. (For more on those risks, take a look at the Center for Climate and Security’s blog.)

4. Wealthy countries are minimizing their responsibility –> The World Bank estimated that poor countries would need as much as $100 billion per year to offset the affects of climate change. Yet, as Justin Gillis reports for The New York Times, wealthy countries, including the US, tried to have that figure stricken from the 48-page executive summary that most readers and the press would peruse before turning to the full report. Gillis writes, “The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private.… Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.”

5. The next big chance to do something is later this year –> It’s possible to stave off the worst affects of climate change now if countries move quickly to cut emissions, the report says. World leaders will have that chance when they meet this autumn in New York City for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will be completed in 2015. As part of the UN’s effort to push international leaders to do something about climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has challenged attendees to bring “bold pledges” and to “[i]nnovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement.”

John Light blogs and works on multimedia projects for Moyers & Company. Before joining the Moyers team, he was a public radio producer. His work has been supported by grants from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, among others. A New Jersey native, John studied history and film at Oberlin College and holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow John on Twitter @lighttweeting.
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  • Dano2

    We must change our entire nature to prevent these bad things from happening.



  • Anonymous

    Never happen, corporations will burn the planet to the core. They care not at all. And the fundies will prevent any action because jebus is coming.

  • Robert L

    You beat me to it, I was going to say exactly the same thing!

  • Robb Warwick

    Corperations have killed humanity.

  • Gemma Seymour

    And you wonder why conservatives want their guns.

    The human race will not go extinct. But, if predictions hold true, billions will die. You see, you have to think about the systemic effects of chaos. We will reach a tipping point, and panic will set in. Systems of delivery and commerce will become no longer viable. Production will falter, and even where it does not, modes of distribution that were constructed to function using only specific inputs and outputs will fail.

    Technology is not going to save us. Recycling is not going to save us. In fact, I was thinking this morning about what a boondoggle recycling has been, and whether we would have been better off outlawing recycling altogether. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Everybody seems to forget that it must be done in that order for it to be most effective. We’ve developed a mindset of “just recycle it”, without investigating the energy costs of that recycling. And when we hear that our care are made of recycled materials, we pat ourselves on the back, and continue to drive.

    Humans will survive, however, vastly diminished. Civilisation will collapse, and it will be centuries before it recovers. When I think of the data, the information, the knowledge, the wisdom, and the art that will be lost, I despair. The seas will rise, and drought will follow deluge, green lands turn to desert, and deserts green. But food will still grow, animals will migrate, and small, isolated communities will survive. Perhaps we will have thunder gods and sea gods and superstition again, instead of science. We will worship the moon, never knowing that we once sent men to walk its surface. The Internet, and all record of my words here, will evaporate.

    And somewhere, a mother will teach her daughter how to recognise the berries that aren’t poisonous, while her brother weaves her a new basket to collect them…life will go on.

  • Dano2

    “The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too d*mn cheap and lazy,” — Kurt Vonnegut A Man Without a Country



  • John Doe

    Wooden ships….written a long time ago, don’t think I will live to see it come to pass, but it will come to pass.

  • Dano2

    The key here is that if we somehow change our basic natures and actually do something, we can have a “soft landing”. If we continue on as we are currently – just a few conserving and taking action – then we’ll have a “hard landing”, where a very large fraction of our population dies and vast tracts of land & ocean flip state and function much differently than we’ve ever known.

    So no, we won’t go extinct. But the way our societies function, are arranged, and perform basic functions will.



  • Dano2

    In fact, they tried to bury the fact that crop yields are likely to increase in the US, Canada, Russian and Europe.

    Only marginally true. C3 crops will decline in US and Europe, so I don’t know if you actually understood what you wrote. Nice try tho!



  • Margaret Williams

    I hope the wealthier countries step up and do their part. Less military spending would leave plenty of money to help the struggling poorer countries. Perhaps that’s too much to hope for, though. Nothing said about population increase? Fewer people might address some of these situations, perhaps. (Please look up the difference betwen “effect” and “affect”. It willl not save the world, but little things are worth saving, too.)

  • Jack Wolf

    Don’t forget that these reports are formed through consensus, meaning that all can agree on it. That’s a pretty low bar, and its perhaps why they continue to understate the magnitude and the timing of the impacts. Plus the process takes so long.

  • Jack Wolf

    And besides saving money, we’ll need the boys and girls home to help with the digging.

  • Jack Wolf

    Scientists have looked at, and already published papers on this. Seems that the impacts of doing that only make the situation worse.

  • Jack Wolf

    We were lied to.

  • Jack Wolf

    No, life will not go on. It will be too hot. Everything biological has temperature limits. And the feedbacks are now self perpetuating too. We can’t stop it even if we try. But, I don’t despair – because if its damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, you do. There’s a list of over 30 feedbacks on the Nature Bats Last web page, and from what I can tell, he’s right.

  • Jack Wolf

    No, it will be all of us, including the adults, who will pay. Climate change is already underway and is affecting weather patterns in an extreme way.

  • Anonymous

    As bad a WWII was, there’s no comparing the damage inflicted then with that of altering the home planet’s climate. Long-evolved ecosystems, of which humans are a part, will break down. Given the likelihood of massive economic/social upheavals, it will make the death tolls of WWII seem small. The U.S. was much more self-sufficient in the 1940′s than it is now, so the effects here will be far from trivial. Innovation and discovery depends on a healthy, functioning society which will hardly be the case if imports from many nations (esp. China) are suddenly terminated and raw materials from strife-torn nations inaccessible. Then there are the unknowns. A significant change in climate, e.g., could unleash new bacterial/viral agents capable of devastating populations anywhere. Climate scientists looking for income opportunities would be better off working for fossil fuel-funded denier organizations than incurring the wrath of paid-for politicians and uninformed citizens who see climate change as a get-rich Al Gore/government conspiracy. Copernicus generated a similar reaction by those in power and the public and was labeled a heretic.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t worry, science will save us? Really?

  • Anonymous

    Nope you are not correct. The Report makes its conclusions assuming that absolutely no new technologies and adaptive actions would take place. That is total nonsense.

    I can guarantee you, the American and other true scientists, will genetically be able to alter plants and even animals to have crop production adapt and even prosper in a higher CO2, warmer climate.

    It is a certainty – given our past recent history and recent advances.

    Yet, their reports simply says – climate will change so crops will fail.

    Total non-sense.

    The Dutch are very prosperous living below sea level. I’m currently at a convention in Las Vegas, looking at green plush golf courses in the middle of a desert. People are growing marijuana in basements with yields that would take acres to grow naturally. The examples are endless.

    Adaptation to any climate change will have more up-side than downside.

    Just like adaptation to live in Las Vegas or Dubai has a lot more upside than downside.

  • Dano2

    You might want to learn what a C3 plant is. And what natural limits are. And what a rate of change is.

    You look silly right now, as it is clear you didn’t understand what you read and are injecting your ideology into what you wish the report said.




  • Anonymous

    I know exactly what a C3 plant is. And I’m looking at a whole bunch of them flourishing outside my hotel window in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is called irrigation.

    Natural limits – what is the importance of that? If we only grew crops and raised animals based on their natural limits we’d all starved.

    But we have a thing called a brain, and we figured out that we can pack tens thousands of pigs, chicken, etc on small area, and intensively raise crops, way, way, way beyond any natural limit.

    You need to give up trying to sound important and knowledgeable, by bring plant classifications.

    Humans can genetically alter plants to whatever characteristics (including water needs) suits us, within a very large range. We can alter the land with irrigation and fertilizers. We can protect crops with pesticides, etc.

    Natural limits mean nothing once humans leaned to take charge of their destiny.

  • Dano2

    Humans can genetically alter plants to whatever characteristics (including water needs) suits us, …

    Natural limits mean nothing once humans leaned to take charge of their destiny.

    Ignorance and hubris – quite the combination.

    Not compelling, tho.



  • Anonymous

    Right – you really proved your point.

    Humans can’t do anything. We can’t grow C3 plants in the desert (though I’m looking at then). We can’t genetically modify crops (though I’m eating bread now, made with GM wheat). We can only raise cows at the their natural 1 cow per 4 acres density (even though I’ve been to farms that are raising 100 time more densely).

    Humans will be powerless and die with a 2C.

    People like you are the poster for why Americans shouldn’t act.

    When you can present the climate change challenges TOGETHER with all the reasonable things that humans can do to address them and adapt to them, without committing economic suicide, you will find out that many more people will be interested in the discussion.

    Right now, all you can do is try to sound knowledgeable, without information, and try to scare people int doing just one thing – just one thing among the thousands of things we can do – cut carbon energy consumption.

    It will not happen.

  • Dano2

    Lad, you’re all over the place. Go to college, git some larnnin’, then read the report that you didn’t understand. And drop that silly act.

    Bye now, son.



  • Anonymous

    An utterly silent universe begs to differ. Science confers power, not wisdom. As such, it doesn’t give us a free pass on our own greed and stupidity.

  • Anonymous

    Still you can’t point at a single human challenge that has not been addressed effectively by science, an you?

    Why do you think CO2 is any different?

  • Anonymous

    I can name two: war, and sin. Scientific knowledge is used for good and bad purposes. For your example of genocide, the fascists used a product of organic chemistry for their poison gas, and they used Hollerith’s invention of punched cards and IBM electronic tabulators to keep the operation efficient.

    The V2 was the world’s first ballistic missile, containing the world’s first mass-produced inertial guidance, to rain down death on London and Antwerp. Science is morally neutral – humans are not. I say this as a lover and constant student of science.

    I think we could survive a climate crisis, and we may be past the point where direct and risky intervention can be avoided. The cost and pain would be tremendous.

    To justify irresponsible behavior with the apologetic that science will solve it, is something that no scientist would defend. Civilization is fragile enough without heaping unnecessary pain and death upon it.

  • Anonymous

    You mentioned a bunch of stuff, but not a single humanity challenge that we needed to solve and haven’t.

    Holocaust – solved.

    WWII, Cold War – solved, by military might.

    Sin – is good, no need to solve.

    Guided rockets – mostly used to put satellites in space, haven’t been used in large scale in war, but missile defense (e.g. Patriot Missile) is a hedge.

    Try harder.

  • Matt Farkas

    you might want to check out MIT’s open edx science of global warming to grasp that the scale of the problem is far beyond anything humans have had to deal with before…

    you could also consider how to cool a large pot of boiling water in a timely fashion, how much energy that takes

  • coolkavo

    what we really need is another world war or two or three