Leaked IPCC report warns of the future of oceans in climate change

Devastating storms, loss of freshwater and fish stocks threatened.

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The world’s vast oceans, glacial ice sheets and northern permafrost are poised to unleash disaster, including drought, floods, hunger and destruction, unless dramatic action is taken against human-caused carbon pollution and climate change, warns a leaked draft of a major U.N. report.

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) sounds alarm bells over declines in fish stocks, plus “a hundred-fold or more increase in the damages caused by superstorms, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas,” according to news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), which obtained a copy of the 900-page draft report.

Freshwater supplies for billions of people, including the world’s mountain dwellers, will be hit by melting glaciers that will first release far too much water, and then not enough, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body of the U.N. mandated to report the state of climate change. Melting permafrost in northern regions will also release billions of tons of carbon, adding to global warming, reports AFP, citing the IPCC report.

This special report on the world’s vast oceans and its frozen zones – the cryosphere – isn’t yet final, but an “approval session” for its Summary for Policymakers is scheduled for 20 to 23 September in Monaco with a public release expected two days later, says the IPCC. That will be too late, however, to influence the U.N. 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September in New York, hosted by U.N. secretary-general António Guterres.

This report on oceans and cryosphere is among several reports issued by the IPCC in recent months, all bringing to light new scientific findings around climate change and urging action to avoid the potential for the climate crisis to worsen poverty and hunger, and destroy homes, livelihoods and the environment. Already, human activities have caused an estimated 1.0 degree Celsius increase in global warming above pre-industrial levels. Levels likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 if nothing changes, the IPCC warned last year in another major report.

This follows another sobering report released by the IPCC last month that captured global headlines with its warnings of the devastation to land use caused by rising global temperatures. That included concerns about the Earth’s ability to provide sufficient food for humanity as crop yields decrease and droughts and wildfires become increasingly common.

The IPCC circulated a final draft of the new oceans report among governments in June 2019 ahead of the approvals session. The report, said the IPCC, would assess the latest scientific literature addressing climate change, oceans and the cryosphere.

“This report will provide valuable information about how climate change is affecting ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, said in June. “It will also discuss how nature and society can respond to the risks this poses and achieve climate-resilient development.”

For the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), more than 100 scientists from over 30 countries have been assessing the latest knowledge about the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, as well as the human communities that depend on them. Their vulnerabilities, as well as adaptation capacities, are also evaluated. 

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Sandra Cordon
A longtime journalist in her native Canada and in her adopted home of Italy, Cordon is a contributing writer and editor with GLF and CIFOR. Cordon worked across Canada with the national news agency The Canadian Press (CP) before focusing on monetary policy as a speechwriter with The Bank of Canada. She holds degrees in political science and journalism and is at present working towards her Master's degree in International Relations with Queen Mary University in London.

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