The House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing this week on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary report from Working Group II addressing the effects of climate change and human vulnerability to these changes. The coordinating lead and lead authors from six chapters were present as witnesses to discuss their respective group’s findings, all of whom emphasized the urgent need for policies to address global warming.
On the other side of town, the Center for American Progress co-sponsored a conference on Climate Change and International Development, where another IPCC author, Saleemul Huq, sat on a panel. Huq remarked on the second working group’s findings by stating that, “When the IPCC says that something is bad, then you can take it as very, very bad.” The consensus needed for the final product leaves out the most severe potential impacts, and what is left is merely the common political denominator. Even then, the report’s findings are quite concerning.
This IPCC report is unique from past reports because it has been able to draw on observed trends, not modeled projections alone, several witnesses noted. Stephen Schneider, from Stanford University, explained that after sitting in the same seat thirty years ago to testify on climate change, this time he was able to confirm that “nature has been cooperating with theory.”
Scientists can attribute changes in the ecosystems of all seven continents and most oceans to alterations in climate. Spring events are arriving earlier, luring eggs to hatch sooner and birds to fly different migration routes. Lakes are warming, glacial lakes are expanding, and permafrost is thawing.
We cannot expect that these changes in nature will not also change our way of life.
Global warming will increase the frequency and severity of floods and droughts, which will influence agricultural crop yields and threaten food security worldwide. Dr. William E. Easterling, one of the hearing’s witnesses, noted that 75 percent to 80 percent of the world’s calories—for animals and humans—are consumed in cereal crops such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, and other staples that are susceptible to floods and droughts. Globally, we can expect exacerbated stress on water resources. In the United States, communities west of the Rockies will come to know this all too well.
Extreme climate variability will force the relocation of millions of people worldwide due to rising sea levels, flooding, storm surges, and droughts. Coastal communities and developing countries are at a magnified risk and will bear a disproportionate amount of the burden.
A central theme in the hearing and the aforementioned Climate Change and International Development conference was the need for appropriate adaptation and mitigation policies. Dr. Shardal Agrawala, a coordinating lead author on the IPCC’s chapter evaluating adaptation, argued that we have “no choice” between adaptation and mitigation. We are already forced to adapt to the warming locked into the climate system, but without mitigation of future greenhouse gas emissions, we will only worsen our situation, he said.
The Center for American Progress concurs. We need policies that mandate ambitious reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to combat the effects of climate change. Americans know this, and according to a poll recently conducted for the Center for American Progress, they are demanding action.
Action can and should take a range of shapes, from international cooperation and smart agricultural conduct, to localized preparedness, a national cap-and-trade program and more stringent fuel economy standards for our vehicles. The Center for American Progress is pressing for action each of these issues.
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