Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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2. Emergent Findings

2.1. Recent Regional Climate Changes, particularly Temperature Increases, have Already Affected Many Physical and Biological Systems

Figure SPM-1: Locations at which systematic long-term studies meet stringent criteria documenting recent temperature-related regional climate change impacts on physical and biological systems. Hydrology, glacial retreat, and sea-ice data represent decadal to century trends. Terrestrial and marine ecosystem data represent trends of at least 2 decades. Remote-sensing studies cover large areas. Data are for single or multiple impacts that are consistent with known mechanisms of physical/biological system responses to observed regional temperature-related changes. For reported impacts spanning large areas, a representative location on the map was selected.

Available observational evidence indicates that regional changes in climate, particularly increases in temperature, have already affected a diverse set of physical and biological systems in many parts of the world. Examples of observed changes include shrinkage of glaciers, thawing of permafrost, later freezing and earlier break-up of ice on rivers and lakes, lengthening of mid- to high-latitude growing seasons, poleward and altitudinal shifts of plant and animal ranges, declines of some plant and animal populations, and earlier flowering of trees, emergence of insects, and egg-laying in birds (see Figure SPM-1). Associations between changes in regional temperatures and observed changes in physical and biological systems have been documented in many aquatic, terrestrial, and marine environments. [2.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.7, and 7.1]

The studies mentioned above and illustrated in Figure SPM-1 were drawn from a literature survey, which identified long-term studies, typically 20 years or more, of changes in biological and physical systems that could be correlated with regional changes in temperature. 5 In most cases where changes in biological and physical systems were detected, the direction of change was that expected on the basis of known mechanisms. The probability that the observed changes in the expected direction (with no reference to magnitude) could occur by chance alone is negligible. In many parts of the world, precipitation-related impacts may be important. At present, there is a lack of systematic concurrent climatic and biophysical data of sufficient length (2 or more decades) that are considered necessary for assessment of precipitation impacts.

Factors such as land-use change and pollution also act on these physical and biological systems, making it difficult to attribute changes to particular causes in some specific cases. However, taken together, the observed changes in these systems are consistent in direction and coherent across diverse localities and/or regions (see Figure SPM-1) with the expected effects of regional changes in temperature. Thus, from the collective evidence, there is high confidence6 that recent regional changes in temperature have had discernible impacts on many physical and biological systems.

2.2. There are Preliminary Indications that Some Human Systems have been Affected by Recent Increases in Floods and Droughts

There is emerging evidence that some social and economic systems have been affected by the recent increasing frequency of floods and droughts in some areas. However, such systems are also affected by changes in socioeconomic factors such as demographic shifts and land-use changes. The relative impact of climatic and socioeconomic factors are generally difficult to quantify. [4.6 and 7.1]

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