Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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7.2.2. Aggregate Impacts

With a small temperature increase, aggregate market-sector impacts could amount to plus or minus a few percent of world GDP (medium confidence); aggregate nonmarket impacts could be negative (low confidence). The small net impacts are mainly the result of the fact that developed economies, many of which could have positive impacts, contribute the majority of global production. Applying more weight to impacts in poorer countries to reflect equity concerns, however, can result in net aggregate impacts that are negative even at medium warming. It also is possible that a majority of people will be negatively affected by climate change scenarios in this range, even if the net aggregate monetary impact is positive. With medium to higher temperature increases, benefits tend to decrease and damages increase, so the net change in global economic welfare becomes negative—and increasingly negative with greater warming (medium confidence). Some sectors, such as coastal and water resources, could have negative impacts in developed and developing countries. Other sectors, such as agriculture and human health, could have net positive impacts in some countries and net negative impacts in other countries. [19.5]

Results are sensitive to assumptions about changes in regional climate, levels of development, adaptive capacity, rates of change, valuation of impacts, and methods used for aggregating losses and gains, including the choice of discount rate. In addition, these studies do not consider potentially important factors such as changes in extreme events, advantageous and complementary responses to the threat of non-climate-driven extreme events, rapid change in regional climate (e.g., resulting from changes in ocean circulation), compounding effects of multiple stresses, or conflicting or complementary reaction to those stresses. Because these factors have yet to be accounted for in estimates of aggregate impacts and estimates do not include all possible categories of impacts, particularly nonmarket impacts, estimates of aggregate economic welfare impacts of climate change are considered to be incomplete. Given the uncertainties about aggregate estimates, the possibility of negative effects at a small increase in temperature cannot be excluded. [19.5]

7.2.3. Distribution of Impacts

Developing countries tend to be more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries (high confidence). Developing countries are expected to suffer more adverse impacts than developed countries (medium confidence). A small temperature increase would have net negative impacts on market sectors in many developing countries (medium confidence) and net positive impacts on market sectors in many developed countries (medium confidence). The different results are attributable partly to differences in exposures and sensitivities (e.g., present temperatures are below optimal in mid- and high latitudes for many crops but at or above optimal in low latitudes) and partly to lesser adaptive capacity in developing countries relative to developed countries. At a medium temperature increase, net positive impacts would start to turn negative and negative impacts would be exacerbated (high confidence). The results of these studies do not fully take into account nonmarket impacts of climate change such as impacts on natural systems, which may be sensitive to small amounts of warming. Particularly vulnerable regions include deltaic regions, low-lying small island states, and many arid regions where droughts and water availability are problematic even without climate change. Within regions or countries, impacts are expected to fall most heavily, in relative terms, on impoverished persons. The poorest members of society can be inferred to be most vulnerable to climate change because of their lack of resources with which to cope and adapt to impacts, but few studies have explicitly examined the distribution of impacts on the poor relative to other segments of society. [19.4]

Impacts on unmanaged systems are likely to increase in severity with time, but impacts on managed systems could increase or decrease through the 21st century. The distribution of impacts over the 21st century is influenced by several factors. As GHG concentrations increase, the magnitude of exposure to change in climate stimuli also would increase. Nonclimate pressures on natural and social systems, which increase the vulnerability of systems, also may grow through time as a result of population growth and increased demands for land, water, public infrastructure, and other resources. Increased population, incomes, and wealth also mean that more people and human-made resources potentially would be exposed to climate change, which would tend to increase market-sector damages in absolute dollar terms; this has been the case historically. Counteracting these tendencies are factors such as increased wealth and technology and improved institutions, which can raise adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability to climate change. [8, 19.4]

Whether impacts and vulnerability increase or decrease with time is likely to depend in part on the rates of climate change and development and may differ for managed and unmanaged systems. The more rapid the rate of climate change, the greater would be future exposure to potentially adverse changes and the greater the potential for exceeding system thresholds. The more rapid the rate of development, the more resources would be exposed to climate change in the future—but so too would the adaptive capacity of future societies. The benefits of increased adaptive capacity are likely to be greater for intensively managed systems than for systems that presently are unmanaged or lightly managed. For this reason, and because of the possibility that nonclimate pressures on natural systems may increase in the future, the vulnerability of natural systems is expected to increase with time (medium confidence). [19.4.2, 19.4.3]

Future development paths, sustainable or otherwise, will shape future vulnerability to climate change, and climate change impacts may affect prospects for sustainable development in different parts of the world. Climate change is one of many stresses that confront human and natural systems. The severity of many of these stresses will be determined in part by the development paths followed by human societies; paths that generate lesser stresses are expected to lessen the vulnerability of human and natural systems to climate change. Development also can influence future vulnerability by enhancing adaptive capacity through accumulation of wealth, technology, information, skills, and appropriate infrastructure; development of effective institutions; and advancement of equity. Climate change impacts could affect prospects for sustainable development by changing the capacity to produce food and fiber, the supply and quality of water, and human health and by diverting financial and human resources to adaptation. [18]

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