IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report

3.3.1 Impacts on systems and sectors

  • The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g. flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification) and other global change drivers (e.g. land-use change, pollution, fragmentation of natural systems, over-exploitation of resources). {WGII 4.1-4.6, SPM}
  • Over the course of this century, net carbon uptake by terrestrial ecosystems is likely to peak before mid-century and then weaken or even reverse[16], thus amplifying climate change. {WGII 4.ES, Figure 4.2, SPM}
  • Approximately 20 to 30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5 to 2.5°C (medium confidence). {WGII 4.ES, Figure 4.2, SPM}
  • For increases in global average temperature exceeding 1.5 to 2.5°C and in concomitant atmospheric CO2 concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species’ ecological interactions and shifts in species’ geographical ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services, e.g. water and food supply. {WGII 4.4, Box TS.6, SPM}
  • Crop productivity is projected to increase slightly at mid- to high latitudes for local mean temperature increases of up to 1 to 3°C depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that in some regions (medium confidence). {WGII 5.4, SPM}
  • At lower latitudes, especially in seasonally dry and tropical regions, crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases (1 to 2°C), which would increase the risk of hunger (medium confidence). {WGII 5.4, SPM}
  • Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1 to 3°C, but above this it is projected to decrease (medium confidence). {WGII 5.4, 5.5, SPM}
  • Coasts are projected to be exposed to increasing risks, including coastal erosion, due to climate change and sea level rise. The effect will be exacerbated by increasing human-induced pressures on coastal areas (very high confidence). {WGII 6.3, 6.4, SPM}
  • By the 2080s, many millions more people than today are projected to experience floods every year due to sea level rise. The numbers affected will be largest in the densely populated and low-lying megadeltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable (very high confidence). {WGII 6.4, 6.5, Table 6.11, SPM}
Industry, settlements and society
  • The most vulnerable industries, settlements and societies are generally those in coastal and river flood plains, those whose economies are closely linked with climate-sensitive resources and those in areas prone to extreme weather events, especially where rapid urbanisation is occurring. {WGII 7.1, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, SPM}
  • Poor communities can be especially vulnerable, in particular those concentrated in high-risk areas. {WGII 7.2, 7.4, 5.4, SPM}
  • The health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events; increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases; increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone in urban areas related to climate change; and the altered spatial distribution of some infectious diseases. {WGI 7.4, Box 7.4; WGII 8.ES, 8.2, 8.4, SPM}
  • Climate change is projected to bring some benefits in temperate areas, such as fewer deaths from cold exposure, and some mixed effects such as changes in range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa. Overall it is expected that benefits will be outweighed by the negative health effects of rising temperatures, especially in developing countries. {WGII 8.4, 8.7, 8.ES, SPM}
  • Critically important will be factors that directly shape the health of populations such as education, health care, public health initiatives, and infrastructure and economic development. {WGII 8.3, SPM}
  • Water impacts are key for all sectors and regions. These are discussed below in the Box ‘Climate change and water’.

Climate change and water

Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives. {WGI 4.1, 4.5; WGII 3.3, 3.4, 3.5}

Changes in precipitation (Figure 3.3) and temperature (Figure 3.2) lead to changes in runoff (Figure 3.5) and water availability. Runoff is projected with high confidence to increase by 10 to 40% by mid-century at higher latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, including populous areas in East and South-East Asia, and decrease by 10 to 30% over some dry regions at mid-latitudes and dry tropics, due to decreases in rainfall and higher rates of evapotranspiration. There is also high confidence that many semi-arid areas (e.g. the Mediterranean Basin, western United States, southern Africa and north-eastern Brazil) will suffer a decrease in water resources due to climate change. Drought-affected areas are projected to increase in extent, with the potential for adverse impacts on multiple sectors, e.g. agriculture, water supply, energy production and health. Regionally, large increases in irrigation water demand as a result of climate changes are projected. {WGI 10.3, 11.2-11.9; WGII 3.4, 3.5, Figure 3.5, TS.4.1, Box TS.5, SPM}

The negative impacts of climate change on freshwater systems outweigh its benefits (high confidence). Areas in which runoff is projected to decline face a reduction in the value of the services provided by water resources (very high confidence). The beneficial impacts of increased annual runoff in some areas are likely to be tempered by negative effects of increased precipitation variability and seasonal runoff shifts on water supply, water quality and flood risk. {WGII 3.4, 3.5, TS.4.1}

Available research suggests a significant future increase in heavy rainfall events in many regions, including some in which the mean rainfall is projected to decrease. The resulting increased flood risk poses challenges to society, physical infrastructure and water quality. It is likely that up to 20% of the world population will live in areas where river flood potential could increase by the 2080s. Increases in the frequency and severity of floods and droughts are projected to adversely affect sustainable development. Increased temperatures will further affect the physical, chemical and biological properties of freshwater lakes and rivers, with predominantly adverse impacts on many individual freshwater species, community composition and water quality. In coastal areas, sea level rise will exacerbate water resource constraints due to increased salinisation of groundwater supplies. {WGI 11.2-11.9; WGII 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 4.4}

Projections and model consistency of relative changes in runoff by the end of the 21st century

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5. Large-scale relative changes in annual runoff (water availability, in percent) for the period 2090-2099, relative to 1980-1999. Values represent the median of 12 climate models using the SRES A1B scenario. White areas are where less than 66% of the 12 models agree on the sign of change and hatched areas are where more than 90% of models agree on the sign of change. The quality of the simulation of the observed large-scale 20th century runoff is used as a basis for selecting the 12 models from the multi-model ensemble. The global map of annual runoff illustrates a large scale and is not intended to refer to smaller temporal and spatial scales. In areas where rainfall and runoff is very low (e.g. desert areas), small changes in runoff can lead to large percentage changes. In some regions, the sign of projected changes in runoff differs from recently observed trends. In some areas with projected increases in runoff, different seasonal effects are expected, such as increased wet season runoff and decreased dry season runoff. Studies using results from few climate models can be considerably different from the results presented here. {WGII Figure 3.4, adjusted to match the assumptions of SYR Figure SYR 3.3; WGII 3.3.1, 3.4.1, 3.5.1}

Studies since the TAR have enabled more systematic understanding of the timing and magnitude of impacts related to differing amounts and rates of climate change. {WGII SPM}

Examples of this new information for systems and sectors are presented in Figure 3.6. The upper panel shows impacts increasing with increasing temperature change. Their estimated magnitude and timing is also affected by development pathways (lower panel). {WGII SPM}

Depending on circumstances, some of the impacts shown in Figure 3.6 could be associated with ‘key vulnerabilities’, based on a number of criteria in the literature (magnitude, timing, persistence/reversibility, the potential for adaptation, distributional aspects, likelihood and ‘importance’ of the impacts) (see Topic 5.2). {WGII SPM}

Examples of impacts associated with global average temperature change (Impacts will vary by extent of adaptation, rate of temperature change and socio-economic pathway)

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6. Examples of impacts associated with global average temperature change. Upper panel: Illustrative examples of global impacts projected for climate changes (and sea level and atmospheric CO2 where relevant) associated with different amounts of increase in global average surface temperature in the 21st century. The black lines link impacts; broken-line arrows indicate impacts continuing with increasing temperature. Entries are placed so that the left-hand side of text indicates the approximate level of warming that is associated with the onset of a given impact. Quantitative entries for water scarcity and flooding represent the additional impacts of climate change relative to the conditions projected across the range of SRES scenarios A1FI, A2, B1 and B2. Adaptation to climate change is not included in these estimations. Confidence levels for all statements are high. The upper right panel gives the WG II references for the statements made in the upper left panel.* Lower panel: Dots and bars indicate the best estimate and likely ranges of warming assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios for 2090-2099 relative to 1980-1999. {WGI Figure SPM.5, 10.7; WGII Figure SPM.2; WGIII Table TS.2, Table 3.10}

*Where ES = Executive Summary, T = Table, B = Box and F = Figure. Thus B4.5 indicates Box 4.5 in Chapter 4 and 3.5.1 indicates Section 3.5.1 in Chapter 3.

  1. ^  Assuming continued GHG emissions at or above current rates and other global changes including land-use changes.