NEXT week, the world's leading climate scientists publish their
latest report, in which they predict the impact that the changing
climate will have on the world in the coming years.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
published the first part (Working Group I) last year. It examined
the atmospheric science, and raised their level of certainty that
climate change was being driven by human activity to an "almost
certain" 95 per cent.
This second part (Working Group II) translates that science into
the physical impact which is likely to follow from an increase in
greenhouse-gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. The report comes
only weeks after Britain experienced record rainfall, which flooded
large parts of the south of England, and storm surges that washed
away the coastal railway in Devon.
The Chief Scientist at the Met Office, Dame Julia Sligo, said at
the time that the storms were a likely result of climate change.
The Prime Minister said that he believed the extreme weather in the
UK and the United States were linked to global climate-change.
Member-states of the UN have agreed to take action to ensure
that global temperatures do not exceed two degrees above the
pre-Industrial Revolution level - the level described as "dangerous
climate-change" by scientists. Two degrees may not sound like much,
but the changes in climate which are being experienced now are at a
current rate of 0.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels; and,
unless substantial action is taken to curb emissions in the next
few years, the two-degree target will not be met.
The IPCC's report will not officially be published until 31
March, but leaks of the draft document provide an idea of the
findings. For example, acidification of the oceans is happening at
a faster rate than any time in the past 65 million years, and a
large fraction of species face an increased risk of extinction. The
impact on food production is already visible in several regions,
and yields are expected to drop by as much as two per cent each
decade from 2030.
Child malnutrition will be a key risk, as not only food quantity
but also food quality will be affected. In Africa, there will be a
faster temperature rise than the global average, and rainfall is
failing in arid regions. The leaked report also says that Northern
Europe can expect more rainfall, while much of the infrastructure
of North Americawill be vulnerable to extreme weather. Small
island-states willbe even more at risk from sea-level rise.
This will be the fifth "assessment report" of its kind produced
by the IPCC, a body made up of thousands of scientists from around
the world who volunteer their time to review and test the latest
climate science. The third part (Working Group III), to be
published next month, will outline what practical steps haveto be
taken to tackle rising global temperatures.
It is hoped that the three partsof the report will be used by
governments to shape their domestic and international energy
policies in the coming years.
Two decisions which will have a significant impact on global
climate will be made in the next 18 months. The first is the global
pact that was promised at the UN climate summit in Durban in 2011
Comment, 9 December
2011), and will probably be agreed in Paris in November 2015.
The pact is to include countries' commitments on emissions cuts,
and the promise of finance from rich industrialised countries to
help poor ones adapt to the effects of climate change.
Next year, the Millennium Development Goals end, and their
successors will be created. Christian Aid and other NGOs are urging
governments to ensure that environmental targets are at the core of
these new goals, such is the impact of climate change on
To coincide with the publication of the IPCC's report Working
Group II, Christian Aid has published a new report, Taken by
Storm: responding to the impacts of climate change. This
suggests that climate change is not only a problem for future
generations, but is affecting people today and forcing communities
to change their ways of life. Here are some examples.
A RISE in sea-level is one of the clearest examples of climate
change as higher global temperatures melt ice-caps and glaciers.
Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable, because 35.1 million people
live in its 47,000-sq-km coastal zone. As well as increasing the
damage caused by storm surges - Cyclone Aila struck the region in
2009, and left one million people homeless - higher sea-levels also
contribute to the salinisation of groundwater.
Selina Begum has found farming increasingly difficult. She said:
"Previously, I used to cultivate rice. Now this is becoming really
"People are beginning to cultivate fish, because water in this
area is becoming so salty. It is too expensive to cultivate rice
like we used to. Sometimes the water is so salty that even the fish
are dying. This salty water is harmful to our environment and to
the rice fields.'
WHILE the UK faced the misery of floods, and the United States
experienced the polar vortex, the Philippines was battered by
Typhoon Haiyan in November last year. It killed more than 6000
people, displaced 4.1 million, and destroyed more than 1.1 million
Ronnie Flores, who lives in the province of Eastern Samar,
managed to escape the waves that rushed through his village at 4
a.m., and saved his four-year-old niece, Angelica. "I lived with my
sister [Angelica's mother] and her husband," he said. "Our house
was totally damaged by the storm. It was made of concrete, and we
thought it would be OK. Only the floor remains.
"The waves came in and dragged us out to sea as the wave
retreated again. I really had to struggle to keep hold of Angelica
and get to the shore. I have been looking for my sister ever since,
but she's still missing, we can't find her body." Angelica's father
was also killed.
"My grandparents were also killed as they remained in their
house," Mr Flores said. "Me and Angelica are now living with my
THERE are few African countries which are as vulnerable to
climate change as landlocked Malawi. Ninety per cent of its rural
population is reliant on the land for survival; so weather
extremes, such as erratic rainfall, floods, and droughts, are
dangerous. Not only is the weather more extreme - high temperatures
are a particular threat - it is much harder to predict.
The traditional signs of nature, which farmers have relied on
for generations to guide their actions, have been thrown into
disarray. A farmer, James Kheiri, explained that the language of
the seasons passed down by his parents was now worthless: "You need
to plant knowing that it will rain in the next two or three days.
If it doesn't rain when you need it to, you can lose your seed.
Before, we used to be able to predict that by the time of year, and
seeing the signs, but now we can't. The temperature would rise, and
we would know the rains were coming.
"Now, the temperature rises, the winds come, but no rain. There
were flowers which would bloom just before the rains. We used lots
of signs that have no meaning any more."
SINCE the 1970s, the glaciers of the tropical Andes have reduced
in mass by between 30 and 50 per cent. For the millions of people
who rely on the glaciers as their main source of drinking water,
this is a worrying trend.
Bolivians used to boast that the ski slope Chacaltaya was the
highest in the world. Now there is no longer any snow to ski on.
Glaciers and ice-sheets store about 75 per cent of the world's
fresh water. Once the flow from glaciers becomes irregular, so does
This is a problem for the indigenous communities of the Andes,
in Bolivia, who depend on glaciers for drinking water, sanitation,
and to grow food. Alivio Aruquipa lives in the shadow of the
Illimani glacier. "We don't have enough water to grow our crops,"
he said. "There are conflicts over water between the different
communities, because we all need water, and there isn't enough for
The higher temperatures that have caused glacial retreat have
brought other problems. Mr Aruquipa said: "There are new in-sects
on our crops because ofhigher temperatures. We can't produce now
without spraying the crops."
THE World Bank says: "Central America produces less than 0.5 per
cent of global carbon emissions, but it is one the most vulnerable
regions to climate-change-related impacts on the planet." These
include extreme weather, rising sea-levels, increased temperatures,
and erratic rainfall.
For the smallest Central American country, El Salvador, climate
change acts a multiplier of existing acute poverty. Mauricio Cruz
is the leader of one of the local ADESCOs, a group of 200 families
who work together in the event of an emergency.
"Big countries are responsible for climate change, more than
countries like El Salvador," he said. "I know that it is impossible
for us to do anything here, if countries that are responsible for
emissions don't do anything. They need to change their way of life,
but we're trying, too, because we understand the impact of climate
"Climate change at the global level exists. Maybe people [in the
developed world] don't believe it, because you have everything you
need. But when you're poor, you see it happening. Poor people
experience it more. We are already used to living with a high level
of vulnerability, but that vulnerability is increasing."
ALTHOUGH there are some elements of the impact of climate change
which are impossible to adapt to, such as the acidification of the
oceans, and destruction of coral reefs, in some places the
ingenuity of local organisations are helping people to survive.
In Malawi, some farmers are being helped by mobile-phone
technology. Staff working for the Adventist Development and Relief
Agency send text messages to head farmers, giving them detailed
weather forecasts so that they know when the rains are on their
way. These forecasts are then circulated throughout the community,
so all the farmers benefit.
The Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB)
helps people by providing them with Campbellducks, a breed
developed in England in the 19th century that are more resistant to
salt water, and produce more eggs than local breeds.
CCBD also helps farmers to produce floating gardens made of
bamboo and hyacinth, where chillies, cabbages, and okra can be
grown during the rainy season, when much of the land is completely
In El Salvador, a local-development organisation, Acudesbal, a
Christian Aid partner, helps people to prepare for storms. One of
the community leaders, Concepción Martinez, said: "The biggest
impact of their work is the way they have raised our awareness of
issues like climate change, and how to adapt to it.
"The early-warning systems we now use have helped us greatly:
they've saved lives, and we've been able to prevent disasters. We
know how to plant new rice varieties which are resistant to floods
or drought. The construction of our drainage systems has also had a
high impact, and there is usually less flooding."
In Bolivia, Agua Sustentable helped to build a reservoir to
capture the irregular glacial meltwater. This then served as a more
reliable source of water for up to 40 families.
Martin Vilela of Agua Sustentable is pleased to be able to
provide practical help, but is clear that these are only temporary
solutions. "We can't constantly be adapting," he said. "I think
it's important that the communities find immediate responses to the
changes. . . So another key area of our work is to show to the
global community the reality of the communities, and the impact of
climate change that they feel. So they can realise climate change
is real, and start to take actions to find concrete responses at a