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Climate Crisis: Limits To Adaptations

By Countercurrents 

30 March, 2014

Limits loom over adaptations to climate crisis while, the intergovernmental climate panel finds, long-term sea level rise will be much higher, but barely studied. There is possibility of massive damage for the US Gulf Coast due to sea level rise.

Referring to the coming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Sophie Yeo writes [1]:

“Humans will struggle to adapt to dangerous levels of climate change indefinitely …”

The two volume report by the IPCC is set to be released on March 31 in Yokohama , Japan .

Sophie's article in the RTCC said:

The IPCC report “will warn that there are barriers to man's ability to adapt to projected floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, which means that the world will inevitably endure a certain amount of pain within the next century.”

Frans Berkhout, lead author on the chapter on constraints to adaptation, told RTCC: “The question of defining whether there are limits and what those limits might be is a new thing that we've uncovered in the IPCC, and I think it's really interesting. We can't adapt our way out of this problem.”

The article said:

“The findings will be particularly relevant to countries that are pushing for the controversial issue of ‘loss and damage' to be recognized in a UN treaty to stop climate change, due to be signed off in Paris in 2015.

“‘Loss and damage' means that countries accept that damage as a result of climate change is inevitable, and that they must prepare themselves accordingly.

“This could take place in the form of research, insurance, or compensation payments from the rich countries historically responsible for climate change to those now suffering its consequences.

But the notion that rich countries like the US should take the blame for climate change and pay out accordingly means that the issue is one of the most controversial at the UN climate negotiations.”

It added:

“Berkhout agreed that the IPCC's focus on the limits of adaptation was a “different way of framing” the debate over loss and damage.

But he doubted whether it would help developing countries to make their case within the “grand bargain” of the UN negotiations in the long run, where political considerations often take precedence over the science.

“‘Defining those vulnerable reasons and where there are limits in their capacity to adapt, then there might well be an international responsibility to help those particularly vulnerable victims,' he said.

“‘That's part of the loss and damage debate, but I think in the end it's a debate about responsibility and assistance, which is a political trade off.'”

On the issue of compensation Sophie writes:

“What it didn't overcome is the final taboo: should rich countries take the blame for climate change, and will they have to compensate?

For many developed countries, for whom such an arrangement could be financially disastrous, it is not a topic up for discussion.”

Citing a recent study the article said:

The study has “identified the UK , USA , Canada , Russia and Germany as the five countries most responsible for global warming, if global carbon dioxide emissions are allocated using per capita calculations.

A higher sea level rise

Citing the IPCC report Gerard Wynn writes [2]:

“Global sea level rise over millennia will be far higher than that expected this century, but its impacts are barely studied”.

The report will be published Monday.

The report is the second of a three-part publication by the IPCC.

Gerard writes:

“Sea level rise will continue beyond this century, regardless of trends in carbon emissions and warming, as a result of melting ice sheets.

Looking 2,000 years ahead, estimates for sea level rise are far higher than for this century alone.

“Sea levels will rise by 2.3 meters over the next centuries for every 1C rise in long-term, global average temperatures.

The IPCC report used findings of a study that “compares with expected sea level rise this century of a few tens of centimeters.

Sea levels in the long term will rise by 1.3 meters above current levels as a result of warming already locked in, and by much more if carbon emissions continue.”

“Failing to mitigate, thus increasingly commits us to a world where densely populated areas lock into a trajectory of increasingly costly hard defenses and rising residual risks on the one hand and less densely populated areas being abandoned on the other hand,” said the report.

Coastal impact

Gerard writes:

“The focus of much research to date has been the impacts of sea levels in the near term. The IPCC projected last September that these would will rise by up to around 80 centimetres this century.

“Developed countries expect to be able defend important cities against even 1 metre rise …

“‘The Dutch and UK Governments have decided that they can protect urban Netherlands and London against 21st century sea level rise above 1 m,' the [IPCC] report says.

“But sea level rise of 1 metre may be difficult to defend against more widely. One review of potential impacts this century calculated massive damage for the US Gulf Coast.

“‘It is estimated that a hypothetical 1 m rise in relative sea level projected for the Gulf Coast region between Alabama and Houston over the next 50-100 years would permanently flood a third of the region's roads as well as putting more than 70% of the region's ports at risk,' the IPCC said.

“Few studies have analyzed impacts of much greater sea level rise beyond this century.

Impacts should be smaller, as people have more time to prepare, but such analysis over long timescales is difficult and few researchers have attempted it.

“Few studies have considered this and, from a methodological point of view, it is difficult to look at socio-economic conditions and human responses on such large temporal scales.”

Complicated research

The article said:

“Sea levels rise both as oceans expand as a result of global warming, and as more water is added to the sea from melting glaciers and polar ice sheets.

“They will continue to rise even after carbon emissions stop and temperatures stabilize because of inertia in polar ice sheets, which will melt over thousands of years for any given amount of warming.

“Research into sea level rise is complicated and uncertain, since it requires an understanding both of how far the global average temperature will rise in response to greenhouse gas emissions, and how ice sheets will respond to that warming.”

One research paper, cited in the coming IPCC report, estimated that long-term sea levels would rise by an additional 0.32 meters for every decade of emissions continuing at their present rate. That was above the 1.3 meters already committed.

Another paper estimated that long-term sea levels would rise by a median 4.8 meters for a 2C rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels. Countries have adopted 2C as a threshold target for a level of global warming which avoids dangerous impacts.


[1] RTCC, March 26, 2014, “UN climate science report will highlight ‘limits to adaptation'”, http://www.rtcc.org/2014/03/26/un-climate-science-report-will-highlight-limits-to-adaptation/

[2] RTCC, March 27, 2014, “Long-term sea level rise will be much higher, but barely studied – IPCC”,









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