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United Nations IPCC Report Points to Adaptations and Solutions

United Nations report on global climate change provides the scope of the problem and actions to be taken seriously

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The United Nations has a global view like no other. The climate change report by the IPCC is lengthy, but an important read for decision makers in business and public sectors. It has been touted as a "blunt and alarming report"...but I found it even-handed and filled with practical approaches to address remediation of current carbon practices. No details, of course...but a comprehensive overview of strategies. I've listed those SOLUTIONS at the end of this digest of key points. A link at the bottom will take you to the Summary PDF for further reading. Carolyn Allen, Editor green globe with glasses The "highly suggestive" final report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released here by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, provides not only an in-depth overview of the seriousness of climate change problems, but many adaptation and remediation suggestions.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature since 1850. Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.

Changes in snow, ice and frozen ground have with high confidence increased the number and size of glacial lakes, increased ground instability in mountain and other permafrost regions, and led to changes in some Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems.

Hydrological systems are experiencing increased runoff and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers. Terrestrial ecosystems with earlier spring events experience shifts in plant and animal ranges.

There is evidence that regional climate change on natural and human environments are emerging such as agricultural and forestry disturbances due to fires and pests.

Some aspects of human health such as heat-related mortality, infectious diseases, and allergenic pollen are being affected.

Causes for Climate Changes

Changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols, land-cover and solar radiation alter the energy balance of the climate system. Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important anthropogenic GHG. Its annual emissions grew by about 80% between 1970 and 2004. The long-term trend of declining CO2 emissions per unit of energy supplied reversed after 2000.

During the past 50 years, the sum of solar an volcanic forcings would LIKELY have produced cooling.

Human influences extend to many aspects of climate change such as contributing to sea level rise during the latter half of the 20th century; changes in wind patterns which affect tropical storm tracks and temperature patterns; increased temperatures of hot nights, cold nights and cold days; and increased risk of heat waves, drought and frequency of heavy precipitation events.

There is high agreement and evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GJG emissions will CONTINUE TO GROW over the next few decades.

Continued GHG emissions at or above current rates woudl cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than thos observed during the 20th century.

For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2C degrees is projected.

Your Connection to Greenland and Antarctica

Projected regional-scale changes in warming patterns include:
  • Greatest warming over land and at most high northern latitudes and least over Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.
  • Contraction of snow cover area with increases in thaw depth over most permafrost regions
  • Decrease in sea ice extent with Arctic late-summer sea ice disappearing almost entirely.
  • Increase in frequency of hot extremes, heat wave and heavy precipitation
  • Increase in tropical cyclone intensity
  • Poleward shift of tropical storm tracks with changes in wind, precipitation and temperature patterns
  • Precipitation increases in high latitudes and decreases in most subtropical land regions
IMAGE Melting and contraction of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100. Current projections suggest the virtually complete eliminate of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting rise to sea level of about 7 meters if global average warming is sustained in excess of 1.9 to 4.6C degrees relative to pre-industrial values.

Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.

Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. Approximately 20-30% of species are likely to be at increase risk of extinction (with 1.5C). If temperatures increase 3.5C, 40-70% of species could face extinctions.

The meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the Atlantic Ocean will very likely slow during the 21st century. Large changes can impact changes in marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, ocean CO2 uptake, oceanic oxygen concentrations and terrestrial vegetation. Changes in terrestrial and ocean CO2 uptake may feed back on the climate system.

North American Regional Projections

The report outlines specific projections for all regions of hte globe. We're pulling out some of the items noted for North America.
  • Warming in western mountains will decrease snowpack, cause more winter flooding and reduce summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.
  • Early decades of moderate climate change will increase some agriculture yields by 5-20% with important variability among regions. Challenges are projected at the warm ends of the suitable ranges and water resource usage.
  • Cities that currently experience heatwaves can expect more, greater intensity and duration, with potential health impacts.
  • Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

Ocean Acidification

The uptake of carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic (pH of 0.1 unit decrease). Scenarios project a reduction of surface ocean pH of between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st century. The effects of ocean acidification on the marine biosphere are not yet documented, but are expected to negatively impact marine shell-forming organisms (corals) and their dependent species.

Adaptation and Mitigation Options -- Solutions?

A wide array of adaptation options are available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Adaptive capacity is unevenly distributed across and within societies. It is influenced by a society's productive base including:
  • natural and man-made capital assets
  • social networks and entitlements
  • human capital and institutions
  • governance
  • national income
  • health
  • technology
Substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels.

Examples of adaptation by sector

WATER

Expand rainwater harvesting
Water storage and conservation
Water re-use
Desalination
water use and irrigation efficiency

AGRICULTURE

Adjust planting dates and crop variety
Crop relocation
Improved land management: erosion control and soil protection through tree planting

INFRASTRUCTURE

Relocation
Seawalls and storm surge barriers
Dune reinforcement
Land acquisition and creation of marshlands/wetlands as buffer against sea level rise and flooding
Protect existing natural barriers

HUMAN HEALTH

Human health action plans
Emergency medical services
Improved climate-sensitive disease surveillance and control
Safe water and improved sanitation

TOURISM

Diversification of tourism attractions and revenues
Shifting ski slopes to higher altitudes and glaciers
Artificial snow-making

TRANSPORT

Realignment/relocation
Design standards and planning for roads, rail and infrastructure to cope with warming and drainage.

ENERGY

Strengthen overhead transmission and distribution infrastructure
Underground cabling for utilities
Energy efficiency
Use of renewable sources
Reduced dependence on single sources of energy

Examples of Key Sector Mitigation technologies, policies and measures, constraints and opportunities

ENERGY SUPPLY

Improved supply and distribution efficiency
Switch fuel from coal to gas
Nuclear power
Renewable heat and power
Combined heat and power

TRANSPORT

More fuel efficient vehicles
Hybrid vehicles
cleaner diesel vehicles
Biofuels
Modal shift from road transport to rail and public transport systems
Non-motorized transport (cycling, walking)
Land use and transport planning

BUILDINGS

Efficient lighting and daylighting
Efficient electrical appliances and devices
Improved cook stoves
Improved insulation
passive and active solar design
Alternative refrigeration fluids, recovery and recycling
Integrated design of commercial buildings including intelligent meters, solar PV etc.

INDUSTRY

Efficient end-use electrical equipment
Heat and power recovery
Material recycling and substitution
Control of non-CO2 gas emissions
CCS for cement, ammonia, and iron manufacture

AGRICULTURE

Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage
Restore cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands
Improve rice cultivation techniques
Improve livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions
Improve nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2) emissions
Dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use
Improved energy efficiency
Improved crop yields

FORESTRY

Afforestation and reforestation
Forest management
Reduced deforestation
Harvested wood product management
Use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use
Tree species improvement to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration
Improve remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/soil carbon sequestration and mapping land use change

WASTE

Landfill CH4 recovery
Waste incineration with energy recovery
Composting of organic waste
Controlled waste water treatment
Recycling and waste minimisation
Biocovers and biofilters to optimise CH4 oxidation

Large Scale Energy Infrastructure Changes

Future energy infrastructure investment decisions, expected to exceed 20 trillion US$ between 2005 and 2030, will have long-term impacts on GHG emissions, because of the long life-times of energy plants and other infrastructure capital stock. The widespread diffusion of low-carbon technologies may take many decades, even if early investments in these technologies are made attractive. Initial estimates show that returning global energy related CO2 emissions to 2005 levels by 2030 would require a large shift in investment patterns, although the net additional investment required ranges from negligible to 5-10%.

Changes in lifestyle, behaviour patterns and management practices

There is also high agreement and medium evidence that changes in lifestyle, behaviour patterns and management practices can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors.

Changes in Cooperative Efforts

Greater cooperative efforts and expansion of market mechanisms will help to reduce global costs for achieving a given level of mitigation, or will improve environmental effectiveness. Efforts can include diverse elements such as
  • emissions targets
  • sectoral, local, sub-national and regional actions
  • RD&D programmes
  • adopting common policies
  • implementing development oriented actions
  • expanding financing instruments

The Long-term Perspective to Prevent Key Vulnerabilities

Key vulnerabilities may be associated with many climate sensitive systems including
  • food supply
  • infrastructure
  • health
  • water resources
  • coastal systems
  • ecosystems
  • global biogeochemical cycles
  • ice sheets
  • modes of oceanic and atmospheric circulation

The five “reasons for concern” identified

There is high confidence that neither adaptation nor mitigation alone can avoid all climate change impacts; however, they can complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change.
  1. Risks to unique and threatened systems -- unique and vulnerable systems (such as polar and high mountain communities and ecosystems)
  2. Risks of extreme weather events -- droughts, heatwaves, and floods as well as their adverse impacts.
  3. Distribution of impacts and vulnerabilities. There are sharp differences across regions and those in the weakest economic position are often the most vulnerable to climate change.
  4. Aggregate impacts -- initial net market-based benefits from climate change are projected to peak at a lower magnitude of warming
  5. Risks of large-scale singularities. There is high confidence that global warming over many centuries would lead to a sea level rise contribution from thermal expansion alone which is projected to be much larger than observed over the 20th century, with loss of coastal area and associated impacts.
Many impacts can be reduced, delayed or avoided by mitigation. Mitigation efforts and investments over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve lower stabilisation levels.

Achieving Highest Levels of Stabilization

There is evidence that stabilization can best be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialized in coming decades, assuming appropriate and effective incentives are in place for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion and addressing related barriers.

Scenarios indicate that 60-80% of the reductions would come from
  • energy supply and use
  • industrial processes
  • with energy efficiency playing a key role in many scenarios.
  • Non-CO2 and CO2 land-use and forestry mitigation options provides greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
Without substantial investment flows and effective technology transfer, it may be difficult to achieve emission reduction at a significant scale. Mobilizing financing of incremental costs of low-carbon technologies is important.

Risk Management Approach

Responding to climate change involves an iterative risk management process that includes both adaptation and mitigation and takes into account climate change damages, co-benefits, sustainability, equity, and attitudes to risk.

Impacts of climate change are very likely to impose net annual costs which will increase over time as global temperatures increase.

Peer-reviewed estimates of the social cost of carbon in 2005 average US$12 per tonne of CO2, but the range from 100 estimates is large (-$3 to $95/tCO2). This is due in large part to differences in assumptions regarding climate sensitivity, response lags, the treatment of risk and equity, economic and noneconomic impacts, the inclusion of potentially catastrophic losses, and discount rates.

SOURCE:

Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, DRAFT COPY 16 NOVEMBER 2007

This Synthesis Report is based on the assessment carried out by the three Working Groups of the IPCC. It provides an integrated view of climate change as the final part of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

Direct link to the summary report for policy makers (23p. PDF)

Homepage of the United Nations IPCC www.ipcc.ch



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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