Inventory of Research on the Impacts of Climate Change

Cesar H, Linden O, & Walker R (2004). Inventory of Research on the Impacts of Climate Change. IIASA Interim Report. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: IR-04-018


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Climate change is one of the greatest threats for the global environment today. Global mean temperature has risen by about 0.6 degrees C during the 20th century, greater than during any other century in the last 1000 years. Subsequently, climate change is likely to have detrimental effects on all global natural and anthropogenic systems. Climate change will have consequences for the structure and function of ecosystems and all the major global biomes. Also agricultural production and productivity will alter, and physical effects will take place on the environment affecting those that inhabit it. For example, sea level rise and climatic variations will have implications for human health, land use and coastal infrastructure.

This report aims to identify the current and proposed research and assessments being undertaken by international organizations as well as the major national research groups regarding climate change and its effects on ecosystems, on agriculture (including fisheries and forestry) and on the economy and human society. The report also identifies possible gaps in this research.

The IPCC, basing its assessment on peer reviewed and published scientific/ technical literature, plays a main role in summarizing climate change research and forming a worldwide consensus on future scenarios. The IPCC published its Third Assessment Report in 2001.

Global research on the effects of climate change amongst the world's ecosystems is being undertaken and/or coordinated by organizations such as FAO, UNEP, UNDP, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). They work on several crosscutting projects in climate change and terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity. The World Bank is sponsoring numerous projects worldwide to promote research in the subject. Higher latitudes are covered by bodies such as the British Antarctic Survey, the Canadian Institute for Climate Studies and the Nordic Arctic Research Programme among others. In middle latitudes, many leading research groups in Western countries are working on this topic. Research on ecosystem impacts of climate change in lower tropical latitudes include effects of sea surface temperature warming on coral reefs by Coral Reef Degradation of the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) Programme. Gaps through the relative neglect of research into other tropical ecosystems is, however, noticeable.

The impacts of climate change on agriculture are complex and uncertain. The FAO's Global Terrestrial Observation System Programme and START's Global Change program, takes a long-term predictive approach to its research. A large number of national and regional agencies fund or undertake work throughout the world, such as NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the WMO's Agricultural Meteorology Programme. National programs include the Canadian Climate Impact and Adaptation Research Network as well as work in New Zealand through the use of models and data sets to predict climate effects on agriculture and horticulture, by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. In the United Kingdom, the Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP) is one of the active players in the field. In the US, the Department of Agriculture has commissioned a number of studies on climate change impacts on US agriculture.

Work on the effects on forestry appears to be split between large international agencies such as IUCN and the projects under the framework of the World Bank, and again extensive national projects by the Canadians and their CIARN Forest Sector programs among others. Global warming could have many impacts on fisheries and other aquatic and marine resources. The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre is undertaking a Changing Oceans project and the UNESCO Global Oceans Observation System Programme, involving other bodies susch as UNEP WMO and FAO. The US Global Oceans Ecosystems Dynamics project is a multi-disciplinary program to examine the potential impacts of global climate change in marine ecosystems.

Research on the impacts of climate change on the economy and human society is reasonably comprehensive. Several academic institutions such as the Centre for Marine and Climate Research in Germany and the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, and the Climatic Research Unit, both working from the University of East Anglia have regional research projects in various regions of the world such as developing African states and low-lying small island states. In Germany, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) is also focusing on socio-economic issues while Norway has the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). Finally, the Tyndall Centre and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), both in the UK are actively involved in the economic and human dimension of climate change impacts.

Based on the survey and on IPCC and UNFCCC Reports, several gaps were identified in climate change research regarding the motioned topics:

-- Much of the climate change predictions made are gradual, continuous changes. A science that focuses on discontinuities (tipping points, thresholds, etc.) rather than mean changes and gradual response curves is only developing slowly.

-- Much climate change research has focused on a one century time scale. Very little attention has been paid to the evolution of climatic risks over the next 20 years. Climate change scenarios are distinct from present risk (control runs are very poor surrogates for present climate experience) and a 3-10 year time scale of climate prediction remains difficult. Yet, this remains the relevant time scale for policy making, vulnerability assessment and the like.

-- Climate change impact research in developing countries is hindered by the virtual absence of good long-term data. Monitoring programs are needed in a variety of areas, such as land-use, ecosystem data, socio-economics, etc.

-- Most work in agriculture and fisheries focuses on middle latitude issues. However, in developing countries, the issue of food security should not be neglected.

-- Most research has been sectoral, yet there is a need to focus on the interactions between different sectors in society;

-- Most research has looked at impacts of one specific stressor, yet there is a need to further our understanding on the cumulative effects of multiple stresses and at different spatial scales;

-- Relatively little work has been carried out on vulnerability and integrated risk assessment; Enhanced risks from climate change need to be seen in the light of existing risks, e.g. flooding, hurricanes, environmental, health, political, social, etc. Relevant profiles of vulnerability should be provided and integrated risk management tools should be applied to identify and evaluate how best to cope with climate change related risks. This should also include economic risk assessment.

-- Economic impact research has often taken an engineering approach, i.e. the economic loss was calculated as the loss in physical terms times the price based on a marginal analysis. Yet, actual losses need to be based on the total economic changes in terms of quantity and price in the various sectors based on induced changes in demand and supply, and trade, etc.

-- Much research has focused on the impact of climate change on ecosystems and natural resources. Yet, the impacts on humans in their livelihood systems (e.g. human access to natural resources) and other socio-economic linkages as a result of these changes are largely unknown. The social/cultural complexity, especially in developing countries in the context of climate change needs to be studied in depth, as well as issues of induced possible demographic shifts and land-use changes.

-- Vulnerability and impact studies, especially in developing countries, need to focus more on impacts on poverty and on the poorest segments in society, given that so much of the aid flows focus on poverty alleviation. The research should address the question how climate change impacts poverty incidence, both rural and urban.

-- Disasters linked to climate change can lead to economic and political instability, e.g. related to water scarcity exacerbated by climate change. Hardly any research has been done in this area thus far.

Though not the focus of the survey here, major gaps exist in our understanding of climate change adaptation. In fact, in this area, much more policy relevant research is needed, for instance in preventing mal-adaptation and encouraging no-regret policies and measures.

Health impacts of climate change, e.g. malaria outbraeaks have only been studied in some areas in the world thus far.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Interim Report)
Research Programs: Directorate (DIR)
Forestry (FOR)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:17
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2016 13:04

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