What are the implications of the risks and opportunities outlined in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change?

10 Apr 2014Archived News Emma Fagan Climate Change Matters

On 31 March 2014, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the full Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change (AR5). The release of the full report comes five months after the IPCC released the AR5 Summary for Policy Makers. The full AR5 report has found that a changing climate creates pervasive risks across all continents, though there are significant opportunities to respond to such risks.

IPCC AR5 – the full report

AR5 is the most comprehensive piece of climate change literature ever released assessing the risks and opportunities. The report drew on the work of over 800 lead authors, coordinating lead authors and review editors, all of whom are considered to be world leaders in the field of climate change science and policy impacts.

The staggered release of the report commenced in October 2013 with the AR5 Summary for Policy Makers, and will conclude in December with the presentation and distribution of the advance release of the final AR5 Synthesis Report (SYR) to the UNFCCC COP20 (United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention Conference of Parties).

Climate change creates a pervasive risk across all continents

AR5 builds upon the Summary for Policy Makers document and provides a detailed assessment supporting the fact that climate change is unequivocally caused by anthropogenic emissions.

Figure 1 highlights the level of land and ocean temperature warming that has already occurred.

Figure 1- Observed globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature anomaly 1850–2012

The report includes comprehensive supporting evidence for the statements made in the Summary for Policy Makers including increases in extreme weather events and sea levels continuing to rise.

In addition the full AR5 report paints a bleak picture of what the near and longer term impacts of these climatic trends are likely to be - including increased risks to long term food security; ongoing water insecurity; and global income losses. While global income losses are projected in the 0.2 – 2% range, these projections are considered to be conservative, with losses likely to be greater

Near term projections – what might happen over the next decade?

Within AR5 climate change projections and impacts are split into two major categories – what is likely to happen in the nearer term, specifically the period from 2016 – 2035, and what the longer term impacts of climate change are likely to be within established scenarios, ranging from business as usual to high emissions mitigation scenarios.

In the near term AR5 projects the following likely impacts:

  • A change in global mean surface air temperature in the range 0.3 to 0.7°C
  • An increase in air temperature of more than 1°C above the mean for 1850–1900
  • Further shrinking and thinning of Arctic sea ice cover.
  • An increase in extreme weather events within the next decade.

Long term trends – ongoing impacts and irreversibility

If we fail to take sufficient action to address climate change mitigation over the coming decades, the picture that AR5 paints of the long term impacts of climate change is more concerning.

The report highlights that every continent will face the impacts of climate change in the long term. Temperature changes will differ from region to region, though areas with high existing aridity or coastal areas will face the worst impacts.

For Australia the longer term impacts of climate change will have significant implications for both Australian business and individuals. According to AR5, long term climate change trends are likely to manifest in the following ways:

  • amplification of southern Australian summer heat extremes and drier conditions.
  • increased frequency of summer heat waves
  • a substantial increase in drought events.

Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate how these impacts on global temperature increases and decreased rainfall will manifest by the end of the century across the globe.


How is this going to impact business?

Without sufficient action to mitigate the near and longer term impacts of climate change, we are likely to see major impacts on Australia’s ongoing energy security, which will in turn impact our business productivity and economic prosperity.

Increases in extreme weather events and prolonged periods of extreme heat in the summer months will naturally have a flow-on impact on total electricity demand – particularly peak demand.

Already, Australia is witnessing electrical peak demand growing at a much faster rate than average demand. Between 2005 and 2011, peak demand increased at a rate of approximately 1.8% per year, while total energy demand grew 0.5% per year.

Recent increases in peak demand have also resulted in demand generally becoming “peakier”. In 2010-11 the top 0.5% of demand in Victoria occurred over approximately 30 hours, whereas this top demand occurred over more than 45 hours in the previous four years.

Increasing incidence of extreme weather events will also lead to higher occurrences of transmission outages and increased volatility in electricity costs. During the unprecedented Queensland floods of 2010-11, more than 480,000 homes and businesses lost power.

Without strong and immediate action to mitigate the risks of climate change, there is a long term risk to the security and reliability of Australia’s electricity supply.

There are opportunities to reduce this risk

The AR5 full report does highlight that the potential impacts from climate change events are not inevitable. There are opportunities to manage these impacts.  However, with increased warming, the risks associated with managing the impacts increase.

To best manage the risks associated with climate change, the report concludes that a range of both mitigation and adaptation actions will need to be undertaken on a global scale.

As an immediate step a global commitment is needed to stabilize increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas or absolute temperature increases to an agreed upon target.

If the global community does not act soon, AR5 predicts potentially irreversible damage and a catastrophic impact on the quality of life and economic stability for future generations.




Join the conversation