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Key scientific developments since the IPCC fourth Assessment report

June 2009
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007.  Since then, a number of new scientific results have been published that expand our understanding of climate science. Some of the key findings since the last IPCC assessment are provided in this brief.

Key Points from the Brief

1.      The link between fossil fuel emissions and many aspects of climate change is increasingly clear

2.      Ocean acidification severely threatens marine ecosystems and fisheries

3.      A better understanding of the behavior of large ice sheets combined with observations of rapid melting have raised
        projections of 21st-century global sea level rise.

4.      Surface melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet is accelerating.

5.      Antarctic ice shelves are collapsing more rapidly than expected

6.      Improved analysis suggests that Antarctica is warming.

7.      Arctic sea ice is melting more quickly than projected.

8.      Permafrost is thawing more quickly than previously thought.

9.      The impacts of climate change may persist for more than 1000 years, even after human-induced emissions of CO2
        stop completely.

10.    Unmitigated CO2 emissions will likely generate greater warming than previously estimated

Summary. The majority of the new scientific insights described in the brief are based entirely or partially on direct observations of climate change. Sea level is rising, global ice cover is diminishing, and biological systems are responding to climate change. In general, observed climate change is proceeding at a more rapid pace than anticipated by previous estimates or model projections. Recent revisions of projected changes are higher than earlier estimates and the IPCC projections published in 2007 now appear rather conservative in light of more recent observations and improved modeling techniques. Fortunately, strong policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can still avert the worst consequences of climate change.

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Key Messages from the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions

imageCopenhagen, Denmark 10-12 March 2009
The University of Copenhagen recently hosted the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change under the heading “Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions” on 10-12 March 2009.

The main aim of the congress was to provide a synthesis of existing and emerging scientific knowledge necessary in order to make intelligent societal decisions concerning application of mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to climate change. For more information see:A SUMMIT OF SCIENCE FOR POLITICS”.

The congress aimed to identify and synthesise the science, technology and policy advances required in order to ensure sustainability of global communities in the current and coming decades. The findings of the congress should be seen as a supplementary to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The six preliminary key messages were delivered by the Congress’ Scientific Writing Team resulting from the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change.

The conclusions will be published into a full synthesis report by June 2009.

The Danish Government will host the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009 and will hand over the conclusions to the decision makers ahead of the Conference. For further information about the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change, please visit their website.

Key Message 1 - Climatic Trends

Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

Key Message 2 - Social disruption

The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

Key Message 3 - Long-Term Strategy

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

Key Message 4 - Equity Dimensions

Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Key Message 5 - Inaction is Inexcusable

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches - economic, technological, behavioural, management - to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Key Message 6 - Meeting the Challenge

To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

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NEWS RELEASE - Climate change and fisheries and aquaculture: a call to action

image1 June 2009
Vulnerable fishing and coastal communities around the world will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts.  A group of 16 international organizations have urged climate negotiators to ensure that fisheries and aquaculture are not neglected in ongoing discussions regarding a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.


World Fish Center (Penang, Malaysia) | UN Food and Agriculture Organization (Rome, Italy)

WorldFish Center
Helen Leitch, The WorldFish Center (Penang, Malaysia/GMT +8)
Tel: (+60 4) 626 1606 (ext 269)
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Edward Allison, The WorldFish Center (Penang, Malaysia/GMT +8)
Tel (+60-4) 6202120
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) FAO

George Kourous, FAO (Rome, Italy/UTC/GMT +2)
Tel: (+39) 06 570 53168
Mobile: (+39) 348 141 6802
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Climate change and fisheries and aquaculture: a call to action
Responses to climate change must protect aquatic ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture — and make the most of them

1 June 2009, Penang/Rome —  Saying that vulnerable fishing and coastal communities around the world will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts, a group of 16 international organizations today have urged climate negotiators to ensure that fisheries and aquaculture are not neglected in ongoing discussions regarding a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

In a policy brief issued today in advance of UNFCC talks in Bonn, Germany, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, the WorldFish Center and 11 other organizations* warned that millions of fishers, fish farmers and coastal inhabitants will experience less stable livelihoods, changes in the availability and quality of fish for food, and heightened risks to their health, safety and homes as a result of climate change.

Many fishing and coastal communities subsist in precarious and vulnerable conditions because of poverty and rural underdevelopment, and their wellbeing is being further undermined by overexploitation of fishery resources and degraded ecosystems.

This situation risks being drastically worsened by climate change if immediate adaptation and mitigation measures are not effectively put in place, the brief says.

“Our aim here is to ensure that climate change negotiators and decision makers in their deliberations don’t forget our freshwaters, seas and oceans and those who depend on them,” said Kevern Cochrane of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. “They must address these aquatic environments and the fishing, aquaculture and other coastal communities whose livelihoods and even survival will be threatened by climate change.  Through their decisions and actions, they need to avoid policies that would damage already stressed aquatic resources and human lives and, instead, implement measures that take full advantage of the environmental and food security services that healthy aquatic resources offer.”

About 520 million people – around 8 percent of the world’s population – depend on fisheries and aquaculture as a source of protein, income or family stability. For 400 million of the poorest of these, fish provides half or more of their animal protein and dietary minerals.

Multiple impacts

The build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is known to be changing air and sea surface temperatures, rainfall and wind patterns, ocean acidity, sea levels and the intensity of tropical cyclones. Research has found that climate change is already modifying the distribution and productivity of marine and freshwater species, affecting biological processes, and altering food webs.

Aquatic ecosystems not only support fisheries by providing food, habitat and nursery grounds, the brief notes, but also protect communities from storms, which are predicted to become stronger and more frequent with climate change. Mangroves create barriers to destructive waves and hold sediments in place, reducing coastal erosion. Healthy coral reefs, sea grass beds and wetlands provide similar benefits.

Adaptation strategies, research and action needed

Adaptation and mitigation measures are needed to improve the management of fisheries and aquaculture and the integrity of aquatic ecosystems, respond to the threats to food and livelihood security posed by climate change, seize possible opportunities that arise with change, and help fisheries and aquaculture emit less greenhouse gas, according to the brief.

Research is required to understand the complex biological and chemical processes of aquatic ecosystems that, for example, determine the ocean carbon cycle and the currents and eddies that generate cyclones. Equally important is understanding how people adapt to living in a changing climate and how their institutions and livelihoods have evolved, and can further evolve, to maintain resilience in the face of future change.

The brief identifies a number of steps that should be taken to protect aquatic ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture:

• Adopt environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient fishing and aquaculture practices.
• Eliminate subsidies that promote overfishing and excess fishing capacity.
• Undertake assessments of local vulnerability and risk.
• Build local-level ocean climate models.
• Strengthen knowledge of the dynamics of biogeochemical cycles in aquatic ecosystems, especially of carbon and nitrogen.
• Encourage sustainable, environmentally friendly biofuel production from algae and seaweed.
• Explore carbon sequestration in aquatic ecosystems.
• Implement comprehensive and integrated ecosystem approaches to managing oceans, coastal zones, fisheries and aquaculture; to adapting to climate change; and to reducing risk from natural disasters.

The partnership is working together to get these messages to climate policy opinion-formers and decision-makers. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community has urged government delegates to next week’s UNFCCC meeting in Bonn to highlight the threats of climate change to the regions’ important fisheries (link to PacNews release).

And in an article recently published in Nature Reports: Climate Change two of the policy brief’s authors, Edward Allison of the World Fish Centre and Nicolas Dulvy of Simon Fraser University, further discussed the policy and research priorities that will help the fisheries sector to adapt to climate change as well as contribute to mitigation.


*Organizations endorsing the policy brief:

Benguela Current Commission
European Bureau for Conservation and Development (EBCD)
Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC)
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization (UNESCO-IOC)
International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)
Network of Aquaculture Centres in Central-Eastern Europe (NACEE)
Organización del Sector Pesquero y Acuícola del Istmo Centroamericano (OSPESCA)
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC)
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)
The Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA)
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN ISDR)
World Bank
WorldFish Center


Read the policy brief:

Read the Nature commentary:

World Fish Center:

FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department:

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