Stockholm (NordSIP) – The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) published a Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. In the document, the IPCC warns against the dangers of melting ice sheets, rising sea levels and extreme sea-leave events.
One hundred authors from 36 countries contributed to this study, reviewing about 7,000 scientific publications related to the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate for the report. Based on these insights, the report recommended reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting and restoring ecosystems, and carefully managing the use of natural resources. Pursuing these steps would allow the preservation of the ocean and cryosphere – the frozen parts of the planet – as a source of opportunities that support adaptation to future changes.
“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC. “The rapid changes to the ocean and the frozen parts of our planet are forcing people from coastal cities to remote Arctic communities to fundamentally alter their ways of life,” she added.
The study is also the first IPCC report that highlights the importance of education to enhance climate change, ocean and cryosphere literacy. The report highlights the benefits of combining scientific expertise with local and indigenous knowledge to develop suitable options to manage climate change risks and enhance resilience.
The report focused on risks stemming from four issues: changes in mountains, melting ice and rising seas, extreme sea-level events, and changing ocean ecosystems.
Mountains and Rising Sea Levels
Glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are declining and will continue to do so, according to the report. These changes will decrease water availability for local communities in mountains while increasing hazards for people, for example through landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods for people downstream. Smaller glaciers found in Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia are projected to lose more than 80% of their current ice mass by 2100 under high emission scenarios.
The melting of ice sheets is also contributing to an acceleration of the rise in sea levels. The report shows that after increasing at an equivalent average rate of 15mm per year during the whole of the 20th century, the increase in sea levels accelerated to 3.6mm per year between 2006-2015. Sea level increases may reach around 30-60 cm by 2100 if global warming is limited to well below 2°C, or as much as 60-110 cm if greenhouse gas emissions increase beyond that scenario.
Extreme sea/level and Ocean Ecosystems
Extreme sea-level events such as high magnitude tropical storms and cyclones that historically were only recorded happening once in a century are also likely to start occurring annually in the coming decades. Such an escalation would lead some low-lying cities and island nation to become uninhabitable.
Continued pollution and the increased temperatures it creates will also affect the oceans. Ocean warming and acidification, loss of oxygen and changes in nutrient supplies, will undermine marine life in coastal areas and the open seas. These developments will threaten the livelihood and food security of those communities.
Another call to Action
The report is another call to action. It is up to policy-makers to ensure the necessary debate takes place and policies are adopted to prepare and adapt for the changes ahead. No one can say we were not warned.
“The more decisively and the earlier we act, the more able we will be to address unavoidable changes, manage risks, improve our lives and achieve sustainability for ecosystems and people around the world – today and in the future,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
Image from IPCC report presentation from Youtube