Forests Asia Summit 2014 – Rajendra Pachauri, Day 2 Keynote Speech

Watch Rajendra Pachauri (Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) deliver his keynote speech on ‘Climate change, forests and landscapes’. From the second day of the Forests Asia Summit 2014.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014.

Forests Asia Summit, 5-6 May 2014, Jakarta, #ForestsAsia

Rajendra Pachauri’s speech:

Let me first tell you about how the IPCC has been operating, and how we’ve completed this fifth assessment report.

Just to give you an indication, when we start an assessment cycle, we organize what is called a scoping meeting. And, typically in a scoping meeting, as was the case this time, we have about 200 people, and these are scientists, these are government officials, and a whole lot of other very distinguished professionals, who get together over a period of four or five days and then map out the outline of the report: what is it that the report should contain?

Based on that, which is finalized by the panel as a whole – the Intergovernmental Panel incidentally consists of 195 member countries, and all their decisions have to be taken by consensus – so the scoping document, which is produced as I just described, will then be presented to the panel. The panel may make some modifications and changes and finally approve of it. So that then becomes our charter for carrying out an assessment.

And, for the fifth assessment report, we actually gathered for the scoping meeting in 2008 and then got moving with the assessment itself. In order to mobilize the best scientific talent from all over the world, we write to all the governments and several international organizations to solicit the nominations of authors. And just to give you a set of numbers, in this last assessment we got roughly 3,000 nominations of excellent authors with their CVs and their track record of publications and so on. And out of that we selected 831.

Then they start working on the report, and at various stages of the draft they send these out for expert reviews and the final version goes to governments as well, for review by governments. And they give us comments, and each comment has to be taken into account. Now of course not all of them may be accepted, but the authors have to consider each single comment and record whether it was accepted or not accepted. If it’s not accepted, then you have to assign reasons why a comment was not accepted.

So I’m describing this only to highlight the fact that this is an extremely rigorous process and a very transparent process. It’s not as though these are things that are done by a small group of people. Overall, each assessment is the final effort of thousands of scientists. Just to give you a set of numbers, the Working Group 1 report had 209 lead authors. They had 50 review editors. Review editors are like monitors; they make sure that every comment that is received from the review is taken into account by the authors and properly dealt with. And we got for the Working Group 1 report about 54,700 comments. And the report itself assessed 9,200 scientific publications.

The IPCC does not carry out any research itself; it basically carries out an assessment of published literature on a set of subjects and then comes up with an assessment. And similarly, in the Working Group 3 report, which came out less than a month ago, we had 235 lead authors and 38 review editors and we had about 10,000 references that were quoted in the report, and we received about 38,000 comments. So I merely wanted to start with this brief introduction because I’m afraid these are facts which are not very well known.

Now, some of the findings of this report, and I’ll go into the general findings in a short while, but let me say as far as forests are concerned, they are being affected by climate change in a variety of ways. Firstly, forests have grown in different regions, different locations, over thousands of years. And they are therefore attuned to the climatic, the agricultural, soil conditions of a particular location, but with changes in climate, clearly, some of them may not be entirely suitable for a particular location. So as a result there’s a migration of species that is taking place.

Typically if you are in a mountain area, and you have a certain set of species which grow in the lower reaches and then as, let’s say, the temperature in the lower reaches goes up, then those species will migrate to higher levels, to higher altitudes. This actually is happening with all kinds of species. If you go to some parts of the world where there was a certain set of fish that were in abundance, typically with climate change you would find those stocks of fish moving to locations which are more in keeping with climatic conditions that existed where they were earlier on.

So one of the implications of climate change is the fact that forests are going to move, trees are going to move from one location to the other. Another major impact of climate change is that we are seeing a substantial increase in heat waves as well as extreme precipitation events. Now in the case of heat waves, clearly you’re creating conditions or the world is creating conditions by which fires will break out far more often and far more seriously. And that may be one reason that you find an outbreak of forest fires on the increase in different parts of the world, ranging from Australia to Russia to California and so on. So that’s another one of the impacts of climate change on the forestry sector. And undoubtedly there would also be other impacts that might not allow certain species to grow in as healthy a manner as has been the case historically. But I’ll say a little more about these issues.

Let me go into some of the major findings of the three working group reports that we have brought out. Well, one major finding that we came up with was that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. And since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. So, in other words, in a short period of time, we have influenced the climate of this planet in a manner that has not happened for millennia.

The atmosphere and the oceans have warmed. The amounts of snow and ice have diminished. Sea level has risen. And the concentrations of greenhouse gases have gone up. And these are facts that I’m stating on the basis of observations and measurements that go back at least a couple of hundred years and in some cases even longer.

Now what’s particularly relevant is the fact that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. So you can say, in fact, that in the northern hemisphere the period 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last fourteen hundred years. And this means that clearly the rate of increase of temperature is going up.

Now it’s also true that ocean warming in recent decades has dominated the increase in energy stored in the climate system. In fact, ocean warming, all the heat absorbed by the oceans, accounts for about ninety percent of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. So, as a result, we have found that the oceans are now warmed at least to a depth of 700 m and this has major implications for marine life and marine ecosystems. Not directly affecting forests as such, but after all, land areas are also affected substantially by what happens in the oceans because of changes in circulation, changes in wind patterns, and so on. But, most importantly, this has major implications for marine species and marine ecosystems. And, frankly speaking, not enough research has been done in this area, and there is some concern that warming of the oceans could have far more serious implications then we know at this point in time.

The other thing that we have to be concerned about as citizens of planet Earth is the fact that on account of the melting of the bodies of ice across the globe and thermal expansion of the oceans, the sea level has been rising and it has risen much more rapidly in recent years than was the case earlier. So much so that we can say that the rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger then the mean rate during the previous two millennia. So, since industrialization sea level rise has been much faster then the period going back two millennia in time. In the period 1901-2010, global mean sea level rose by about 19 cm.

So this may not be of great concern to a mountaintop in Switzerland, but if you’re living in an island nation, as indeed is the case with Indonesia or, perhaps even worse, the small island states and low-lying coastal areas as you have in Bangladesh, then there is reason for concern.

I also want to mention that all of this is driven by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases across the globe, and, as a matter of fact, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Now here again there is an important impact on the oceans in the sense that the oceans have absorbed 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide and this is causing ocean acidification. This has already affected some the coral reefs in different parts of the world, but we really don’t know all the impact that this is going to have on marine life and marine ecosystems.

It’s also true that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin. The Arctic, incidentally, is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe. So much so that based on some models a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely for one of the scenarios. We have actually assessed four different scenarios for the future, and the one that I’m referring to is the one which you could call a ‘do-nothing’ scenario. In other words, the world says, “We’re not going to do anything about climate change. We’re not going to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Let’s continue with growth of these emissions, growth of the economy the way it is, with business as usual.” Well, in that case, we have assessed that by the middle of the century, you could have a September ice-free Arctic sea, Arctic region, or at least Arctic Ocean. So this clearly is a very serious change.

I also want to mention that one of our findings was that if we want to maintain temperature increase below 2°C, and if you take into account all the greenhouse gases, then really speaking we have a ‘budget’, you might say, ranging from 800 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent to 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Now, by 2011, we had already used up 515 gigatonnes of this capacity, because 515 gigatonnes is the cumulative emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases that have been produced between the period 1750-2010, that means in the period of industrialization. So we have a very small space that is available to us now if we want to maintain temperature increase below 2°C. And, as it is, in 2010, the world was emitting 49 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases. And this 49 gigatonnes incidentally includes 10 gigatons which have increased in the period 2000-2010. In other words, each year we are emitting 1 gigaton more than the previous year beginning in 2000.

So, it’s interesting that we have a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came into existence in 1992. We had the Kyoto Protocol, which was essentially the offshoot and what you might say the operational arm of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But, in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases, if anything, they are growing faster than any time in the past. So there is reason for concern, there is reason for action.

I’m conscious of the time, so I’m not going to get into too much detail, but let me say that the risk of climate-related impacts result from interaction of climate-related hazards with their vulnerability in exposure of human and natural systems. And clearly, some human systems are far more vulnerable than others. As it happens the impacts of climate change are extremely heavy for some of the poorest sections of society. We have also clearly found that in those societies where you have a large difference between the rich and the poor, then both for developed and developing countries, climate change is likely to lead to expanding pockets of poverty. So if anyone in a prosperous nation believes that climate change is not going to be of any significance to them is obviously wrong, because climate change will have impacts across the globe.

I already mentioned the fact that we will have many more heat waves and extreme precipitation events. Now, these obviously cause a lot of damage and they are also a threat to life and property. In fact, I’d like to mention key risks across sectors and regions. Some are unique and threaten ecosystems that are already at risk from climate change, and climate change risks of course range from extreme events that I’ve mentioned (two of them at least). And these are generally unevenly distributed. They, of course, cross the globe, but there are some areas that are going to be far more vulnerable than others. I also want to mention that there’s extensive biodiversity loss which results from high risks around three degrees’ additional warming. So in other words, if we allow climate change to continue unmitigated, if we are going to add three more degrees to average global temperature, then there’s a huge and very serious loss of biodiversity that we would be confronted with. And in fact, so much so that if we allow temperatures to increase further, we could see some irreversible and abrupt changes. These incidentally could include things like complete loss of the Greenland ice sheet that would occur over of course over a long period of time, and this if it happens could contribute to sea-level rise, which could be as high as 7 m.

Now I want to mention that there is an urgency in our being able to deal with climate change, and we need a set of measures involving adaptation as well as mitigation. It can’t be that we confine our efforts only to one or the other, because in order to deal with climate change you need a combination of both. Now, in the case of mitigation, we have found, for instance, that again if you want to maintain temperature increase to below 2°C, then we would have to bring about a major change in energy supply and another sector that would have to be targeted is what we call the AFOLU sector.

But let me first talk about the energy supply sector. Well what would be required by the middle of this century is essentially trebling or quadrupling of low-carbon or zero-carbon energy supply. So this clearly means that we have to move very rapidly to order the use of renewable energy. We certainly have to improve the efficiency of energy use, and that will have to be done sector by sector – ranging from safe transport, to industry, to of course even in our homes. And all of this is certainly within reach, because several of the technologies by which we can start implementing mitigation measures are available to us today.

I also want to mention that the AFOLU sector, which is Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use sector, combined account for about 24% of the total emissions of greenhouse gases. And we therefore find that this is another sector which has great opportunities for mitigation. Towards the end of the century, if we want to stabilize emissions of greenhouse gases such that temperature increase will not exceed 2°C, we will probably have to get into a zone of negative emissions, and that can only happen if we’re able to use carbon capture and storage technologies and we’re able to use bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage.

So, I think the path that we have to follow is very clear, if the world wants to limit temperature increase to 2°C. And that in a sense should be seen as an opportunity rather than something that would add a burden to different societies across the globe. And the good news also is that the cost of this of pathway of mitigation is really very low. We have estimated that in order to bring about this kind of a reduction in emissions, the loss in consumption per year globally would be no more than 0.06% of the global GDP. And if you want to look at this, let’s say, for a particular year like 2013 – this would amount to barely 1.7% of the global GDP being lost in the form of lost consumption.

But there are huge co-benefits in bringing this about. What are the co-benefits? Well, firstly there will be much higher energy security. Secondly, the level of pollution at the local level would be much lower. Thirdly, ecosystems would be protected. Fourthly, there is growing evidence that even employment opportunities would be much higher. So if you look at the co-benefits, which often don’t get accounted for, then clearly even this cost, which I mention of say 1.7% of the global GDP, will be reduced considerably.

The other side of the coin is something that we should also look at, and that is the benefits of avoiding some of the worst impacts of climate change. And the worst impacts of climate change are going to be not only in the nature of the extreme events that I mentioned – heat waves, extreme precipitation events – but also in respect of the impact on human health, on agriculture, therefore on food security.

In fact, we have found particularly in the fifth assessment report that the impacts of climate change on agriculture are far more serious than what we had known earlier. And this is particularly so for crops like wheat, maize and rice. The other day I was listening to a fairly enlightened discussion on what’s going to happen to coffee plantations. And now, coffee plantations and several plantation crops in general are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Therefore you could see a significant decline in productivity in some of these areas. When that happens, the price of coffee would go up significantly. So if CIFOR is going to organize this meeting, maybe ten years from now, you would be better off not serving us so much coffee as you have generously been doing so far.

So I think these are issues that we need to take into account, and the impacts of climate change, of course in the case of sea level rise, can be quite harmful. We have estimated that if let us say we go along with what I call the ‘do nothing’ scenario which is called the RCPA.5 scenario, then by the end of this century we could get a sea level rise of as much as 0.98 m – that’s almost a meter. I mean what really a meter. And if that happens then obviously the geography of the planet will be changed, because there are some parts of the world which clearly would be submerged. What is even more serious is the fact that even those regions which are not going to be submerged will suffer from storm surges, from coastal flooding, which would cause enormous damage. Even without being submerged.

So overall I think dealing with climate change is essentially an exercise in risk management. What we need to do is to evaluate the risks of not taking any action and therefore the risks associated with some of the growing impacts of climate change, and on the other hand looking at actions by which we can bring about a stabilization of the Earth’s atmosphere by mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases and at the same time harvesting what one might call some numerous co-benefits from mitigation

So, overall – since I’m conscious of the time and I should possibly end now – overall, may I say that what we really are confronting is the possibility of some serious damages if we don’t take action. Or setting on a course by which we bring about mitigation of emissions of greenhouse gases, and in the bargain create a much cleaner planet, a whole set of conditions by which hopefully we would have a better world to live in. And I also want to highlight in closing the fact that we have estimated if we don’t do anything then indirectly there could also be the possibility of a disruption of peace. Because you can imagine, in those parts of the world where water scarcity is going to increase, clearly as it is part of the impact of climate change, we could have conflict taking place on a local basis, which often has a tendency to multiply and become a global issue. And there would also be a large-scale displacement of people that can also create serious problems.

So overall it’s not merely a mechanical or an economic assessment that one has to be concerned with but also the very root of society, the very basis on which we have had tradition, societal practices, and I would say the evolution of human civilization. Now, this is something that is not a matter that could be exaggerated, but I think these are issues that we need to take into account. So overall may I say that while forests are an extremely important part of the ecosystems that would be affected by the impacts of climate change, and therefore we will have to take some adaptation measures at least for the next few decades, because we are already locked into a certain level of climate change on account of the emissions that have taken place in the past and those that will take place in the next few decades.

But that in itself will not be enough. Adaptation will have to be combined with mitigation at the global level, by which we are able to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. And that I think is the challenge. That I think is the requirement that we have before us. And I hope the science of climate change will be an important determinant of what human society does in order to give people and all species that live on this planet a far more secure and a better future. Thank you very much.