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The impacts of global warming are happening anyway

By Eric Claus - posted Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report recently entitled Global Warming of 1.5oC. The report describes how the impacts from warming of 2.0o C will be much more severe than the impacts from warming of 1.5o C. The response from Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party in Australia has been to reject the report's credibility and importance. This has led to promises to substantially increase greenhouse gas reduction targets from the Labor party and the Greens. In America Donald Trump has said he "will be looking at" the report. His critics say this is simply a stalling strategy in the hopes that other news events will overtake the IPCC report and he can continue to do nothing about global warming.

All this attention to the report is probably somewhat misplaced, though. The truth is that we are likely to experience most of the IPCC's list of impacts regardless of whether we radically cut our carbon emissions or not (although the impacts will be worse if we don't cut our emissions). And before the deniers get revved up, the reason is NOT because global warming isn't man-made or because global warming is unstoppable anyway. The reason is that we are damaging the global environment in hundreds of other ways, that are just as serious as the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Global warming is the environmental issue that dominates the media and political landscape, but without stabilisation of population, more efficient utilisation of resources and reduction of pollution most of the same impacts are still going to happen. Global warming is just one of the ways we are damaging our future way of life. Global warming isn't even the most important factor in several of the impacts that the IPCC identifies in its report. When the likelihood of so many environmental impacts occurring regardless of our policy responses to global warming, there should be some reconsideration of Australia's overall environmental policy agenda.


The IPCC report is a whopper to get your head around, but the space here is limited. As a compromise the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) has been chosen as an easy enough document to access the findings of the report while still including enough detail so that it can be compared with the other impacts that we are inflicting on ourselves.


Section B3.1 of the SPM makes the following statement:

Of 105,000 species studied, 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C (medium confidence).

Losing half of an organism's geographical range means more organisms crammed into less space, which means die-off of many organisms and some extinctions. The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report using 14,000 monitored populations of vertebrates concluded that just between 1970 and 2012 the population abundance had decreased by 58% and was likely to decline by 67% by 2020. The Living Planet Report lists climate change as the fifth most important threat to wildlife decline after habitat loss and degradation, species overexploitation (overfishing and poaching), pollution and invasive species and disease. Habitat loss, species overexploitation and pollution are likely to increase as quickly as climate change with rising population, so these factors are much more likely to bring reductions in species numbers than global warming.

Section B4.2 of the SPM makes the following statement:


Global warming of 1.5°C is projected to shift the ranges of many marine species, to higher latitudes as well as increase the amount of damage to many ecosystems. It is also expected to drive the loss of coastal resources, and reduce the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture (especially at low latitudes). The risks of climate-induced impacts are projected to be higher at 2°C than those at global warming of 1.5°C (high confidence).

Similar to the terrestrial ecosystems, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and National Geographic list unsustainable fishing, inadequate protection of marine areas, tourism and development, shipping, oil and gas drilling, water pollution, air pollution and aquaculture along with climate change as significant threats to ocean ecosystems.

In summary: plants, animals and oceans are stuffed regardless of how we handle greenhouse emissions.

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About the Author

Eric Claus has worked in civil and environmental engineering for over 20 years.

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