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Suffering the Science: climate Change, people and poverty

by Luna Allison | May 11, 2010

Two years ago, thousands of scientists came together in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We agreed that the climate system was warming unequivocally, and that if current rates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity continue, the world would see further warming, accompanied by more extreme weather and sea-level rise, and risks of abrupt and irreversible change.

Earlier this spring, scientists meeting in Copenhagen reiterated and updated the evidence for climate change. We concluded that the scientific evidence has now become overwhelming and that human activities, especially the combustion of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate in ways that threaten the well-being and continued development of human society.

We reported that recent observations show that GHG emissions are at the higher end of those considered by the IPCC. Some of the most worrying new science focuses on the likelihood of more extreme droughts as a result of global warming, and of large-scale and possible abrupt changes in arctic, mountain, and tropical forest ecosystems.

Social scientists emphasized that vulnerability to these changes, especially in poor nations and communities, is high, and that because the effects of climate change have unequal impacts there is a clear need for strategies and funds for adaptation. Many of us now feel that if we do not act now there is a significant chance that we will be looking at a world warmer by 4ºC, with profound social and ecological consequences.

All of these reasons for concern have added urgency to the search for the political will to implement the solutions already identified by the IPCC and others, including the decarbonisation of our societies, and the reduction of vulnerabilities through adaptation and poverty alleviation.

This Oxfam study reflects the latest science and adds powerful human stories to our understanding of climate risk and vulnerabilities. It adds an important and authoritative voice to the urgent call for urgent reductions in emissions and attention to adaptation.

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