Developing countries must prepare for large-scale change

November 02, 2009

Even if the outcome of the December climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, are positive, scientific forecasts suggest that temperature rises in the next few decades are unavoidable. Human societies and economies are vulnerable to the associated negative impacts, particularly in South America, Africa and Asia.

This week (4-6 November), an international group of experts meet in Brazil to discuss how global change will affect nations, with a focus on developing countries.

The researchers will discuss the most effective ways societies might respond to the inevitable temperature rise and related global environmental changes. In particular, world-leading natural- and social scientists will consider the best ways to identify and address societal vulnerabilities and adapt to change.

The group will seek to improve understanding of the financial and human costs and institutional challenges associated with climate-change mitigation and adaptation. An important part of this work is to consider how climate-change mitigation and adaptation could underpin the needed economic growth, social justice and sustainability in developing countries.

Dr. Carlos Nobre, a scientist at the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) and chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), says that, for example, temperature increases are likely to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forests by savannah in eastern Amazonia by 2050, a scenario which could have enormous, deleterious environmental and economic impacts on Brazil.

In drier areas of Africa and South America, climate change is expected to lead to desertification of agricultural land. Livestock productivity is expected to decline and the productivity of some important crops is projected to decrease in some African countries by as much as 50 percent by 2020, with adverse consequences for regional food security. By contrast, soybean yields in temperate zones are projected to increase.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-sponsor of the meeting, climate change may cause between 75 million and 250 million people to suffer water shortages in Africa.

In large parts of Asia, freshwater availability is likely to decrease due to climate change, potentially adversely affecting more than a billion people by the 2050s. Coastal areas, especially the heavily-populated megadeltas, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and, in some megadeltas, flooding from the rivers.

The intensity and frequency of tropical storms and cyclones is projected to increase and together with sea-level rise this will have negative effects on freshwater supply and productive agricultural land among small island developing states (SIDS) in particular. With the majority of their infrastructure and industry located close to the coast, SIDS will face higher per capita costs from climate-related risks and extreme events.

The researchers meeting in São Paulo have already established an urgent need to build stronger networks of policymakers and scientists between countries in the developing world, many of which face similar challenges.
The three-day meeting, which is hosted by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE), is sponsored by IPCC, IGBP, and the Earth System Science Partnership. It is a follow-up and extension of recent meetings which focused on the same topic at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, USA ("Workshop on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Community Coordination," 8-9 January 2009) and an Earth System Science Partnership meeting in Amsterdam ("Future Climate-Change Response Research: Learning from IPCC's AR4," 21-23 January 2009). A key difference is that this meeting centres on developing countries.

International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

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