Coastal communities exposed to multiple climate-related hazards, including tropical cyclones

glacier

Excerpts from “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, a summary for policymakers formally approved at the Second Joint Session of Working Groups I and II of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and accepted by the 51th Session of the IPCC, Principality of Monaco, September 24, 2019:

Sea level continues to rise at an increasing rate. Extreme sea level events that are historically rare (once per century in the recent past) are projected to occur frequently (at least once per year) at many locations by 2050. Increased mean and extreme sea level, alongside ocean warming and acidification, are projected to exacerbate risks for human communities in low-lying coastal areas.

Enabling climate resilience and sustainable development depends critically on urgent and ambitious emissions reductions coupled with coordinated sustained and increasingly ambitious adaptation actions. Education and climate literacy, monitoring and forecasting, use of all available knowledge sources, sharing of data, information and knowledge, finance, addressing social vulnerability and equity, and institutional support are also essential. Such investments enable capacity-building, social learning, and participation in context-specific adaptation, as well as the negotiation of trade-offs and realisation of co-benefits in reducing short-term risks and building long-term resilience and sustainability.

All people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean and cryosphere. The global ocean covers 71% of the Earth surface and contains about 97% of the Earth’s water. The cryosphere refers to frozen components of the Earth system. Around 10% of Earth’s land area is covered by glaciers or ice sheets. The ocean and cryosphere support unique habitats, and are interconnected with other components of the climate system through global exchange of water, energy and carbon. The projected responses of the ocean and cryosphere to past and current human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and ongoing global warming include climate feedbacks, changes over decades to millennia that cannot be avoided, thresholds of abrupt change, and irreversibility.

It is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. Coastal ecosystems are affected by ocean warming, including intensified marine heatwaves, acidification, loss of oxygen, salinity intrusion and sea level rise, in combination with adverse effects from human activities on ocean and land.

Coastal ecosystems are affected by ocean warming, including intensified marine heatwaves, acidification, loss of oxygen, salinity intrusion and sea level rise, in combination with adverse effects from human activities on ocean and land. Coastal communities are exposed to multiple climate-related hazards, including tropical cyclones, extreme sea levels and flooding, marine heatwaves, sea ice loss, and permafrost thaw.

Global-scale glacier mass loss, permafrost thaw, and decline in snow cover and Arctic sea ice extent are projected to continue in the near-term (2031–2050) due to surface air temperature increases, with unavoidable consequences for river runoff and local hazards. The Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets are projected to lose mass at an increasing rate throughout the 21st century and beyond.

Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions with increased temperatures (virtually certain), greater upper ocean stratification, further acidification (virtually certain), oxygen decline, and altered net primary production. Marine heatwaves and extreme El Niño and La Niña events are projected to become more frequent.

Over the last decades, global warming has led to widespread shrinking of the cryosphere, with mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers, reductions in snow cover  and Arctic sea ice extent and thickness, and increased permafrost temperature.

It is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. Since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled. Marine heatwaves have very likely doubled in frequency since 1982 and are increasing in intensity. By absorbing more CO2, the ocean has undergone increasing surface acidification. A loss of oxygen has occurred from the surface to 1000 m.

Global mean sea level (GMSL) is rising, with acceleration in recent decades due to increasing rates of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, as well as continued glacier mass loss and ocean thermal expansion. Increases in tropical cyclone winds and rainfall, and increases in extreme waves, combined with relative sea level rise, exacerbate extreme sea level events and coastal hazards.

Cryospheric and associated hydrological changes have impacted terrestrial and freshwater species and ecosystems in high mountain and polar regions through the appearance of land previously covered by ice, changes in snow cover, and thawing permafrost. These changes have contributed to changing the seasonal activities, abundance and distribution of ecologically, culturally, and economically important plant and animal species, ecological disturbances, and ecosystem functioning. .

Since about 1950 many marine species across various groups have undergone shifts in geographical range and seasonal activities in response to ocean warming, sea ice change and biogeochemical changes, such as oxygen loss, to their habitats. This has resulted in shifts in species composition, abundance and biomass production of ecosystems, from the equator to the poles. Altered interactions between species have caused cascading impacts on ecosystem structure and functioning. In some marine ecosystems species are impacted by both the effects of fishing and climate changes.

Coastal ecosystems are affected by ocean warming, including intensified marine heatwaves, acidification, loss of oxygen, salinity intrusion and sea level rise, in combination with adverse effects from human activities on ocean and land. Impacts are already observed on habitat area and biodiversity, as well as ecosystem functioning and services.

Since the mid-20th century, the shrinking cryosphere in the Arctic and high-mountain areas has led to predominantly negative impacts on food security, water resources, water quality, livelihoods, health and well-being, infrastructure, transportation, tourism and recreation, as well as culture of human societies, particularly for Indigenous peoples . Costs and benefits have been unequally distributed across populations and regions. Adaptation efforts have benefited from the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge.

Changes in the ocean have impacted marine ecosystems and ecosystem services with regionally diverse outcomes, challenging their governance. Both positive and negative impacts result for food security through fisheries, local cultures and livelihoods, and tourism and recreation. The impacts on ecosystem services have negative consequences for health and well-being, and for Indigenous peoples and local communities dependent on fisheries.

Coastal communities are exposed to multiple climate-related hazards, including tropical cyclones, extreme sea levels and flooding, marine heatwaves, sea ice loss, and permafrost thaw. A diversity of responses has been implemented worldwide, mostly after extreme events, but also some in anticipation of future sea level rise, e.g., in the case of large infrastructure.

Global-scale glacier mass loss, permafrost thaw, and decline in snow cover and Arctic sea ice extent are projected to continue in the near-term (2031–2050) due to surface air temperature increases, with unavoidable consequences for river runoff and local hazards. The Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets are projected to lose mass at an increasing rate throughout the 21st century and beyond. The rates and magnitudes of these cryospheric changes are projected to increase further in the second half of the 21st century in a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Strong reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades are projected to reduce further changes after 2050.

Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions with increased temperatures (virtually certain), greater upper ocean stratification, further acidification (virtually certain), oxygen decline, and altered net primary production. Marine heatwaves and extreme El Niño and La Niña events are projected to become more frequent. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is projected to weaken. The rates and magnitudes of these changes will be smaller under scenarios with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Sea level continues to rise at an increasing rate. Extreme sea level events that are historically rare (once per century in the recent past) are projected to occur frequently (at least once per year) at many locations by 2050, especially in tropical regions. The increasing frequency of high water levels can have severe impacts in many locations depending on exposure. Sea level rise is projected to continue beyond 2100. For a high emissions scenario, projections of global sea level rise by 2100 are greater due to a larger contribution from the Antarctic Ice Sheet. In coming centuries, sea level rise is projected to exceed rates of several centimetres per year resulting in multi-metre rise.

Future land cryosphere changes will continue to alter terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems in high-mountain and polar regions with major shifts in species distributions resulting in changes in ecosystem structure and functioning, and eventual loss of globally unique biodiversity. Wildfire is projected to increase significantly for the rest of this century across most tundra and boreal regions, and also in some mountain regions.

A decrease in global biomass of marine animal communities, their production, and fisheries catch potential, and a shift in species composition are projected over the 21st century in ocean ecosystems from the surface to the deep seafloor under all emission scenarios. The rate and magnitude of decline are projected to be highest in the tropics, whereas impacts remain diverse in polar regions and increase for high emission scenarios. Ocean acidification, oxygen loss and reduced sea ice extent as well as non-climatic human activities have the potential to exacerbate these warming-induced ecosystem impacts.

Risks of severe impacts on biodiversity, structure and function of coastal ecosystems are projected to be higher for elevated temperatures under high compared to low emissions scenarios in the 21st century and beyond. Projected ecosystem responses include losses of species habitat and diversity, and degradation of ecosystem functions. The capacity of organisms and ecosystems to adjust and adapt is higher at lower emissions scenarios. For sensitive ecosystems such as seagrass meadows and kelp forests, high risks are projected if global warming exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial temperature, combined with other climate-related hazards. Warm water corals are at high risk already and are projected to transition to very high risk even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C.

Future cryosphere changes on land are projected to affect water resources and their uses, such as hydropower  and irrigated agriculture in and downstream of high-mountain areas, as well as livelihoods in the Arctic. Changes in floods, avalanches, landslides, and ground destabilization are projected to increase risk for infrastructure, cultural, tourism, and recreational assets.

Future shifts in fish distribution and decreases in their abundance and fisheries catch potential due to climate change are projected to affect income, livelihoods, and food security of marine resource-dependent communities. Long-term loss and degradation of marine ecosystems compromises the ocean’s role in cultural, recreational, and intrinsic values important for human identity and well-being.

Increased mean and extreme sea level, alongside ocean warming and acidification, are projected to exacerbate risks for human communities in low-lying coastal areas. In Arctic human communities without rapid land uplift, and in urban atoll islands, risks are projected to be moderate to high even under a low emissions scenario, including reaching adaptation limits. Under a high emissions scenario, delta regions and resource rich coastal cities are projected to experience moderate to high risk levels after 2050 under current adaptation. Ambitious adaptation including transformative governance is expected to reduce risk , but with context-specific benefits.

Impacts of climate-related changes in the ocean and cryosphere increasingly challenge current governance efforts to develop and implement adaptation responses from local to global scales, and in some cases pushing them to their limits. People with the highest exposure and vulnerability are often those with lowest capacity to respond.

The far-reaching services and options provided by ocean and cryosphere-related ecosystems can be supported by protection, restoration, precautionary ecosystem-based management of renewable resource use, and the reduction of pollution and other stressors. Integrated water management and ecosystem-based adaptation  approaches lower climate risks locally and provide multiple societal benefits. However, ecological, financial, institutional and governance constraints for such actions exist , and in many contexts ecosystem-based adaptation will only be effective under the lowest levels of warming .

Coastal communities face challenging choices in crafting context-specific and integrated responses to sea level rise that balance costs, benefits and trade-offs of available options and that can be adjusted over time. All types of options, including protection, accommodation, ecosystem-based adaptation, coastal advance and retreat, wherever possible, can play important roles in such integrated responses.

Enabling climate resilience and sustainable development depends critically on urgent and ambitious emissions reductions coupled with coordinated sustained and increasingly ambitious adaptation actions. Key enablers for implementing effective responses to climate-related changes in the ocean and cryosphere include intensifying cooperation and coordination among governing authorities across spatial scales and planning horizons.

Education and climate literacy, monitoring and forecasting, use of all available knowledge sources, sharing of data, information and knowledge, finance, addressing social vulnerability and equity, and institutional support are also essential. Such investments enable capacity-building, social learning, and participation in context-specific adaptation, as well as the negotiation of trade-offs and realisation of co-benefits in reducing short-term risks and building long-term resilience and sustainability.

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