By Alexandra Bower

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently reported on the risks of climate change for the first time in seven years, and the outlook isn’t pretty.

The IPCC states that the world is “ill-prepared” for the effects of a changing climate, which are only expected to worsen. From rising sea levels because of melting ice caps and more extreme storms and weather patterns to changes in Arctic and forest systems and strange species migration, there will be increased threats to public health and food supply. Carbon stored in forests is vulnerable to loss to the atmosphere because of climate change, deforestation and environmental degradation. Tree mortality and wildfire occurrences will increase around the world because of increased temperatures and drought, posing a risk to biodiversity and timber production.

And for the first time reported, our global security is also now at risk. Civil wars and conflict between nations and refugees will worsen because of added threats and amplified “drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shock.” Reduced energy and water resources, mass hunger, increasing mass migrations, and extreme weather will make it harder for nations to control their citizens, creating destabilized situations. In 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited climate change as a cause for strife in the Darfur region of Sudan. While the recent IPCC report downplays climate change as a role in that conflict, it mentions a common concern: Global warming escalates the threat of fighting in comparable situations.

At this point, adaption methods can only do so much. While easing the pressure of climate change, it faces limits without strident declines of greenhouse gases emissions. And because trees obviously move slower than animal friends, the adaptation cycle is longer and trees are greatly affected by a warming climate.

UN IPCC climate change and trees
This chart from the IPCC report shows the maximum speed at which a variety of plant and animal species can move in kilometers per decade. Credit: U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This being said, the 2015 Paris climate talks are of even more importance than before. The Paris negotiations were to be the next step in negotiations after the talks in Copenhagen in 2009. A new, binding, and inclusive emissions-reducing deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol is supposed to be formed and these most recent IPCC warnings are to play a key role in the discussions. However, the partisanship in Congress has made the Obama administration’s $1 billion climate resilience fund for fiscal year 2015 a long shot, and the upcoming Paris climate talks hopeless. Congress is reluctant to support emission-reduction legislation and tends to halt any decisions made by the Obama administration. Some members of Congress are determined to undercut the EPA’s regulatory system for greenhouse gas emissions and bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding the President’s proposed climate change plan.

This all despite the U.S. Department of Defense recently declaring climate change a “threat multiplier” in its recent quadrennial strategic review. The Pentagon report says warming will cause an assortment of problems, aggravating “issues of poor governance, resource inequality and social unrest,”  but could also provide new opportunities for exploiting resources and trade routes because of a melting Arctic and rising sea levels. Dwindling resources, including wood products, are cited as reasons for the IPCC to associate global and local conflict and climate change.

While some environmentalists see the link between conflict and climate change as clear, others are tentative to declare causation. They say the link is weaker than the IPCC report makes it out to be, and some state that poverty causes security problems and policies to fight climate change will only increase poverty because of high cost of climate resilience.

It is clear, however, that the nations of the world need to come together to fight climate change because of the various and extensive effects on our daily lives. Forest ecosytems and other habitats, food supplies, weather patterns, and sea levels will all be negatively affected. So we hope to see cooperation in the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, and some consensus among our leaders in Congress to ensure climate change resilience is at the forefront of their agendas.