Faculty member contributes to intergovernmental report on climate change

UNIVERSITY PARK — A Penn State faculty member is one of the coordinating lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which was approved in Yokohama, Japan, March 31 and concludes that while climate change is already having substantial impacts, steps can be taken to manage and reduce associated risks.

Associate professor Petra Tschakert, who was present during the five long days of negotiating the final text in Japan, was a coordinating lead author of Chapter 13: Livelihoods and Poverty in the IPCC “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” She was also an author of the summary for policymakers and the technical summary, two key parts of the two-volume report from Working Group II.

The authors of the summary conclude that the effects of climate change are far-reaching in scope, and that the risks stemming from climate change can be reduced, if effective options to respond and adapt to these changes are put in place now. The report also concludes that while people are already implementing adaptation strategies around the world, the impacts will be more severe for people who are exposed and vulnerable because of a multitude of factors, some of which have nothing to do with climate, and inequalities that result from uneven development processes.

“People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change. This heightened vulnerability is often a product of social processes that result in inequalities in economic status and income. Such processes include the discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity, age and (dis)ability,” said Tschakert, associate professor in the Department of Geography and a faculty member in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

Another Penn State faculty member, associate professor of geosciences Klaus Keller, was a contributing author to Chapter 19: Emergent Risks and Key Vulnerabilities. In particular, Keller worked on the section focused on assessing strategies used to respond to risks.

“Climate change can cause risks, for example through more frequent heat waves or rising sea-levels,” Keller said. “Assessing these risks and strategies to manage them requires new science, as well as a careful integration of many academic disciplines.”

Keller, who is leading a multi-institution research project Sustainable Climate Risk Management, noted reducing greenhouse gas emissions reduces climate change and, typically, climate change risks.

“It is important to note, though, that past greenhouse gas emissions have already caused considerable climate change and have committed current and future generations to climate change risks. Climate change adaptation is hence an important component of a strategy to manage climate risks.”

The report is from the IPCC’s Working Group II and includes a technical summary and 30 chapters on observed impacts, future risks and opportunities for response, along with the Summary for Policy Makers, including an important part addressing risks by region, under 2 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees Celsius warming above preindustrial levels.

Tschakert’s chapter on climate change and poverty concludes that people living in poverty and marginalized populations in rural areas and urban areas, primarily in the poorest nations of the global South but increasingly also in affluent countries in the global North, experience the effects of both subtle changes in temperature and rainfall patterns as well as extreme weather events with few options to prepare or respond.

The chapter concludes by saying that “throughout the 21st century, climate change is projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.”

“Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty,” the report notes. These hazards “affect poor people’s lives directly through impacts on livelihoods, reduction in crop yields, or destroyed homes, and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity.”

Tschakert’s research focuses on climate change adaptation in rural communities in Ghana, Tanzania, northeastern India (Assam) and Nepal. She is particularly interested in understanding and promoting collective learning activities that enhance adaptive capacities among vulnerable populations. For instance, with local partner organizations, she uses participatory scenario building that explores how rural life could look 25 years from now, overlaying climate change with other challenges and opportunities. Through community-based theater, local men and women then act out their storylines from the scenario building and subsequently discuss best adaptation options and unavoidable trade-offs.

“Living at the margin of society and being highly exposed — like living in a flood plain or being homeless — makes people vulnerable to climate change,” Tschakert said in the IPCC video giving an overview of the Working Group II report. “Not the floods or droughts or heat waves per se. So it’s about these inequalities that exist in every society, both in the north and the south, that make people vulnerable.”

Chris Forest, associate professor of climate dynamics, was a lead author to the IPCC report from Working Group I, which came out in September. The Working Group III report is due out later this month.

For more information, go to http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/.

For the IPCC video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMIFBJYpSgM&list=PL8HWK0G9m3B49SUeiBIn7I....

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Last Updated April 04, 2014