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IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere

  Jul 08, 2020

IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere

What is this report?

Earlier the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had assessed impact of climate change on land-based ecosystems, it has now assessed the impact that climate change is having on the world’s oceans and frozen areas (known as the cryosphere). The report portrays very murky picture of ocean and frozen areas.

What is significance of ocean and cryosphere?

Almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and another 10% is covered by ice sheets and glaciers. These ecosystems are critical to life on our planet, as they regulate the climate, feed the world’s growing population, serve as habitat for species, provide energy, are critical to cultures around the world, and allow for transport and trade, among other benefits. The impact that climate change is having on the ocean and cryosphere will affect all people on Earth, but especially those in the Arctic, low-lying coastal zones and high mountain regions.

What are findings of the report of IPCC on ocean and cryosphere?

  1. The ocean is absorbing a significant amount of world’s heat and emissions.

This absorption of emissions and heat is causing massive impacts, such 

  1. Marine heatwaves, prolonged periods of extreme ocean warmth, are becoming more extensive, intense and long-lasting, these are reducing species diversity and harming foundational species such as corals and kelp. 
  2. Large-scale coral bleaching events have increased in frequency over the past two decades due to warming.
  3. Sea level rise has accelerated over the past few decades, given increased ice loss from Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and from thermal expansion of ocean water.
  4. High sea temperature is causing Dead zones, oxygen deficient areas
  5. As a result of these changes, marine species are on the move to find more hospitable habitats, with cascading effects on food chains and ecosystems. 
  6. Coastal nations in all regions are already feeling the effects on their fish stocks, coastal infrastructure, tourism, indigenous cultures and local biodiversity.
  7. Earth’s frozen regions are losing ice and snow rapidly and warming faster than the rest of the world.
  8. Arctic sea ice extent in September (when sea ice extent is at its minimum) has declined about 13% per decade (during the satellite era from 1979 to 2018)
  9. Ice sheets and glaciers are losing ice around the world. The ice loss between Greenland, Antarctica and other glaciers not part of ice sheets was 653 Gt per year. For context, a single gigaton of water would fill about 400,000 Olympic pools.
  10. All mountain regions have seen a decline in depth, extent and duration of snow cover.
  11. The Arctic has warmed more than double the global average in the last two decades. 
  12. Record level of warming for permafrost is taking place. Warming of permafrost can be a ticking time bomb. Arctic and boreal permafrost contains 1440-1600 Gt of carbon. When it melts, that carbon is emitted into the atmosphere, fueling more warming.
  13. Communities have already experienced disruptions to their freshwater supply, infrastructure, transportation, tourism and cultural traditions, due to a melting cryosphere. 
  14. Many species dependent on cold and snow are at risk, with some facing extinction. These changes will worsen as warming continues.

What is in for Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) Region this report?

The term Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region – which covers the high mountain chains of Central, South and Inner Asia that includes the Tien Shan, Kun Lun, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Himalayas, and Hengduan and the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau -- has one of the world's largest renewable supplies of freshwater. The Himalayan region has the largest reserve of water in the form of ice and snow outside the Polar Regions; this is why it is called the ‘third pole’.

Impact of climate change on HKH:

  1. Water gaps are increasing
  2. Flood events will increase
  3. Rising temperatures: HKH regions are extremely susceptible to temperature increase, heat waves
  4. Due to global warming and its implications in the water resources in the HKH region, three sectors will be directly affected: water for domestic use, agriculture and hydroelectricity.
  5. Climate uncertainties will rise: Due to variability in rainfall patterns and glacier melt, there is a large-scale uncertainty in the system. For example, floods and droughts will be more frequent, and will have implications on people who are largely dependent on agriculture and water for domestic use including drinking.
  6. Women and poor people, Men from the mountain regions are often migrants; this leaves women to manage household work and other tasks related to agriculture, natural resource management, community, and other public sphere related work—such as in markets or public institutions —that were traditionally men’s work.

What would be impact of ocean warming and melting cryosphere?

As a result of impacts to the ocean and cryosphere, communities around the world will see their water resources disappear, experience floods and landslides, face changes in food supply, and witness the degradation of ecosystems, infrastructure, recreation and culture.

What adaption are possible to cope with situation?

The report finds that aggressive adaptation efforts will help “buy time” for many communities. For example, changing fishery management practices can help maintain fish and shellfish populations. Protecting mangrove and tidal marshes can help protect coasts from increased storm surge and flooding. Investments in early warning systems can assist coastal communities facing natural disasters.

But there are very clear adaptation limits, and many impacts will still occur even if we reduce emissions. Some island nations, for example, could become uninhabitable due to sea level rise. Even if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C, some communities — such as those in the high mountains, Arctic and along the coast — will not be able to adapt to all climate impacts.

What can mitigate further warming of ocean and cryosphere?

Urgent actions on climate deal to achieve goal of limiting temperature rise within 1.5-degree C. adopting SDGs holistically.

What is ocean-based climate action that can limit global temperature rise?

According to a report ocean-based climate action could deliver up to 21% of the emissions reductions needed by 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, the target necessary to prevent some of the worst impacts. Ocean based climate actions according to report:

  1. It considers the potential of ocean-based renewable energy (offshore wind farms and energy from wave and tidal systems); 
  2. decarbonizing marine transport through energy efficiency and alternative fuels; 
  3. restoring and protecting “blue carbon” ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses;
  4. low-carbon ocean-based sources of food. 

These measures would not only help reduce the emissions that are warming and acidifying the ocean; they would create new jobs, enhance coastal resilience, boost food security, and improve air quality and human health.