Change to climate hits poor hardest

IPCC report says societies need to adapt to warming

The world faces increased hunger and water shortages in the poorest countries, enormous costs in developed countries and widespread species extinction unless nations adapt to climate change and halt its progress, says a report released Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The full report, spanning hundreds of pages, was written by 179 scientists from around the world and is due for release in the coming weeks. Friday's version is a political document, its 23 pages made public hours later than expected following an all-night session in Brussels, Belgium. Scientists sparred with government negotiators who, scientists said, were watering down their findings.

The United States, China and Saudi Arabia raised many of the objections to the phrasing, often seeking to tone down the certainty of some of the more-dire projections. Despite such efforts, the document paints a mostly dismal picture of future extinction, starvation and desiccation.

Joel Smith, a vice president of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, was a lead author of the report's chapter on key vulnerabilities and was in Brussels for the negotiations. He had been working since 8 a.m. Thursday, he said Friday afternoon Brussels time.

"I think the main story is they've linked human-induced warming with the impacts of climate change," he said, a connection the previous three IPCC reports since 1990 lacked the data to make.

Smith said the report shows smaller temperature increases posing greater environmental and human risks than previously assumed.

Friday's summary report attempts to put human and environmental faces on the impacts of climate change.

It follows a Feb. 2 report - the first of its kind since 2001 - that concluded global warming is "unequivocal," future warming is a certainty and there's a 90 percent chance that human fossil-fuel burning is causing it.

The impacts will span the globe and touch economies rich and, in particular, poor, Friday's follow-up said.

"The poorest of the poor in the world - and this includes poor people in prosperous societies - are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "People who are poor are least able to adapt to climate change."

Among the hardest-hit places will be areas of Africa where arid climates will dry out further, threatening starvation; and poorer regions of Asia that face threats of rising seas, diminishing freshwater supplies and more virulent disease.

In Africa, up to 250 million people are likely to be exposed to water shortages by 2020. In some countries, food production could fall by half, the report said.

Yet the rich-poor divide is nothing new, said Michael Glantz, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has studied the impacts of climate on society since the early 1970s.

"The poor are suffering now," Glantz said. "We don't help them now. Why is that going to change with climate change?"

Glantz and others said the United States - the world's largest economy - is ill-prepared for what appears to be in store, citing 2005's Hurricane Katrina as an example of how a weather-related disaster can overwhelm an entire region.

Susanne Moser, an NCAR scientist and author of the report, said 53 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties bordering the ocean and that 23 of the 25 fastest-growing counties are on coasts, which she called "particularly vulnerable to stresses from climate change."

The report said up to 30 percent of species face an increased risk of vanishing if global temperatures rise 3.6 degrees above the average in the 1980s and 1990s. Arid regions will become even drier, adding to the risks of hunger and disease, it said. The world will face heightened threats of flooding, severe storms and the erosion of coastlines.

"Don't be poor in a hot country, don't live in 'Hurricane Alley,' watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic, and it's a bad idea to be on high mountains with glaciers melting," said Stephen Schneider, a Stanford scientist who was one of the authors.

The report said the cost of addressing climate change by changing behavior as well as energy and other infrastructure - which Glantz said would cost trillions - would be lower than simply allowing it to happen.

"Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt," the report concludes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.