The role of interactions in a world implementing adaptation and mitigation solutions to climate change

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The papers in this volume discuss projections of climate change impacts upon humans and ecosystems under a global mean temperature rise of 4°C above preindustrial levels. Like most studies, they are mainly single-sector or single-region-based assessments. Even the multi-sector or multi-region approaches generally consider impacts in sectors and regions independently, ignoring interactions. Extreme weather and adaptation processes are often poorly represented and losses of ecosystem services induced by climate change or human adaptation are generally omitted. This paper addresses this gap by reviewing some potential interactions in a 4°C world, and also makes a comparison with a 2°C world. In a 4°C world, major shifts in agricultural land use and increased drought are projected, and an increased human population might increasingly be concentrated in areas remaining wet enough for economic prosperity. Ecosystem services that enable prosperity would be declining, with carbon cycle feedbacks and fire causing forest losses. There is an urgent need for integrated assessments considering the synergy of impacts and limits to adaptation in multiple sectors and regions in a 4°C world. By contrast, a 2°C world is projected to experience about one-half of the climate change impacts, with concomitantly smaller challenges for adaptation. Ecosystem services, including the carbon sink provided by the Earth’s forests, would be expected to be largely preserved, with much less potential for interaction processes to increase challenges to adaptation. However, demands for land and water for biofuel cropping could reduce the availability of these resources for agricultural and natural systems. Hence, a whole system approach to mitigation and adaptation, considering interactions, potential human and species migration, allocation of land and water resources and ecosystem services, will be important in either a 2°C or a 4°C world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages25
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number1934
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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