The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Other reports in this collection


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was jointly established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988 to assess the scientific and technical literature on climate change, the potential impacts of changes in climate, and options for adaption to and mitigation of climate change. Since its inception, the IPCC has produced a series of Assessment Reports, Special Reports, Technical Papers, methodologies, and other products which have become standard works of reference, widely used by policymakers, scientists, and other experts.

This Special Report, which has been produced by Working Group II of the IPCC, builds on the Working Group's contribution to the Second Assessment Report (SAR), and incorporates more recent information made available since mid-1995. It has been prepared in response to a request from the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It addresses an important question posed by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC, namely, the degree to which human conditions and the natural environment are vulnerable to the potential effects of climate change. The report establishes a common base of information regarding the potential costs and benefits of climatic change, including the evaluation of uncertainties, to help the COP determine what adaptation and mitigation measures might be justified. The report consists of vulnerability assessments for 10 regions that comprise the Earth's entire land surface and adjoining coastal seas: Africa, Arid Western Asia (including the Middle East), Australasia, Europe, Latin America, North America, the Polar Regions (The Arctic and the Antarctic), Small Island States, Temperate Asia, and Tropical Asia. It also includes several annexes that provide information about climate observations, climate projections, vegetation distribution projections, and socioeconomic trends.

As usual in the IPCC, success in producing this report has depended on the enthusiasm and cooperation of numerous scientists and other experts worldwide. These individuals have given generously of their time, often going beyond reasonable demands of duty. We applaud, admire, and are grateful for their commitment to the IPCC process. We are pleased to note the continuing efforts made by the IPCC to ensure participation of scientists and other experts from the developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Given the regional focus of this report, their participation was especially essential to its successful completion. We also express our thanks to the many governments, including those in the developing regions and regions with economies in transition, that supported these scientists and experts in their work.

We take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the following individuals for nurturing another IPCC report through to completion:


G.O.P. Obasi Ms. E. Dowdeswell
Secretary-General World Meteorological Organization Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a series of Assessment Reports, Special Reports, Technical Papers, and methodologies. As an intergovernmental body, the IPCC has procedures governing the production of each of these. This Special Report on the Regional Impacts of Climate Change was first requested by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a Technical Paper, which restricted the authors to using only materials already in IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports. In the course of drafting the paper, the authors felt that the inclusion of new literature that had become available since the completion of the IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR), including work undertaken under the auspices of several "country studies programs," would make the paper more complete, up-to-date, and broadly representative of trends and vulnerabilities in the regions. Including these materials in the report would not have conformed to the IPCC procedures for Technical Papers; hence, the IPCC decided at its Twelfth Session (Mexico City, 11-13 September 1996) to rewrite the Technical Paper as a Special Report, and SBSTA was informed accordingly.

The Special Report explores the potential consequences of changes in climate for ten continental- or subcontinental-scale regions. Because of the uncertainties associated with regional projections of climate change, the report necessarily takes the approach of assessing sensitivities and vulnerabilities of each region, rather than attempting to provide quantitative predictions of the impacts of climate change. As in the SAR, "vulnerability" is the extent to which climate change may damage or harm a system; it is a function of both sensitivity to climate and the ability to adapt to new conditions.

This assessment confirms the findings of the SAR and underlines the potential for climate change to alter the ability of the Earth's physical and biological systems (land, atmosphere, and oceans) to provide goods and services essential for sustainable economic development.

The report represents an important step in the evolution of the impact assessment process for the IPCC. Previous impact assessments have examined the potential effects of climate change primarily at a global scale. This report analyzes impacts at a continental or subcontinental scale that is of more practical interest to decisionmakers. This regional approach reveals wide variation in the vulnerability of different populations and environmental systems. This variation stems from differences in local environmental conditions; economic, social, and political conditions; and degrees of dependence on climate-sensitive resources, among other factors. Because of its smaller scale of analysis, the report provides more information regarding the potential for the adaptation of systems, activities, and infrastructure to climate change than did the SAR. The chapters indicate, however, that far more research and analysis of adaptation options and adjustment processes are necessary if private sector and governmental entities are to make climate-sensitive sectors more resilient to today's climate variability, and to limit damage from-or take advantage of-potential long-term changes in climate.

The report is also an initial step in examining how projected changes in climate could interact with other environmental changes (e.g., biodiversity loss, land degradation, stratospheric ozone depletion, and degradation of water resources) and social trends (e.g., population growth, economic development, and technological progress). The assessment indicates that additional research into the interlinkages among environmental issues also is needed.

This report will provide a foundation for impacts assessment in the Third Assessment Report (TAR), which is expected to be completed in late 2000. An important early step in the process of preparing the IPCC TAR will be to review and refine the approach-and the regional groupings-used in this assessment. In doing so, advances in the ability to project climatic and environmental changes on finer scales will be an important consideration. The report provides a foundation for the TAR in another important respect, as it represents a substantial further step forward in increasing the level of participation of scientists and technical experts from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The IPCC remains committed to building on this accomplishment, and will not relax its efforts to identify experts from these regions and secure their participation in future assessments.


We would like to acknowledge the contributions of numerous individuals and organizations to the successful completion of this report. First and foremost, we are grateful for the voluntary efforts of the members of the scientific and technical community who prepared and peer-reviewed the chapters and annexes of the report. These individuals served in several capacities, including Convening Lead Authors, Lead Authors, Contributors/ Reviewers, Regional Coordinators, and Sector Contributors (authors of the SAR who extracted regional information from their sector-oriented chapters as starting points for the regional assessments). We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by governments to a number of these lead authors.

All of these contributions would have come to nothing had it not been for the tireless and good-natured efforts of David Jon Dokken, Project Administrator, whose roles and responsibilities in preparation of this report are too numerous to mention, and without whom the report would not have been assembled in such a timely and efficient fashion. Other members of the Working Group II Technical Support Unit also provided significant help in preparation of the report, including Sandy MacCracken, Laura Van Wie McGrory, and Flo Ormond. The staff of the IPCC Secretariat, including Rudie Bourgeois, Chantal Ettori, and Cecilia Tanikie, provided essential support and welcome advice.

Others who contributed to the report in various analytical and organizational roles and to whom we wish to express our thanks include Tererei Abete, Isabel Alegre, Ron Benioff, Carroll Curtis, Paul Desanker, Robert Dixon and his colleagues at the U.S. Country Studies Program, Roland Fuchs, Christy Goodale, David Gray, Mike Hulme, Jennifer Jenkins, Richard Klein, S.C. Majumdar, Scott Ollinger, Erik Rodenberg, Robert Scholes, Joel Smith, Regina Tannon, David Theobald, and Hassan Virji.

Bert Bolin
Robert Watson
Marufu Zinyowera
Narasimhan Sundararaman
Richard Moss

Other reports in this collection