2009 climate change summit panel.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

This Date in UCSF History: New Studies Stress the Seriousness of Climate Change

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Originally reported in Synapse on March 20, 2009. 

Two reports issued in February underlined the growing menace of climate change and the need for urgent action to combat it.

Nearly 2,000 climate scientists gathered in Denmark for a three-day conference to update a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) before U.N. talks in December on a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Accords. In a statement, the scientists issued a stark warning.

“The worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts. Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change with poor nations and communities particularly at risk.”

The scientists pointed out that elected officials already have the means to mitigate climate change.

“But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to de-carbonize economies,” the scientists’ statement said.

The scientists predicted a sea level rise of 7 to 23 inches by the year 2100. Such an increase could flood low-lying areas and force millions to flee, the scientists said.

But other, more recent research presented at the conference suggested that melting glaciers and ice sheets could increase the sea level up at least 20 inches, and possibly as much as 39 inches.

Such an outcome would be disastrous for coastal California, the subject of the other study on global warming, this one by the state of California.

The study was conducted by the internationally known Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research group in Oakland, and was paid for by the California Energy Commission, Caltrans and the state Ocean Protection Council. The Institute said that water levels along the coast could rise by as much as five feet by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for California.

Such flooding would affect nearly half a million people and $100 billion in property, the study found.

The Institute proposed several far-reaching proposals, including:

* limit coastal development in areas at risk from rising seas

* consider phased abandonment of certain areas

* halt federally subsidized insurance for property likely to be inundated

* require coastal structures to be built to adapt to climate change.

“Immediate action is needed,” Linda Adams, California’s secretary for environmental protection told the Los Angeles Times. “It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach.”