This week I learned about the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The role of this group is to assess climate change. They do not actually do their own research, but rather compile and review studies from all over the world. Scientists contribute their research voluntarily. The IPCC releases reports of its assessments. The 4th Assessment Report (AR4) was released in 2007 and AR5 is being released over the course of the next year.
The first two sections of AR5 have already been released. The Physical Science Basis for climate change section was released last fall, while the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability section was released last week. There is a summary of the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability available online. It includes a definition of climate change as "a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use."
I recommend reading the summary of this report. It is 26 pages long with additional figures at the end. The Impacts section mentions ways in which climate change affects ecosystems, food production/security, human health, extreme weather, and economics. The Adaptations section offers examples of ways in which governments all over the world are adapting to climate change. It will be important for us to consider not only how we will adapt to climate change, but also how we will reduce our contributions to it.