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UN: World 'ill-prepared' for risks from climate change

The increasing threat of climate change will continue to grow if residents don't bring greenhouse gas emissions under control.
A view of the smog in Changchun city, northeast Chinas Jilin province, Nov. 8, 2013. (Imaginechina/AP)
A view of the smog in Changchun city, northeast Chinas Jilin province, Nov. 8, 2013.

The extreme effects of climate change are already being felt on every continent and across the world's oceans, the United Nations announced Monday. The global threat will continue to worsen if leaders don't rein in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

At greatest risk are people living in low-lying coastal areas and on small islands, according to the new assessment, the first major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 2007. But the increased threat of drought, food shortages, storms and other effects of climate change would leave few regions unaffected.

"We live in an era of man-made climate change," said Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II that published the report. "In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future."

Many of the risks from a changing climate come from lack of preparedness, combined with the exposure of people and assets to new and worsening climate events, according to the report. The changes are already affecting people, societies and ecosystems around the world, from small islands to large continents, but the level of vulnerability differs. The poor, as well as the young and the elderly, will be at particular risk to the effects of climate change.

The IPCC report, collectively produced by 309 authors and editors, informs the public about the impacts of climate change, future risks, and possible effective action. In a similar assessment published last fall, the UN found it was "extremely likely" that human influence has been the main cause of observed warming on the climate system since the mid-20th century in regions around the globe. Human activity in the past 800,000 years, the authors stated, has caused the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to escalate.

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A mere 36% of Americans said they view climate change as a serious threat to their lives, including 51% of the public that said the global temperature is already beginning to rise, according to a recent Gallup poll.

A different faction of the IPCC will release another report next month to continue informing the international community about reducing and managing climate risks.