In releasing its latest comprehensive report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) focuses an important spotlight on the current state of the Earth’s climate.

Climate change is just one of the many symptoms exhibited by a planet under pressure from human activities. “Global environmental change, which includes climate change, threatens to irreversibly alter our planet,” says Kevin Noone, Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

Global studies by IGBP show that human-driven environmental changes are affecting many parts of the Earth’s system, in addition to its climate. For example:

• Half of Earth’s land surface is now domesticated for direct human use.
• 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited.
• The composition of today´s atmosphere is well outside the range of natural variability the Earth has maintained over the last 650,000 years.
• The Earth is now in the midst of its sixth great extinction event.

“The IPCC report, with its interdisciplinary approach to climate change, is a clear example of how the Earth needs to be considered as a coupled system in order to understand global environmental change,” says Noone. “The study of the Earth as a system, looking not only at climate but also at changes in the oceans and on land, how those changes affect each other, and the role of humans as part of that system is a crucial approach to managing a sustainable planet,” he says.

An integrated Earth System Science approach can provide critical insights into the feasibility, risks, trade-offs and timeliness of any proposed strategy to respond to global environmental change, explains Noone. He notes that the current IPCC report reflects the importance of Earth System Science in its analysis of climate change.

Earth System Science emphasises observing, understanding and predicting global environmental changes involving interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, biosphere, societies, technologies and economies, at broader temporal and spatial scales. IGBP research encompasses all of these Earth System components and then synthesizes international, multidisciplinary observations to enhance scientific understanding.

“An Earth system perspective is crucial to understanding global environmental change since global biogeochemical cycles and the physical climate are strongly coupled. Predicting the evolution of this interactive system under global perturbations by human activities is key for the sustainability of Planet Earth” said IGBP Chair Carlos Nobre of the Centro de Previsão de Tempo e Estudos Climáticos and the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais in Brazil.


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