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Climate Change Will Hit Poor Hardest, U.N. Panel Says

Changes to Earth's climate and ecosystems will hit the world's poor the hardest, according to a report released Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Two of the report's lead authors, Michael Oppenheimer and Joel Smith, discuss the science and politics behind the findings.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The negotiations were long, stretching late into the night. This morning, scientists outlined a grim picture at a news conference. Steve Schneider was one of the report's lead authors.

  • STEVE SCHNEIDER, Lead Author, Climate Study:

    Don't be poor in a hot country. Don't live in hurricane alley. Watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic. It's a bad idea to be up on the high mountains with your glaciers melting and losing your water supply. And if you're in the Mediterranean climate, you're going to have a fire season in the summer that's really going to be a problem.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Today's release capped off five days of meetings between scientists and political representatives. They disagreed about just how severe a crisis global warming is.

    The report is called "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability." It was compiled by experts from more than 120 nations participating in the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In February, this same group determined humankind was responsible for global warming.

  • MARTIN PERRY, Co-Chair, Climate Study:

    What they've done now is finally establish at the global level there is an anthropogenic, a manmade, climate signal coming through on plants, animals, water and ice.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The main conclusion of today's report: Countries producing the most greenhouse gases, like the U.S. and China, won't bear the biggest burden of warmer temperatures. Instead, that will fall on poorer countries with fewer resources to adapt. Most of those countries are along the equator.

  • RAJENDRA PACHAURI, Chair, Climate Study:

    The poor are certainly going to be the worst sufferers, and poor not only in the poorest countries, but poor even in the rich countries.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    That's due, in part, to climate of extremes forecast by the scientists. Drier areas will become more arid, causing crop failure and forests to become dried up. Three billion people will face water shortages. All of this, they expect, will produce a refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions.

    But for countries closer to the poles, that dry trend will reverse. Those areas will instead have heavier downpours and flooding, and mountain glaciers and snow will melt at faster rates. That could also cause flooding in Asia's major delta regions and lead to the disappearance of smaller island nations.

    In the U.S., some agricultural areas will initially benefit from the expected rise in temperatures, but coastal cities, like New Orleans, will become even more vulnerable to flooding.

    The news for the earth's flora and fauna was bleak, too. Up to 30 percent of species face extinction if global temperatures continue to rise more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, including many that thrive in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

    The next report, due out in May, will recommend policies and economic measures to deal with reducing emissions.