NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- While the media headlines covering the latest report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted the darkest picture, the panel itself balanced the dire warnings with a more constructive call to action.
"We live in an era of man-made climate change," Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II, said in a press release. "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."
"Panel's Warning on Climate Change: The Worst Is Yet to Come" is the New York Times' headline from Yokohama, where scientists unveiled the report, and the article itself highlighted quotes outlining a grim future of continuing physical and economic damage. Likewise, the BBC topped its story on the report, "Climate impact 'overwhelming' - UN."
Both of those are true, no doubt. But the tone of the IPCC press release also implied that solutions to some of the most painful outcomes from climate change can be found. At the same time, national economies that will suffer by maintaining the status quo could begin to act now to adapt to the new future, bolstering their prospects, creating whole new industries and jobs in the process.
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Chris Field, co-chair of the working group that oversaw the report, said in the press release, "Understanding that climate change is a challenge in managing risk opens a wide range of opportunities for integrating adaptation with economic and social development and with initiatives to limit future warming. We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond."
The IPCC noted the world is warming mostly as a result of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, combined with the effects of other greenhouse gases, including methane and water vapor, and that the risks from climate change are already upon us.
Glaciers have melted. Mountaintops in the U.S. have lost snowpack. Sea levels have risen and coastal and island communities are being threatened. Fresh water sources are being contaminated by salt water. People are at risk right now from changing weather patterns that involve drought in some parts of the world and flooding in others. Food supplies are under increasing pressure. All of that will get far worse, even if carbon emissions were halted right now.
Yet each of those also presents an opportunity, through constructive investment and new ideas, to avert the worst-case scenario and to prevent the suffering of millions.
"Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation," Field said. "This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change."