Week of 28 February 2022
IPCC: The extent and magnitude of climate change is even worse than we thought, and urgent action to secure a liveable future is needed now
Our key takeaway: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” These words, from hundreds of the world’s leading scientists around the world, say it all. It’s only the ability of our planet to support humanity as we know it that is at stake. The time for rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with urgent, ambitious and accelerated action on adaptation, is now.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the second part of its sixth assessment report (AR6). The report includes a summary for policymakers and an overarching FAQ. A few key highlights (with quotes referencing the FAQ):
- A dire future ahead for our children, and an even worse one for their children: The scientists find that the “extent and magnitude of climate change” is worse than was previously thought. “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.” Further, “today’s children and future generations are more likely to be exposed and vulnerable to climate change and related risks such as flooding, heat stress, water scarcity, poverty, and hunger.” They observe that “impacts will continue to increase if drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are further delayed – affecting the lives of today’s children tomorrow and those of their children much more than ours.” They remind us that 2100 is not that far away, with a child who was born in 2020 being 20 in 2040, and 80 in 2100: “The end of the century is less than a lifetime away.” The scientists delve into the kinds of impacts we are looking at. For instance, heat stress resulting in death will increase – from 30% of the population exposed to it today, to 48-76% exposed to it by the end of the century. Loss of homes will increase – with more than a billion people at risk by mid-century, with many needing to move to higher ground, increasing conflict and forced relocation in turn. Water scarcity will increase, with 800 million to 3 billion people experiencing chronic water scarcity (at 2°C warming), or 4 billion experiencing it (at 4°C warming). Hunger will increase, with 8 million to 80 million people suffering from it by mid-century. And the list goes on.
- Poverty, inequality and vulnerability increases the risks: The scientists observe that the impacts will be worse for some: “the most vulnerable people and ecosystems [will be] hit hardest by climate change.” Specifically, poverty and inequality significantly increase the risks, with “unavoidable impacts for vulnerable groups, including women, young people, the elderly, ethnic and religious minorities, Indigenous People, and refugees.” Of particular note for the private sector, “[c]limate change is likely to force many of them to switch from agriculture as the main source of income to other forms of wage labour, with implications for labour migration and urbanization.” The scientists observe further how some regions will be more severely impacted than others: for instance, hunger increases will be worse in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Central America.
- Adaptation, adaptation, adaptation – alongside ambitious and sustained mitigation: The report notes the importance of adaptation to climate change (i.e., actions to reduce climate risks). Adaptation “means adjusting our behaviour (e.g. where we choose to live; the way we plan our cities and settlements) and adapting our infrastructure (e.g. greening of urban areas for water storage) to deal with the changing climate – today and in the future.” However there are “large gaps between ongoing efforts, and adaptation needed to cope with current levels of warming.” Further, since “the effectiveness of available adaptation options decreases with every increment of warming”, it’s imperative for “urgent, more ambitious and accelerated action” on adaptation to be coupled with “rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.” The report provides a solutions framework (called ‘Climate Resilient Development’) which includes prioritising (1) reducing exposure and vulnerability to climate hazards, (2) cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and (3) conserving biodiversity “in everyday decision-making and policies on all aspects of society including energy, industry, health, water, food, urban development, housing and transport.” The scientists conclude that “[t]he choices we make in the next decade will determine our future.” “Targeting a climate resilient, sustainable world involves fundamental changes to how society functions, including changes to underlying values, worldviews, ideologies, social structures, political and economic systems, and power relationships. This may feel overwhelming at first, but the world is changing anyway and will continue to change so Climate Resilient Development offers us ways to drive change to improve well-being for all – by reducing climate risk, tackling the many inequities and injustices experienced today, and rebuilding our relationship with nature.”