The window of opportunity to address climate change is decreasing

The scientific evidence shows that climate change is already having adverse impacts on human- and ecosystems which are interdependent and may be aggravated by increasing global warming temperatures.


 

(Image source: Paul Skorupsas, Unsplash)

This article briefly discusses the second part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and its findings. The report released in February 2022 covers impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability with regards to climate change.


Human and ecosystem vulnerability

More than 40% of the global population is living in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. The current unsustainable development patterns (including, but not limited to, unsustainable use of natural resources, deforestation and loss of biodiversity) is adversely affecting both people and eco-system and their ability to adapt to climate change.


Climate change will affect everybody but not equally. Human vulnerability to climate hazards is higher in areas with poverty, governance challenges and limited access to basic services and resources, and violent conflict. This is exacerbated by inequity and marginalisation. Involuntary migration, growing inequality and urbanisation are further increasing future exposure to climate hazards globally.


What is climate risk?

The IPCC is trying to define climate risks based on the probability of a climate induced disaster and the severity of its impact on the vulnerable. Accordingly, 127 risks have been identified in this report.


Over the past few years, climate change induced natural disasters have increased in severity by a large scale. These disasters have, and will, magnify the impact of unsustainable land use, resource extraction, pollution, and other social inequalities. The likelihood of such disasters will further increase as the temperature increases. However, the impact is not going to be equal. The report says it is uneven based on region socio-economic inequities, health inequities and governance.


Risks in the future

For a given level of global warming (1.2-4.5°C), many climate-related risks are higher than previously assessed. As opposed to findings of the previous assessment it is very likely that not for two, but for all five Reasons for Concern (RFCs), the level of risk is to become high to very high at lower global warming levels. There is a high confidence that beyond 2040, the impacts for 127 identified key risks are up to multiple times higher than currently observed. Every increment of global warming is exacerbating projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages such as biodiversity loss, physical water availability and water-related hazards, and food security and the weakening of ecosystems services. The magnitude and rate of climate change and the associated risks depend strongly on near-term (2021-2040) mitigation and adaptation actions that limit global warming to near 1.5°C. It should be noted that with global warming above of 1.5-2.0°C with high vulnerability and low adaptation, some key risks contributing to the RFCs may lead to potentially irreversible impacts.


(Impacts of climate change on human systems. Source: IPCC, 2022)

Adaptation and mitigation measures in response to climate change

It is often perceived that climate change mitigation measures involves investments which have results in the long-term while climate change adaptation efforts involve short-term investments with immediate results. But this report has a different approach, it urges to integrate adaptation and mitigation measures to bring transformational change: called climate resilient development.


Since the fifth assessment report there has been increasing evidence of actions that may lead to increased risk of adverse climate-related outcomes, including via increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased vulnerability to climate change, or diminished welfare, now or in the future. This is defined as maladaptation. Actions, such as those focussing on sectors and risks in isolation and not considering long-term impacts of the adaptation option, may lead to adverse impacts on vulnerability, exposure and risks that will be costly or difficult to change. Maladaptation should and can be avoided by inclusive and long-term planning with flexible pathways and benefits across sectors and systems. There are numerous feasible climate responses and adaptations as shown in the figure below. Climate responses and adaptation options have benefits for ecosystems, as well as ethnic groups, gender equity, low-income groups and the Sustainable Development Goals.


(Climate responses and adaptation options, and their feasibility and synergies with mitigation. Source: IPCC, 2022)

Implementing adaptation options in the near-term and the feasibility thereof differs across sectors and regions. Every increment of global warming decreases the effectiveness of adaptation to reduce climate risk. Both feasibility and effectiveness of adaptation can be addressed by considering integrated, multi-sectoral, multi-systems solutions.


The scientific evidence is clear: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of our planet. Global action on adaptation and mitigation is required now in order to address the window of opportunity which is becoming smaller by the day.



Note: The third and final part of the IPCC 2022 report was recently published (4 April 2022) and covers the topic of ‘’mitigation’’ – policy aiming to tackle the root cause of human-induced climate change: greenhouse gas emissions. This latest report discusses in detail the role of different actors including the industry in climate change mitigation. The details of the report will be discussed in a following blog article.


 

Contributors

Nikhil Varghese | Environmental Regulations Expert

Xenia Mutter | Materials Expert


Source

IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

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