The window to limit the world-threatening impacts of climate change is closing, scientists warned in a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Immediate action is needed as we push closer to reaching the much perturbed 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) increase in global warming, the mark scientists widely cite will lead to irreversible damage.
The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability is the second of three installments that will comprise the full report expected later this year. With more than 34,000 citations, the Sixth Assessment Report is among the world’s most respected resources for science-driven climate change research. And the science offered by the 270 authors across 67 countries is unambiguous: human-caused climate change is accelerating at a pace that requires immediate action.
Let’s unpack this latest IPCC report with five key takeaways:
Climate change is bad for everyone, but the IPCC report says it’s already worse for at-risk individuals
Right after laying out the science that human-caused climate change contributes to more frequent and intense extreme events as well as widespread losses to biodiversity and nature, the authors of the IPCC report highlight that the world’s most vulnerable will be hit hardest by the effects of a warming planet. The approximately 3.3-3.6 billion people worldwide living in contexts more susceptible to such vulnerability are mostly present in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Arctic.
The IPCC report said these regions represent global hotspots of high human vulnerability due to considerable development constraints caused through a complex web of poverty, unsustainable land-use, governance challenges, limited access to basic human services, gender inequities and historical and ongoing patterns of colonialism. Climate change will further introduce the world’s most at-risk people to its devastating impacts through shocks of water shortages, droughts, floods, and more.
Global warming is inextricably interconnected with almost all development challenges
It can be overwhelming to think about the widespread impact a warming climate can have on the world because it is immensely consequential to and intertwined with countless other risks. The report sharply pointed to climate change’s interconnectedness to many other development and resilience challenges. Drought, for example, brings along reduced crop yields due to water shortages and extreme heat. This not only leads to reduced household income from farmers but also to hiked food prices for consumers. The increased prices may force families to make tough decisions, like pulling their child from school to help earn enough money to put food on the table or passing on much-needed medical treatment to ensure bellies are full.
Heat stress, water scarcity, food security and flood risk are just a few of the interconnected factors the Earth faces in the challenge against climate change.
1.5° Celsius remains the no good, totally horrible number to avoid – and it’s approaching quickly
It was the IPCC’s 2018 report that unveiled the damning consequences of letting the world warm 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and that number still reigns supreme among the climate science community. If the climate exceeds this warming level, even if only temporarily before subdued, it would lead to severe, sometimes irreversible impacts, the report warns.
This years IPCC report also indicates that the fate of surpassing this 1.5°C threshold may rely on near-term trends in vulnerability, exposure and adaptation. Actions that limit global warming in the short-term may not be able to eliminate all challenges posed by climate change, but it can “substantially reduce projected losses and damages” according to the report.
Adaptation efforts exist widely – but they need to scale up
While articulating the severe threats of climate change, the report also highlighted adaptations that have been made and can be made to slow the pace of global warming. The world is taking notice of climate change and the adaptations have not gone unnoticed. The report indicates that at least 170 countries and many cities have adaptation included in their climate policies and planning processes. Among other benefits, adaptation has the ability to improve agricultural productivity, innovation, health, food security, livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.
While increased awareness has spurred many governments and countries into action, adaptation across the world remains uneven and small in scale, sector-specific or focused on planning rather than implementation, the authors write. To achieve global, widespread impact, these efforts need to reach scale.
Action was needed yesterday. But action tomorrow can and will help
The urgency of taking action against climate change can best be summed up by Working Group ll Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” Pörtner said in a press release. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
Climate resilient development activities can set us on the path toward a cleaner, greener, cooler future. Yes, they are difficult programs to incorporate due to challenging enabling environments including poor governance as well as steep financial and human investments. But the will of global cooperation needs to transcend the challenges. As Pörtner and the authors of the IPCC report note well: our window is closing.
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