Urgent action must be taken on climate change: IPCC report

Wednesday, 02 March, 2022

Urgent action must be taken on climate change: IPCC report

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature, with the people and ecosystems least able to cope with the effects of climate change being the hardest hit.

That’s according to the second instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment report, ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. Over 250 scientists from across the globe, as part of the IPCC’s Working Group II, contributed to the report by assessing the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity and humanity.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C, the report states. Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals, the report claims. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on small islands and in the Arctic.

To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, the report calls for ambitious, accelerated action to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.

But there are options to adapt to a changing climate, with the report providing new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30–50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development — but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

Scientists have pointed out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanisation, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardising future development. As noted by IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts, “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone — governments, the private sector, civil society — working together to prioritise risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment.

“In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a suboptimal future for people and nature.”

This report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding, as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.

“Together, growing urbanisation and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Roberts said.

“But cities also provide opportunities for climate action — green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”

Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report provides extensive regional information to enable climate-resilient development. The report states that climate-resilient development is already challenging at current warming levels, will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C and will in some regions be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C. This finding underlines the urgency for climate action.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” Pörtner said. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

“This report recognises the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” Lee added. “It emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/bilderstoeckchen

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