Takeaways from the IPCC Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Report

 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change.

The second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report — titled Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability — was released on February 28, 2022. The report draws from 34,000 studies, and involved 270 authors across 67 countries, making it one of the most comprehensive resources for climate change research.

The findings from the report are clear: Climate change is impacting communities across the world and exacerbating the social and environmental problems that we aim to solve. Immediate action is required to avoid the worst.

There are 6 key takeaways for organisations that should catalyse an urgent response.

1. Climate change is impacting our health

Health will be a growing concern in the coming decades as a result of climate change. Diseases are likely to spread more quickly, with a particular risk of mosquito-borne dengue fever affecting billions of people by the end of this century. The report also emphasises the increase in stress and trauma related to extreme weather events and the loss of livelihoods.

2. Climate change is increasing food and water insecurity

Climate change increasingly hinders efforts to meet the global nutritional demand. Weather extremes put a strain on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and impact each step in the supply chain, from production to consumption. Due to storage and transportation disruptions, global warming will result in reduced yields, suitable crop and livestock land, water availability, and food safety and access. At 2℃ of global warming, 3 billion people could face water scarcity, the report says. At 4℃, this figure rises to 4 billion.

3. Climate change is giving rise to crises and displacement

Climate change has already increased the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Between 1998 and 2017, there were reported to have been 526,000 deaths from 11,500 extreme weather events globally.

The authors also explain that “climate hazards are a growing driver of involuntary migration and displacement and are a contributing factor to violent conflict”. Extreme weather events will drive migration due to direct destruction, such as a cyclone destroying a house, as well as from long-term losses, like drought.

4. Climate change is impacting biodiversity and ecosystems

The extent and magnitude of climate impacts on the natural world is larger than estimated in previous IPCC assessments. Climate change has already caused “substantial damages and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems”. A quarter of the world’s natural land now sees longer fire seasons as a result of increases in temperature, aridity and drought. Human-driven chemical and physical changes to the ocean are also altering the distribution and abundance of marine organisms “from microbes to mammals and from individuals to ecosystems, in every region” of the world.

5. There is an increased need for adaptation measures

Most countries’ climate policies now include adaptation, but many have yet to move beyond planning into implementation. The IPCC finds that efforts today are still largely incremental, reactive and small-scale, with most focusing only on current impacts or near-term risks. A gap between current adaptation levels and those needed persists — driven in large part by limited financial support. Existing adaptation options can reduce climate risks if they’re sufficiently funded and implemented more quickly.

The report evidences how climate adaptation measures can successfully deliver benefits from improved health outcomes to poverty reduction. These measures include social problems that provide equity and justice to vulnerable communities, ecosystem-based adaptation including sustainable land management and agricultural practices, and technologies such as flood control and crop resilience.

6. The report emphasises the concept of “Loss & Damage”

With the 1.1℃ of global warming, the world is already experiencing, some highly vulnerable people and ecosystems are beginning to reach the limits for which they can adapt. For instance, coastal communities in the tropics have lost entire coral reef ecosystems that once helped sustain their food security and livelihoods.

The report highlights “Loss and damage” as an area of increasing importance in both international climate policy and climate science. The topic was brought to the table at COP26 in Glasgow, as vulnerable nations unsuccessfully pushed for a new funding facility to address such impacts. It is expected to remain a highly contested issue, and until there is clarity on the exact remit of what loss and damage entail, estimates of financial needs and spending remain highly speculative.

A narrowing window for action

The next few years provide a narrowing window in which we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Changing course will require immediate, ambitious and concerted efforts to slash emissions, build resilience, conserve ecosystems, and dramatically increase finance for adaptation and addressing loss and damage.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human wellbeing 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.” – Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of the Working Group II.

Climate change is interconnected with almost all social impact causes. Any organisation that is looking to have a positive impact on society cannot afford to ignore the effects of climate change on society and the planet.