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A brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity: the new IPCC Report

“Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. (very high confidence)”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is made up of the world’s leading climate scientists and is charged with publishing regular comprehensive updates of global knowledge on the climate crisis aimed to inform government policy making. The current report is being published in four parts from August 2021 to October 2022. We all remember the August 2021 report and the consistent scientific warning that it issued for remaining within 1.5C. Today, the IPCC released Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability which focuses on the interplay that connects warming-driven impacts such as heat waves and floods to ecosystems and human society. The IPCC scientists sounded the alarm by determining that some impacts are already irreversible and that as many as 3.6 billion people now live in settings that are highly vulnerable to climate change.

The report has characterised adaptation measures as insufficient which make the consequences of inaction very clear. Greenhouse gas emissions are not being reduced fast enough, making climate change adaptation essential but also more challenging. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general says that the report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

The UN warns that climate change is harming the planet faster than we can adapt: countries are not doing enough to protect against the disasters to come as the planet continues to warm.

“One of the most striking conclusions in our report is that we’re seeing adverse impacts that are much more widespread and much more negative than expected,” said Camille Parmesan, an ecologist at the University of Texas, Austin, and one of the researchers who prepared the report.

So, here are the key takeaways from the report:

Vulnerable countries are hit the hardest already

The poorest nations are projected to be the most vulnerable as the century progresses. The report shows how growing urbanisation means growing stress on water, health and sanitation services. Mortality from floods, drought and storms is already 15 times higher in vulnerable countries compared to low-vulnerability nations in the last decade. today , approximately 3.4 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. According to Camilla Toulmin, senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development, “as richer countries go on emitting more and more greenhouse gases, the devastation and costs grow.” Specifically, small islands will be among those worst affected: Walton Webson, an ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda and the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, called the findings “cataclysmic” according to The Guardian.

Climate change is hurting our health

The report predicts that climate impacts will significantly increase ill health and premature deaths in both the near and long-term. “People around the world are already suffering from the impacts of climate change at 1.1C of warming” “beyond 1.5C would put peace, security, economic stability and nature in peril across our planet and be an existential threat for far too many” says Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero. This is already seen and felt by many with half of human beings vulnerable to water insecurity and billions at risk of extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases and hunger linked to global warming. Extreme heat increases human mortality and morbidity, and it is projected to worsen. Flooding has led to displacement in Asia, Africa and Central America and is predicted to increase while extreme weather events have pushed millions to food insecurity due to the increased likelihood of crop failures.

Some things are lost forever

The report’s message is unequivocal: some climate impacts are already irreversible, limiting the extent to which we can adapt. Anthropogenic climate change is weakening “increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems.”

We can adapt but up to a point

The point of the report has been to highlight the ways that we can adapt to climate change: something that it does provide - a myriad of innovative and practical means of adaptation to improve food and water security and preserve ecosystems. Nevertheless, such are not equally distributed geographically and remain underfunded. According to the report, holding temperature rises close to 1.5C will substantially reduce the scale of harm, but as I mentioned above: some of this harm is irreversible. Unless emissions dramatically fall, the window for adapting will quickly close. .

You can read the full report here

You can read the policymaker’s summary here


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