‘A damning indictment of failed global leadership on climate’ Key findings from the IPCC adaptation report

The year is 2022. COVID-19 has run rife for two years. Putin has initiated another war. And now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released their sixth assessment report (AR6), Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability, to complete the dystopian trifecta.

The sixth assessment report lays bare the truth that we are often afraid to admit; the worse case scenarios predicted in earlier reports are becoming a reality. To highlight but a few findings;

  • 3 to 3.6 billion people “live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”
  • Climate change has caused substantial damage and irreversible losses across terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems.9-14% of terrestrial and freshwater species will likely face a “very high” risk of extinction at 1.5 degrees, 10-18% at 2 degrees, and 12-29% at 3 degrees.
  • Sudden food production losses due to extreme events have become more frequent since the mid 20th century 
  • Climate change has adversely affected the physical health of people worldwide and the mental health of people
  • Climate change impacts tend to worsen inequality, therefore, “reduces the ability to cope and recover”

It is simple – we are not doing enough to minimise the long-term impacts of climate change on the physical world, climate injustice is stark, and as a society we are not adapting quick enough. However, there is a window of hope, and that is we must limit warming to within 1.5 degrees against  pre-industrial levels. But this window is small and rapidly closing. The message is clear – we must act quickly, fairly, and for the long term.

“It is time to turn rage in to action. Every fraction of a degree matters. Every voice can make a difference. Every second counts’. Antonio Guterres – UN Secretary General

Underlying the 3,949 pages of the report sit two key themes: 1) Climate adaption has to be socially just 2) The time for the energy transition is now.

Climate adaption must be socially just

The IPCC AR6 report has come to fruition through a range of knowledge sources, including science, indigenous and local knowledge. This is a new approach for the report, but an approach that has collated knowledge at local and regional levels, demonstrating linkages between biodiversity and climate change. Such work outlines the sobering conclusion that “gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks”.

These gaps are “partially driven by widening disparities between the estimated costs of adaptation and documented finance allocated to adaptation” with the majority of global climate finance being targeted at climate change mitigation. Such action has led the report to explore the idea of ‘maladaption’ that “lead to an increase in climate vulnerability of a system, sector or group”.

AR6 plainly states that adaption to climate change is essential for survival, and some efforts to adapt are underway. However, the majority of adaption projects are not socially just, and are not equally distributed geographically, or equally funded financially. Such disparities call out the injustice of climate change and the short sighted nature of many adaption projects.

There is an urgent need for adaption projects with long term focus for truly transformational change. For example, ecosystem-based adaption whereby nature-based solutions that uses ecosystem services to reduce vulnerability and help people to adapt to climate change. Such as, investing in mangrove plantations as flood defences, or maintaining protected lakes to retain water for periods of drought.

Such climate resilient development is enabled when governments, civil society and the private sector make inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice, and when decision-making processes, finance and actions are integrated across governance levels, sectors and timeframes.

The time for the energy transition is now. Fossil fuels for developed countries cannot be an option.

In his video message, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change is undeniable, and further,  “our continued reliance on fossil fuels makes the global economy and energy security vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises”.

Simply, coal and fossil fuels are chocking humanity, and all developed nations must move away from fossil fuels and form coalitions to support emerging economies develop sustainably.

The various climate scenarios outlined in the AR6 report makes it all too clear that we must meet targets for phasing out coal and fossil fuels in OECD nations to limit warming to within 1.5 degrees. If not, the report warns that if global temperatures surpass 1.5, even temporarily, “human and natural systems will face additional, and potentially irreversible, severe risks”.

With nearly half of humanity living in the danger zone, and with many ecosystems at the point of no return, we must seriously consider the carbon forcing that our actions are putting on the world’s most vulnerable systems.

Developed nations must lead the way with a renewable energy transition, and in turn, they must support those developing nations make theirs.

In summary, the report is no longer geared towards providing a compelling argument that climate change is here; rather, it is a report that demonstrates that explains that we must act consciously as global citizens to make choices that are socially and environmentally just. The way that we choose to act will decide the risks that we face and the severity of the impacts in the medium and long term. In the words of Christiana Figueres, former UN Climate Chief “We can prevent and protect ourselves from extreme weather, famines, health problems and more by cutting emissions and investing in adaptation strategies. The science and the solutions are clear. It’s up to us how we shape the future.”

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