A Summary of the new IPCC Report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities

Erich Molz

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8 minutes

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Industry news

As you may know, the IPCC publishes an assessment report on climate change every six or seven years. The Working Group I (WGI) provided the latest scientific basis report in 2021, looking at variability and changes in our climate happening at the global as well as regional level. This relates to the assessment of Working Group II (WGII) and the need to design effective climate change adaptation policies. The newest report of WGII was published last week. No time to read the 3,675 pages? Don’t worry. This brief summary gives you a general overview of what the latest science says.

March 7, 2022
Image: 
Maksim Romashkin (Pexels)

1.       Climate change is already impacting the world today - more intensely, more often and over a wider geographical area than anticipated.

Climate change has already altered ecosystems all around the world, on land and inwater. Nature is often not able to cope with climate change’s effects. This leads to deteriorated ecosystem functioning and increases in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires, terrestrial and marine heatwaves, cyclones. We can also already witnessmore disease and mass mortality events of plants and animals, and the first extinctions of local species.

These climate-driven impacts on ecosystems come at significant economic costs, damaging and destroying livelihoods around the world. They also stress our food and forestry systems and thus threaten food security and nutrition of hundreds of millions of people. Moreover, roughly half of the world’s population is already experiencing severe water scarcity for at least one month per year due to climatic and other factors.

2.       We cannot escape even worse effects in the near future. But if we start adapting now, we can lessen the impact.

Near-term warming will continue to impair most ecosystems and species, even if we stopped emitting any greenhouse gases today. This is partially due to reinforcing feedback loops that are already at play. All in all, this will push more species and ecosystems over the brink and intensify the negative effects on humans described above.

But if we take action now, we can still lay the foundation for large-scale mitigation and for effective adaptation to current and future risks. The window of opportunity is, however, narrow and already closing. The current decade will be crucial.

3.       Adaptation must be far-sighted instead of focusing on near-term risks alone. System change through integrated, multi-sectoral solutions is key.

An adaptation limit is the point beyond which we cannot be safe from intolerably high risks posed by climate change: When we reach a soft limit, this means that options for adaptation exist, but they are unavailable, for example because of lack of financial means or political will. Beyond a hard limit, there are no options for adaptation anymore.

To overcome soft limits, we need transformational adaptation, as opposed to incremental adaptation. Incremental adaptation is, for example, building a sea wall. Transformational adaptation, however, changes the fundamental attributes of a social-ecological system in anticipation of climate change and its impacts. For example: changing land use regulations in order to prevent people from moving to coastal regions. According to the IPCC there are five systems where such transformations should happen: society, energy, land and ocean ecosystems, cities and infrastructure, and industry.

But all of this requires improved governance and coordination across sectors and jurisdictions.

4.       Without social justice, there is no adaptation. Support must reach vulnerable communities, minorities and the poor.

Throughout the world, it is the most vulnerable people and systems who are disproportionately affected by climate change. This includes the hundreds of millions of people living in slums and informal settlements on the fringes of cities and the many rural communities whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, fishing and tourism, i.e. sectors directly exposed to climate risks.

Only adaptation which is consistent with social justice, gender equity and empowerment can help prevent maladaptation, distribute benefits and burdens equitably, and reduce poverty and vulnerability.

5.       Cities and urban areas will be at the forefront of adaptation. Climate-smart planning and infrastructure support rural adaptation, too.

Cities entail both risks and opportunities for adaptation: On the one hand, the world’s urban population is still growing, raising demand for healthy, decent, affordable and sustainable living conditions. On the other hand, thei nterconnection of people and infrastructure within and across cities and into rural areas can be leveraged to create integrative and inclusive adaptation strategies. These are already under way in many cities across the world, driven by local governments and community-based action.

6.       Conservation and ecosystem-based adaptation complement technological solutions, linking the fight against climate change with biodiversity protection.

Diverse, self-sustaining ecosystems with healthy biodiversity help us increase our resilience to future climate change. It is therefore vital to protect and restore ecosystems.

Moreover, if planned and implemented in the right way and in the right place, ecosystem-based adaptation can reduce the climate risks for ecosystems and people. Ecosystem-based adaptation includes the protection and restoration of forests, grasslands,peatlands and other wetlands, blue carbon systems (mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows), and agro-ecological farming practices.

7.       But adaptation is still direly under-funded, making up only 4-8% of total climate finance. Especially the private sector needs to step up its game.

Total tracked climate finance has increased from $364 billion per year in 2010/11 to $579billion in 2017/18. But only $23-46 billion of this is allocated to adaptation. To illustrate the shortfall: In the best-case scenario of 1.5°C of warming, the costs of adaptation for Africa alone are estimated at $50 billion per year in 2050.

As more than 90% of adaptation finance comes from public sources, we need to increase public and especially private funding, open up direct access to multilateral funds, strengthen project pipeline development, and shift finance from readiness activities to project implementation.

The upshot

All in all, this IPCC report has been criticized for the hopeless picture it paints. But maybe it simply provides us with a realistic assessment of what’s going on and what we can do. Only with that knowledge are we able to act.

Let’s turn the tide together!

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