Key report published by IPCC on future impacts of the climate crisis

31st March 2022

Sivan Kamiel-Skeete

On 28 February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Working Group 2 released its sixth assessment report which summarises all the research that is available on the impacts of and adaptations to climate change

Impacts

The report states that human-induced climate change has had widespread adverse impacts to both nature and people. Already there have been negative impacts on a global scale to ecosystem structures, species geographic ranges in terrestrial, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems; as well as to human systems with adverse effects on water security and food production, health and well-being, and cities, settlements, and infrastructure. Almost half of the global population live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Climate change will continue to magnify these impacts if global warming is not kept below 1.5C on pre-industrial temperatures. Current temperatures are on average 1.1C above industrial levels so it is looking increasingly likely that we will reach 1.5C of warming in the near term. If 1.5C is exceeded, some impacts will become irreversible, even if global warming is reduced.

These negative impacts, while widespread are not felt equally. Patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity mean that the most vulnerable in society are disproportionately affected.

Perhaps one of the most concerning observations made in this report is that the level of risk assessed is higher at lower temperature increases than previously assessed in the fifth assessment report in 2014. This highlights that the need to adapt to climate change is more urgent than previously assessed as the window for taking effective action is closing faster than expected.

Adaptation

Despite these stark warnings, the report concludes that there is still time to put actions in place that can increase the adaptive capacity of human systems. Progress has been made across sectors in adaptation planning and implementation, however like the impacts, these are unevenly distributed and focus on immediate to near-term risk reduction.

A new aspect considered in the risk concept is the risk from human responses to climate change. “Maladaptation” is when adaptation actions to climate change increase the vulnerability rather than decrease it and can create lock-ins that are difficult to change once in place. This can be avoided using flexible, multi-sectoral, inclusive, and long-term planning and implementation of adaptation actions. While it is important to make sure the adaptations put in place are beneficial, they also need to be put in place sooner rather than later. The report makes a concerning point that with temperatures surpassing 1.5C, the tools and adaptations we use to cope with climate change become less effective.

Summary

This report highlights now more than ever the importance of putting effective adaptation actions in place as soon as possible to ensure that we decrease the exposure of ecological and human systems. These adaptations will only be effective when implemented within a holistic approach that also prioritises reducing emissions now.  

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