The Urgent Need for Adaptation: IPCC Working Group II Report Unravelled

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The IPCC Working Group II report toughens its bleak warnings on climate change but also lays out solutions for adaptation. Gaëlle Clain from EcoAct’s Climate Innovation & Knowledge Center (CLICK) analyses the report’s key messages.

IPCC Working Group II Report - EcoAct blog

On 28 February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability“. It is the second part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, following on from its initial report published in August 2021, which we also analysed for you. Despite its stark warnings of irreversible and destructive climate change, the latest report also presents a series of solutions and enabling factors to pursue and achieve climate resilient development (CRD).

More severe, more widespread, and more devastating risks than expected

What types of risks are we referring to?

Rising sea levels, droughts, cyclones, heat waves: extreme weather events can combine and spread between regions and interconnected socio-economic systems. Climate change risks are not limited to extreme weather events. Energy availability, ecosystem protection, secure access to food and water resources, education and health are also at stake.

Risk is a combination of vulnerability and exposure. Increasing one or the other means increased risk.

Vulnerable human populations

At the current level of 1.1°C of global warming, about 3.4 billion people are already living in a context of vulnerability to climate change-related risks. The most vulnerable populations are the most affected. Humanitarian crises such as migration will emerge from this context of enhanced climate change.

By 2050, one billion people living on vulnerable low-lying islands and coastal areas will be threatened by rising sea levels.

Vulnerability of ecosystems

Animals and plants are being exposed to climatic conditions not experienced for tens of thousands of years. Half of the studied species have already been forced to move and many face extinction.  Once the threshold of 2°C of global warming compared to the pre-industrial era is reached, up to 18% of terrestrial species will be endangered.

Access to food and water at stake

Millions of vulnerable people (indigenous communities, children, the elderly and pregnant women) are already facing severe food insecurity. Fish and shellfish farming are particularly threatened by global warming and ocean acidification. If global heating continues at the current rate, 183 million more people are projected to go hungry by 2050.

In addition, almost half of the world’s population is already facing severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. The threats to water scarcity and water-related hazards (drought, flooding) will only increase.

Humankind and nature’s solution to climate change: adaptation

At this stage of global warming, some risks are inevitable. However, certain levers of protection exist to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of people, ecosystems, and property to such risks. These are known as adaptation measures. Some adaptation measures have a strong potential for synergy with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Present assessment

Progress has been made since the 2014 publication of Part 2 of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, but geographical and financial disparities still exist. Africa has contributed among the least to global greenhouse gas emissions yet losses and damages are widespread including biodiversity loss, water shortages, reduced food production, loss of lives and hampered economic growth. Current and past measures have focused mainly on short-term planning to the detriment of long-term implementation. Only long-term planning and accelerated implementation will narrow the gaps.

Co-benefits of adaptation

The benefits of adaptation measures are common to several spheres. For example, the revegetation of urban areas helps counter the risk of hot spots and has co-benefits in terms of emission mitigation (less air conditioning) and helping improve biodiversity.

The limits of adaptation and how to overcome them

On the other hand, some adaptation measures can increase the risks. This is known as maladaptation. For example, the building of coastal embankments to encourage more coastal developments actually exposes people and property to greater risks of coastal flooding.

To avoid maladaptation and to promote further and effective adaptation, the IPCC recommends:

  • Developing knowledge about climate change impacts and possible solutions
  • Building clear objectives and priorities
  • Following through on political involvement and implementation measures
  • Developing institutional frameworks
  • Promoting solutions that have multi-sectoral benefits
  • Proposing flexible solutions
  • Including vulnerable and/or marginalised populations.

The goal of climate-resilient development (CRD)

In this report, the IPCC has listed 17 sustainable development goals related to prosperity, partnership, peace, planet and people.

CRD is about a future where adaptation measures have reduced the risks of climate change and greenhouse gas mitigation measures have been effectively implemented. This future has a strong biodiversity and a high level of achievement in meeting Sustainable Development Goals.

How to achieve a CRD?

The orientation of development trajectories towards or away from the CRD is not the result of isolated decisions, but rather of orientations taken within frameworks of engagement. At the heart of these frameworks, governments, the private sector, and civil societies interact and agree to shape development trajectories.

We have yet a chance to react.

At this point in time, there is still a chance to embrace societal changes that lead to a high success rate of CRDs. However, this chance relies on a huge global effort beginning now. The IPCC is clear that by 2030 and without action, some trajectories will be out of reach, and it will no longer be possible to achieve a high CRD rate.

How to facilitate CRD?

Decision-making, financing, and implementation processes are integrated at all levels of governance, sectors, and timeframes. Governments, civil societies, and the private sector must work together for risk reduction, justice, and equity. The action levers are:

  • Information
  • Inclusive governance
  • Human and technological resources
  • Finance
  • Knowledge and education.

International cooperation and partnerships are facilitating factors. International cooperation links governments with educational entities, media, investors, and businesses. Partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups such as women, youth, indigenous communities, local communities, and ethnic minorities contribute to a high CRD success rate.

Adaptation must happen now

The message of this report is clear, climate change is rapidly accelerating and many of the impacts will be more severe than predicted, across all parts of the world. “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of the working group producing this report. Adaptation provides us with solutions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. However, Pörtner also warns that “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”  There is clearly no time to lose, action must be taken now.

 

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