The second part of the latest report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out yesterday. It describes much of the current state of the climate crisis as irreversible and with devastating impacts already on their way.
The first part of the IPCC report was published in August, as a precursor to the fall UN COP26 Climate Change conference. It summarized the science of the climate crisis and that it was “unequivocally” caused by human actions.
The second part, published yesterday, takes that study a major step forward. It lays out in detail how the climate crisis has moved to a breakdown state, with conclusions on the current trajectory of climate events. It offers specifics as to where the worst impacts of climate change will appear and suggests options to adapt to what is about to come.
A third part of the report, covering more specifically how to slash greenhouse gas emissions far more than current plans, is to be published in April.
Among the conclusions of this report are the following:
Approximately half of all people on the planet live in areas which are at high risk because of climate change. That works out to between 3.3 billion and 6.6 billion individuals directly affected, and the numbers are increasing every year. The reality is that the entire planet is being severely impacted.
An acceleration in the intensity and number of heatwaves, flooding, and drought is causing “mass mortalities” in forests and coral reefs. Wildfires plus human deforestation adds to the dire situation for the world’s forests, much of which are still considered critical to absorption of at least some carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the case of coral reefs, their status as the entry point for much of the sea’s “food chain” is causing further mortalities to higher order species which depend on the life forms living within the coral reefs.
Forest deterioration has become so rapid that areas which once were net carbon absorbers have become carbon emitters. The Amazon Rainforest is one of those which has “switched”, despite that many still believe it to be a carbon sink which could help save the planet.
The extreme weather events are also contributing to widespread acute food and water insecurity.
The regions of the world most seriously affected by the climate crisis are in Arica, Asia, Central and South America, and in the Arctic.
Small islands everywhere as well as coastal zones are also being rapidly swallowed up as sea level rise accelerates, thanks to accelerating melting throughout the cryosphere, but focusing in the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, and the Himalayas mountain range.
Increased urbanization, a trend which has been growing steadily since the 1970s across the globe, is exacerbating the challenges of addressing the climate crisis.
The report calls out the pace of the climate crisis – and the impacts coming from much higher temperatures in the coming decades – is accelerating dangerously fast. It identified 127 key risk areas, including explicit implications of drought, flooding, sea level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, and more, which the report says will produce “mid- and long- term impacts [which] are up to multiple times higher than currently observed”.
As to what to do about the projections, the report continues to hang onto the fiction that there is still time to keep planetary temperature increases to less than 1.5° C compared to pre-industrial levels. This is a key anchor point for the report, despite that numerous studies have pointed to many of the populated areas of the world already dealing with temperatures well over that number, even now.
When the numbers are set aside, the report does refocus on the more practical aspects of how to respond to the obvious destruction of the planet by global heating. Among the recommendations cited in the report are:
The need to respond now to sea level rise which will force mass climate migration as early as the next few decades.
Shifting to more resilient ways of carrying out virtually every aspect of life, from what we build, how we grow food, what we eat, and more.
The need to establish more concrete programs for nurturing the resilience of critical ecosystems such as the forests and trees, which the report highlighted as at severe risk from the very beginning.
Mandatory shifting way from what the report refers to as “maladaptive responses to climate change”. These are practices which either work directly against preserving the planet or are sufficiently narrow in focus as to create major inequalities in the likely survival of some groups over others. While the situation is indeed dire so that some of that may be inevitable, careful planning and execution of such adaptation strategies can minimize such impacts.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.
To respond to the crisis, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner pointed to the need to focus on finding ways to reset the planet to a healthier overall state.
“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential,” he said.
Addressing the problem of increased concentrations of people in urban centers, along with the inability to adapt systems there -- such as transportation, energy, waste disposal, water management, and even sea level rise -- fast enough to respond is a challenge.
“There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” it says.
“Growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts, “especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services.”
In that, she still sees a possible positive outcome from that scenario.
“Cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society,” she continued.
To meet that challenge will require, she said, “bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge”, with the goal of creating more effective long-term solutions.
The warnings of this new report, which brought together data, conclusions, and recommendations of 270 authors from 67 countries, are clear. The world is heating at a rate which is currently destroying the world’s ecosystems, and which is also out of control. Though the report implies there may be means of reining the pace of change in the climate crisis, it has with this new report shifted the battle to one of adapting to what will be, and mitigating to build resilience in our ecosystems – and our way of life – to survive it.
Climate Survival Solutions will break ground on its first climate-proof, self-sufficient and sustainable habitat this year.