Climate change is already causing widespread disruption to the lives of billions of people and will get worse unless drastic action is taken now, according to more than 80 global scientists who authored the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The communities and landscapes least able to adapt to a changing climate have been hit the hardest.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, in a press release published yesterday, 28 February. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”
A rise in extreme weather – such as droughts, heatwaves and floods – has already damaged human infrastructure, worsened food and water insecurity and devastated species, including corals and species that depend on sea ice. Among the more than 900 plant and animal species examined by the authors, 47 percent of them had local populations that went extinct due to climate change.
The main solution to this crisis advocated in the report is not new: rapid, drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet progress toward this goal has been inadequate, even as a number of governments have set goals to reduce their carbon emissions.
The authors highlighted the potential of restoring nature to staving off the worst effects of climate change while improving people’s quality of life. Fostering resilient biodiversity and ecosystem services can be done by reducing the fragmentation of nature and increasing natural habitat, while incorporating essential Indigenous and local knowledge on adapting to climate change through nature-based avenues.
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, the IPCC Working Group II co-chair, in the press release. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 percent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon.”
The report assessed the role of cities in the climate crisis, where more than half of the global population lives. Hazardous weather such as flooding and heatwaves, along with the rising sea levels faced by the world’s many coastal cities, are jeopardizing people’s lives and the intricate infrastructure networks on which cities run. But cities are also at the forefront of the sustainability movement, leading the rise of sustainable transportation and renewable energy development.
Nevertheless, the window for change is narrowing – fast. The report contains regional information to spur the local action needed for global change. Stressing that the next two decades will witness unavoidable climate effects, the authors stated that climate resilient development has already become challenging, but this will become even more difficult once the planet passes the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold. In some areas, it will become impossible past the 2.0-degree threshold.
The key ingredients needed to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, according to the authors, are sufficient finance, technological innovation, and political will and cooperation. This could mean policies that incentivize the use of low-carbon systems and more civic action among individuals. All climate action should also incorporate equity and justice to make sure adaptation plans do not worsen inequality. Currently, 3.3 billion people live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” said Pörtner. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
The Working Group II report is the second installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and assessed the impacts of climate change on society and nature. The first installment, from Working Group I, was published last year and focused on the physical science aspect of climate change. The third and final installment will focus on climate change mitigation and is set to be released in early April this year.