28 February 2022
The second in an installment of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is out today – and it’s all about our mounting environmental crises and how we’re adapting to them.
The scientific body made a ton of material available upon its release – including the full report itself, which clocks in at an eye-watering 3675 pages.
We’ve been going through some of the report and its accompanying documents, and pulled out a couple of things that stood-out upon first glance.
About half the world’s population is highly vulnerable to climate change.
One figure that you’ll see repeated in today’s coverage is this: between 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to climate change, according to this latest report.
That means that almost every other person living on the planet right now is vulnerable to an array of different climate impacts, whether that be water scarcity, infectious disease, or flooding, to name but a few.
These often overlap, meaning communities might be simultaneously dealing with limited access to water and health services, while also experiencing a real-time threat to their climate-sensitive livelihoods, like small-scale farming being decimated in certain areas due to chronic drought.
We’re looking at compounded risks as the climate crisis continues to worsen.
And speaking of overlapping challenges – the IPCC warned that the climate crisis is leading to “compounded risks” the worldover.
The climate crisis is ubiquitous and presents itself in a myriad of ways, whether that be supercharged storms or multi-year long droughts. But its multiple iterations will come in contact with other societal structures and it’s set to create risks that “cascade across sectors and regions”, according to the report.
Here’s an example IPCC co-chairs presented at today’s conference to demonstrate: greenhouse gas emissions have been driving up global temperatures and lead to extreme heat, which creates serious risk to agricultural workers and reduces the amount of work they’re able to do safely. Food yields are lower as a result, meaning there is less product to sell and ultimately costs are driven up due to demand, which everyday consumers have to bear the brunt of.
So ultimately, risks due to the climate emergency go much further than just higher temperatures themselves.
Maladaptation is a thing – and it’s causing harm.
A term you might not have heard of cropped up a number of times at today’s aforementioned conference – “maladaptation”.
It refers to adaptation action that may ultimately see climate risks increase rather than decline, and the phenomenon tends to impact already disadvantaged groups the most severely.
It most often tends to be an unintended consequence, according to the IPCC.
Maladaptation might look like a poorly built structure to reduce coastal flooding, but ultimately it is ineffective and actually creates more problems for a local community than solutions.
However, the scientific body does note that it can be avoided – but only if those responsible opt for “flexible, multi-sectoral, inclusive and long-term planning”.
Urbanisation is an opportunity to adapt.
Urbanisation – meaning people living and building communities in cities – is a growing trend. If it continues, the United Nations estimates that by mid-century cities could hold two-thirds of the global population.
And this demographic development offers opportunities for climate resilient development, according to the IPCC.
Built-up urban areas tend to become so-called heat islands, recording higher temperatures than rural communities during heatwaves. But with the right integration of green and blue spaces and even urban agriculture, cities could adapt and provide more liveable spaces to their inhabitants.
Every fraction of a degree matters.
And finally, the report’s findings further consolidate a point climate scientists have repeated time and time again: every degree and fraction of a degree makes a difference when it comes to the climate crisis.
If global temperatures exceed a 1.5 C degree increase above pre-industrial levels, some natural solutions to the climate emergency may no longer be effective. Similarly, at this level of warming a number of freshwater problems would present themselves to small island states and communities that depend on meltwater.
Breaching a 2 C degree warming limit would also bear a number of problems for agriculture, ultimately wreaking havoc on global food supplies.
And this principle isn’t just limited to our climate – it also occurs alongside its dual environmental crisis: biodiversity loss.
If the world sees global temperatures increase by 3 degrees, the extinction risk to biodiversity hotspots the worldover shoots up by tenfold versus if temperatures are kept to 1.5 C.
Wanting to dig in more to adaptation and the climate crisis? Check out this interview we did last week with Dr. Stephen Flood, an adaptation social scientist.