Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest assessment on climate change (Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) warning of the dire impacts that global warming will have on ecosystems across the global and the likely human health impacts it will entail, stressing that climate vulnerable communities will face serious challenges to adapt to the escalating climate emergency. 

Building on accumulated knowledge of rigorously selected scientific experts, this latest IPCC report examines the most pressing climate emergencies, providing climate projections that show that climate change will soon prompt irreversible tipping points that impose catastrophic risks to natural and human systems. The most climate-vulnerable communities, says the IPCC, will simply have to adapt to the warming planet, that is, if they can.[1]

Countries are thwarted in their ability to effectively implement adaptation measures because global warming is escalating the climate emergency too quickly, and things are getting worse as warming continues to take hold of the planet. Some of the more salient impacts include recurring and evermore savage climate wildfires, intense heat domes that extend over vast regions of the planet, drying peatlands and severe droughts, and widespread permafrost thaw in regions of the Earth that should still be cold. All of these phenomenon, says the IPCC, release additional greenhouse gases stored within the Earth’s multiple ecosystems (including carbon dioxide and an even more powerful greenhouse gas, methane). The oceans are absorbing much of this heat which in turn leads to the warming of the ocean floor, where additional methane gas is held in permafrost, further exacerbating warming.[2]

Despite international efforts to promote climate policies to reduce greenhouse gases that warm the planet, the sum of all of the Earth’s warming continues to grow as warming trends magnify themselves in what are known as a “feedback loops” where warming begets even more warming, further accelerating climate change, to a point where reversing the trend may in many cases, already be impossible. It is essential, say the climate scientists, to contain global warming to the 1.5°C warming limit set by the IPCC since any warming beyond this limit will trigger tipping points that lead to severe and irreversible climate impacts.

This IPCC report is yet another volume of emerging climate science, focusing on society and ecosystem adaptative capacity to effectively withstand, or as the case may be, succumb to warming trends. The report highlights the critical importance for all nations to urgently prepare for what’s coming, adapting where possible to the climate emergency, while continuing to try to stop climate change by taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that can stop global warming (what science refers to as mitigation). Dr Aditi Mukherji, one of the author’s of AR6, shares her perspective on the report’s most important insight, saying “effectiveness of most adaptation responses decreases drastically at global warming levels of 1.5°C to 2°C, showing that mitigation and adaptation efforts have to go hand in hand.”

The problem says the IPCC is that some of the impacts of current and future climate change (no matter what we do) are simply unavoidable and therefore we must adapt to climate change. An aggravating factor to the climate emergency is that adaptation to climate change comes at a steep cost, not only because it is expensive for already vulnerable communities to finance infrastructure investments that can help them adapt to climate change, but also because many of the global resources devoted to climate are targeting emissions reductions, and are not necessarily focused on adaptation needs. Part of the problem, say the authors of the IPCC report, is that we have significantly underestimated adaptation costs, as previous cost projections were based on conservative global warming estimates or uncertainties about future global warming levels. Actual climate change trends keep coming in more and more dire with each passing year. Scientists project that coastal adaptation to sea level rise, for example, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The exact cost depends on the emissions scenario and will increase unless countries intensely reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

This new report centers attention on losses and damages from climate change, and looks specifically at countries’ financial capabilities to adjust to the changing climate, delving into climate change impacts on human health and the environment, existing climate vulnerabilities of communities alongside adaptive capacities. It also outlines adaptation methods that can contribute to an equitable and more sustainable future.[3]

As climate change intensifies, urgent action is necessary including carefully choosing which climate strategies and which climate pollutants to reduce first, because not all strategies or emissions reductions have the same benefit. As we approach irreversible climate tipping points, certain greenhouse gases stand out more than others, as the ideal focus for immediate climate strategies. Methane gas, the principal component of natural gas, for example, is 86 times more polluting for the climate than CO2 over a 20-year period, and thus, strategies that reduce methane gas in the near term, will have larger climate benefits than those that focus merely on reducing CO2 emissions. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reduce CO2 emissions alongside methane since in the long run, drastic reductions of both CO2 and methane are necessary to contain and reverse global warming. Comparatively CO2 emissions reduction strategies have a much longer timespan to reap their climate benefits, and won’t bring noticeable changes to the climate for many decades, even centuries or millennia, but are nonetheless important over time to improve climate health. More intense climate pollutants like methane, black carbon (soot) and certain dirty AC cooling refrigerants (called HFCs), can offer near term climate gains to keep global warming from running out of control between now and 2030. 

Other strategies besides greenhouse gas reductions can also help communities tackle climate change while improving local economics, and helping communities that are most affected by climate change. For example, through efforts to enhance building cooling through nature-based solutions instead of using AC systems can also help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Many low income communities suffer intense urban heat due to the lack of shade or because their buildings were constructed with thermally inefficient building materials. Urban areas account for about 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 80% of cities with CO2 reduction goals are set to miss them. By introducing reflective surfaces on rooftops or other sun-exposed surfaces, or by introducing urban greenery (planting trees and plants in areas with high heat) we can help greatly lower local temperatures on the hottest days. Strategies like these reduce AC cooling needs, which not only helps reduce emissions of dirty refrigerants, but can also help improve the health, livelihoods and economics of already vulnerable low-income and disadvantaged communities that suffer disproportionately from urban heat islands and from the impacts of climate change more generally. Urban heat strategies also help increase property values, decrease energy bills, improve public health, and increase the durability of construction materials, resulting in savings on infrastructure repairs for local governments.

Other nature based solutions include for example, restoring ecosystems, such as forests and peatlands, which can enhance the resilience of carbon sinks to absorb and store carbon. Yet, the authors of the AR6 report share that “many natural systems are near the hard limits of their natural adaptation capacity and additional systems will reach limits with increasing global warming.” A hard limit means that adaptive methods or these natural solutions become ineffective to avoid risks. 

The IPCC stresses the importance of considering mitigation (reducing emissions) along with adaptation strategies in order to effectively manage climate change. The IPCC’s latest data will surely influence the next climate summit (COP27 to held in Egypt later this year), which will likely have to devote significant attention to, and respond to the call of climate-vulnerable countries for help and financing for their adaptation to climate impacts.[4]

Key links: 
IPCC Report: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

[1] The link to the full report contains the following information described:

[2] How global warming will release trapped methane in oceans: