The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report yesterday on the impacts, vulnerability and risks of the continued climate crisis. The stark global threat outlined in the report, caused many climate commentators to try yet again to stress the importance of climate change and its impact globally.
One of the difficulties with the framing of climate change is that it has always been viewed as a problem for further down the line, a long-term issue that will be managed when we come to crisis point. With violence in Ukraine dominating the headlines, the climate report was noticed by the media, but did not break through. But there are only so many times that the climate crisis can be put off, as temperatures continue to rise, almost unabated. COP26 seems so long ago, and the climate leadership promised by the UK seems to have lost momentum.
A damning indictment of failed climate leadership
The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, commented on Twitter that, “I’ve seen many reports, but nothing like the new IPCC climate report, an atlas of human suffering & damning indictment of failed climate leadership”.
“Every fraction of a degree matters. Every voice can make a difference. And every second counts. Delay means death, now is the time to turn rage into action.”
With half the world’s population living in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change, the threat to human life is clear and present. The IPCC report states that, “Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change” and climate migration will surely follow, as people in these regions cannot adapt quickly enough to the rising climate hazards.
The report is blunter then than previous IPCC reports, stating with increasing confidence the impact and risks associated with human-induced climate change. It comments, “Climate change has already altered terrestrial, freshwater and ocean ecosystems at global scale. Climate change has already had diverse adverse impacts on human systems, including on water security and food production, health and well-being, and cities, settlements and infrastructure”.
Impact on human health: mental health challenges to increase
“Climate change has adversely affected physical health of people globally (very high confidence) and mental health of people in the assessed regions (very high confidence). Mental health challenges, including anxiety and stress, are expected to increase under further global warming in all assessed regions, particularly for children, adolescents, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.”
In a European context, the threat from coastal and inland flooding is viewed as one of the many risks: “Continued and accelerating sea level rise will encroach on coastal settlements and infrastructure and commit low-lying coastal ecosystems to submergence and loss.” With the UK still recovering from the latest storms, this does not augur well for more disruption. Non-structural measures such as emergency information systems so that people know what to do in an emergency and where to go, have reduced loss of life, but more adaptation needs to happen quickly.
Crop production and agriculture loss is also a main European threat associated with climate change and one that may have more attention focused on it as the summer looms and more imported food becomes necessary.
Threat multipliers of exceeding 1.5°C
‘Keeping 1.5 alive’ was one of the mantras of COP26 – a pledge that is at risk of looking like empty words when the UK’s actions on climate goals is evaluated. The IPCC reports warns that, “Global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”. It advises that risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage with multiple climate hazards occurring simultaneously, causing cascading risks across sectors. Already at 1.2°C, “the rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt”.
Clarion call for climate action
Alice Bell, author of Our Biggest Experiment: A History of the Climate Crisis said in the Guardian that, “The IPCC climate report is grim – but there is still room for hope”. She continued to highlight that a lack of action at this point will be costly:
“We need to let ourselves feel that climate pain every now and again, but can’t let ourselves be consumed by it. If we give in to doom completely, we only give in to the worst-case scenarios coming true. The storms are here, and more are coming. We have to be ready for them.”
This latest report from the IPCC must be seen as the rousing clarion call for climate action, with all actors, such as governments, companies, communities and individuals, working equitably for our future. The report sombrely concludes: