Focussing on the limits of humankind to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change, especially more frequent and severe drought, storms and floods, leading global experts from natural and social sciences presented ten essential insights into climate change since 2021 at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The ten New Insights in Climate Sciencepresents key insights from the latest climate change-related research of 2022 year and responds to clear calls for policy guidance during this critical decade.
UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, said: “Science provides the evidence and data on the impacts of climate change, but it also gives us the tools and knowledge as how we need to address it. As the Egyptian COP27 Presidency has made very clear, we are now clearly in the era of implementation, and that means action. But none of this can happen without data, without evidence to inform decisions, or the science that supports programs and policies.”
DRIVERS OF RISK
In the scientific synthesis report, scientists from around the world emphasize and unpack the complex interactions between climate change and other drivers of risk, such as conflicts, pandemics, food crises and underlying development challenges. The scientists find that the potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless.
Rising sea levels capable of submerging coastal communities and extreme heat intolerable to the human body, are examples of ‘hard’ limits to our ability to adapt. They also highlight that over 3 billion people will inhabit ‘vulnerability hotspots’ – areas with the highest susceptibility to being adversely affected by climate-driven hazards – by 2050, double what it is today.
“Adaptation alone cannot keep up with the impacts of climate change, which are already worse than predicted,” Stiell said. “Adaptation actions are still crucial and are critical to upgrade small-scale, fragmented and reactive efforts. But the potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless. And they will not prevent all losses and damage that we’ve seen. I therefore applaud Parties for getting Loss and Damage onto the agenda for COP27 and I look forward to a thorough discussion on this issue.”
The scientists further outline that persistent dependence on fossil fuels exacerbates major vulnerabilities, notably for energy and food security, and that deep and swift mitigation to tackle the drivers of climate change is immediately necessary to avert and minimize future loss and damage.
“The less we mitigate, the more we have to adapt. So, investing in mitigation is a way of reducing the need to invest on adaptation and resilience. That means tabling stronger national climate action plans — and doing so now,” said Stiell.
Prof. Johan Rockström, co-chair of the Earth League, the Earth Commission and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said: ” As science advances, we have more evidence of massive costs, risks but also global benefits of reduced loss and damage, through an orderly safe landing of the world within the Paris climate range. To succeed requires global collaboration and speed at an unprecedented scale.”
TEN KEY POINTS
Questioning the myth of endless adaptation: The potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless: people and ecosystems in different places across the world are already confronted with limits to adaptation, and if the planet warms beyond 1.5°C or even 2°C, more widespread breaching of adaptation limits is expected. Hence, adaptation efforts cannot substitute for ambitious mitigation.
Vulnerability hotspots cluster in ‘regions at risk’: Vulnerability hotspots – areas with the highest susceptibility to being adversely affected by climate-driven hazards – are home to 1.6 billion people, a number projected to double by 2050. The report identifies vulnerability hotspots in Central America, the Sahel, Central and East Africa, the Middle East, and across the breadth of Asia.
New threats on the horizon from climate–health interactions: Climate change is adversely impacting the health of humans, animals and entire ecosystems. Heat-related mortality, wildfires affecting our physical and mental health, and growing risks of outbreaks of infectious diseases are all linked to climate change.
Climate mobility – from evidence to anticipatory action: The rising frequency and intensity of extreme weather events related to climate change, as well as its slow-onset impacts, will increasingly drive involuntary migration and displacement. These impacts can also render many people unable to adapt by moving out of harm’s way. Hence, anticipatory approaches to assist climate-related mobility and minimise displacement are essential in the face of climate change.
Human security requires climate security: Climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in human security (caused by governance and socioeconomic conditions), which can lead to violent conflict. Effective and timely mitigation and adaptation strategies are required to strengthen human security and, by extension, national security. These must be pursued in parallel with concerted efforts to provide for human security to reduce the risks of increasing violent conflict and promote peace.
Sustainable land use is essential to meeting climate targets: Enhancing yields via sustainable agricultural intensification with integrated land management should replace further expansion into natural areas, providing climate solutions, food security and ecosystem integrity. However, as the planet continues to warm, those land system co-benefits are less likely to hold.
Private sustainable finance practices are failing to catalyse deep transitions: “Sustainable finance” practices in the private sector are not yet catalysing the profound economic transformations needed to meet climate targets. This reflects the fact that these are mostly designed to fit into the financial sector’s existing business models, rather than to substantially shift the allocation of capital towards meaningful mitigation.
Loss and Damage – the urgent planetary imperative: Losses and damages are already widespread and will increase significantly on current trajectories, making it imperative to advance a coordinated global policy response. Deep and swift mitigation and effective adaptation are necessary to avert and minimise future economic and non-economic losses and damages.
Inclusive decision-making for climate-resilient development: Decentring and coordinating decision-making across scales and contexts, while prioritising empowerment of a broad range of stakeholders, are key ways for climate action to be more effective, sustainable and just, as well as necessarily more reflective of local needs, worldviews and experiences.
Breaking down structural barriers and unsustainable lock-ins: Transformative change towards deep and swift mitigation is impeded by structural barriers that arise from the current resource-intensive economy and its vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Integrating justice and equality across global agreements, decision-making processes, production-consumption arrangements, de-risking decarbonisation investments and fundamentally revising how progress is measured would strengthen climate action and redress ingrained and persistent injustices.