Professor Daniela Schmidt, a lead author of the recently published IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability, recently gave an internal presentation to University of Bristol staff to summarise the report’s findings.
Recent geo-political events have meant that this report has understandably been overlooked in comparison to its predecessor, however, at 3500 pages and being the product of analysis of 34,000 papers since 2014, it is certainly not light reading. This writing aims to pinpoint and amplify the key messages from Daniela’s summary of Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability, as the Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change report has been released this week.
The key take home message, was that the report offers solutions, but they are needed now. Daniela explained that it is not all doom and gloom, and it is important for our survival not to take it that way. From the report itself, the key quote, which you have perhaps seen shared elsewhere, is
The science is clear. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future. This report offers solutions to the world.
One of the key solutions proposed in the report is nature, both in terms of its conservation and restoration and that it offers promising solutions to many of the threats we face. For example, the potential of natural carbon sinks, coastal protection, water management and urban cooling systems has been repeatedly evidenced, as well as the importance of integrating nature and natural solutions into urban spaces.
The report stresses that humans are part of ecosystems, not separate from them, and nature is crucial to our survival because of the essential and irreplaceable ecosystem services it provides. Fragmented, polluted and overexploited ecosystems are much more vulnerable to climate change, therefore, the report stresses it is therefore important to take a coordinated approach, with their protection and restoration in mind.
As well as the interconnectedness of humans and nature, the report evidences previously unrealised interconnections of climate risks. Risks are becoming more complex and there are compound and cascading risks through systems. For example, in terms of food scarcity, we need to consider that heat stress will not only reduce crop yields, but also the well-being and productivity of farm workers, further exacerbating the situation. There is an increased recognition of the interconnections between people, regions, society, ecosystems, biodiversity. This means that climate change cannot be seen as an individual problem, but as one intrinsically linked with natural resource depletion, ecosystem destruction, and growing urbanisation and inequity across the world.
Another key focus of the report was the importance of but lack of global equality, which will continue to be exacerbated in the face of climate change. 3.3 - 3.6 billion live in hotspots of high vulnerability to climate change, due to high levels of poverty, limited access to water, sanitation and health services, climate sensitive livelihoods and lack of funding and accountability in government. I would like to point out, that in the vast majority of cases, it is these communities whose carbon contributions are the least, which in my opinion strongly evidences to the fact that climate change is a political problem as well as a scientific one.
Due to inequality being a big problem, the report places an emphasis on the importance of promoting equality in the solutions and with this the need to listen to marginalised voices. Daniela explained that of global climate funding, 80% goes to mitigation, or reduction of emissions, while only 20% goes to adaptation, which is likely to be what is most consequential to more vulnerable communities.
After lack of action on deals made at COP26, which scientists have already argued at best would not be sufficient to solve the problem, a continued lack of action following these urgent messages will be deeply concerning for the fate of the planet, and especially for its most vulnerable communities.