Human-induced climate change is already causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature, affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, and time is running out to prevent its most serious consequences, according to scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released this week.
The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C, according to the IPCC, the world’s leading authority on climate science. Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”
To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC warns. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”
Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.
The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C. In some regions, it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C, the IPCC warned. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner.
It is still possible to adapt to a changing climate, with nature having the potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives, the IPCC said.
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 percent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”