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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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# Climate Change
New climate change report issues 'dire warning about the consequences of inaction'
Climate change is already disrupting people’s lives in multiple ways across different parts of the world.

THE IMPACTS OF climate change are already causing severe and widespread disruption around the world and drastic action is needed to avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure. 

That’s according to a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report aims to show what climate change means for people across the world, and how impacts can be reduced by adapting and acting now to prevent future harm. 

Climate change is disrupting people’s lives in multiple ways across different parts of the world, the report said. 

“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 Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the working group behind the report.

The crucial ‘summary for policymakers’ on today’s report – a 40-page overview of the thousands of pages of scientific research – was reviewed and signed off by almost 200 countries over the weekend.   

IPCC scientists concluded that people and ecosystems least able to cope with the impacts of climate change are already being hardest hit.

In August 2021, another IPCC report on the physical science of climate change found that global heating is virtually certain to pass 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, probably within a decade.

This report said the world “faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards” in the next 20 years with global warming of 1.5 degrees. 

In 2015, countries pledged to limit the global temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees and preferably to 1.5 degrees. Delegates at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year repeatedly expressed the aim to keep the 1.5 degree limit “alive”. 

The report from the UN body for assessing climate science looked at impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities when it comes to climate change 

Adaptation means taking action to prepare for and adjust to current impacts of climate change and predicted effects down the line. 

Dr Debra Roberts, the other co-chair of the working group behind this report, said the findings don’t give a sense of doom and gloom, but do give a “very serious reality check” around the situation.

At a press briefing after the publication of the report, she said it outlines a “difficult reality” but stresses that “action is still possible”. 

Risks above 1.5

Most recent evidence shows the world has already hit around 1.1 degrees of warming. 

This report sets out that even temporarily exceeding a 1.5 degree rise will lead to “additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible”. 

The report outlines these irreversible impacts and ‘hard limits’ – points beyond which systems can’t adapt to climate impacts. An example is small islands becoming uninhabitable due to sea level rise and lack of enough fresh water. 

The report also goes into greater detail than ever before about the interconnectedness of different systems, such as humans and nature. 

“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.”

Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said it is clear from the report that “transformative measures” are needed to reduce the impacts of climate change. 

“This report makes clear that enhanced adaptation, together with improved ecosystem protection and management, can reduce risks from climate change to biodiversity and people everywhere,” he said.

Teresa Anderson, the climate justice lead for ActionAid International, said the report outlines a “harrowing catalogue of the immense suffering that climate change means for billions of people”. 

“It’s the most hard-hitting compilation of climate science the world has ever seen. You can’t read it without feeling sick to your stomach,” Anderson said.

Susan Otieno, Executive Director of ActionAid Kenya, said the findings “sound like a nightmare, but they are a daily reality for families across Kenya and the Global South. 

“Countries like Kenya urgently need support from the wealthiest nations most responsible for our warming world to scale up their ability to adapt and respond climate disasters,” she said. 

Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra said the report is a “depressing and stark reminder” of the impacts of climate change particularly for the Global South. 

“We are in an emergency, and we need world leaders to act like we are in an emergency. The clock is ticking. How many more reminders do we need of a pending catastrophe?” she said. 

Impacts

This sets out even clearer evidence than before that the planet is warming and the impacts of climate change are increasingly affecting nature and people’s lives. 

It said there is more knowledge now around the impacts of climate change – such as increasing heat and extreme weather driving plants and animals on land and in the ocean towards poles, to higher altitudes or to deeper ocean waters.

Many species are reaching their adaptation limits – those that can’t adjust are at risk of becoming extinct.

The report said that as a result, the distribution of plants and animals around the world is changing. The timing of events such as breeding or flowering is also adapting.

But these trends are impacting food webs and in many cases, can reduce the ability of nature to provide the services humans need to survive such as coastal protection, food supply or carbon storage in trees. 

Changes in temperature, rainfall and extreme weather events have also increased the frequency and spread of diseases in wildlife, agriculture and humans. 

The wildfire season has lengthened and more area is now being burned. Drought conditions are more frequent in many regions.

It went into particular detail about cities and the people living there facing higher risk of heat stress, reduced air quality, lack of water, food shortages and other impacts to supply chains, transport networks and other infrastructure. 

Current projections show that a global warming level of 2 degrees by 2100, up to 18% of all species on land will be at high risk of extinction. If the world warms up by 4 degrees, every second plant or animal species would be threatened.

But it said that this and other trends can still be reversed by restoring, rebuilding and strengthening ecosystems and by managing them sustainably – which will also support people’s wellbeing and livelihoods.

To achieve this, drastic emissions reductions are required now to avoid further warming. 

Not too late

The science still remains clear that urgent action now can prevent the most dramatic impacts of climate change. It isn’t too late to stop the worst-case scenarios in the years ahead.  

But an FAQ on the report stressed that the impacts of climate change will intensify in the coming decades with “profound implications” on food and water supplies, cities, infrastructures, economies, health and wellbeing. 

It said that children who were aged 10 or younger in 2020 are projected to experience a nearly four-fold increase in extreme events in a world of 1.5 degrees of warming by 2100.

This goes up to a five-fold increase with 3 degrees of warming. 

“Such increases in exposure would not be experienced by a person aged 55 in the year 2020 in their remaining lifetime under any warming scenario,” it outlines. 

Worst-case scenarios can also be avoided by better adaptation – such as protecting and conserving nature and by improving planning and management of cities. 

Separately today, survey results from the Environmental Protection Agency showed that climate change is seen as the most pressing environmental issue facing Ireland. 

86% of adults agree that the environment is a valuable asset to Irish people. Four in five adults said that having a clean, unpolluted environment and access to nature was important during the pandemic. 

Adapting to changes 

The IPCC report said that progress in adaptation planning and implementation has been seen across the world, but that this progress is unevenly distributed.

It said many initiatives prioritise immediate and near-term climate risk reduction which can reduce the opportunity for transformational adaptation. 

Losses and damages will increase as global temperatures rise and more human and natural systems will reach their adaptation limits,. It sets out that some of these limits have already been reached or are nearing their limit.

Graphics from the report set out that there are a number of issues facing Europe as global warming increases including risks to people, economies and buildings due to coastal and inland flooding.

There is also a risk of stress and deaths due to increasing temperatures and heat extremes. There is a risk of water scarcity to multiple sectors and losses in crop production due to extreme weather and dry conditions. 

The risks in Africa extend to species extinction and reduction or irreversible loss of ecosystems such as freshwater or ocean ecosystems.

There is also a risk to food security and to all livelihoods in coastal communities. There is an increased risk to water and energy security due to drought and heat. 

Today’s report is the second part of the overall IPCC sixth assessment report due out later this year.

The first part of the report was published last August. It was described as a “code red for humanity” and emphasised that the scale of recent changes to the climate system are “unprecedented” over hundreds and thousands of years. 

The most recent report of this calibre was published by the IPCC in 2014.

The group of scientists now said that observed impacts, projected risks, vulnerabilities and adaptation limits show that global climate resilient developments are more urgent than outlined in their previous assessment. 

This development is aided by governments, society and the private sector making development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice.

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