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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Shutterstock/Piyawat Nandeenopparit File image of a car stuck in a flood in Thailand.
# Climate Report
IPCC findings not 'doom and gloom' but a wake-up call to act on climate, report author says
Prof Richard Dawson contributed to the sections on cities and said coastal areas will be increasingly threatened in the years ahead.

AMIDST THE STARK findings in today’s IPCC report, one of the report authors has said it is not a sign to “throw in the towel” but it is a “wake-up call” for urgent action. 

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that climate change is already causing severe and widespread disruption around the world, moreso than previous assessments expected.

Drastic action is needed to avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure. Around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people and a high proportion of species on Earth are vulnerable to climate change, the report said. 

Professor Richard Dawson, one of the lead author on the report’s chapter on cities and a section on coastal settlements, said: “We do need to emphasise that this isn’t doom and gloom, let’s give up now. It’s a wake-up call.

“There’s lots that can be done in terms of managing climate risks without any new technology that we need to create. It’s often about changing what we do now and how we do it,” he told The Journal

We are facing a really huge set of risks. The scientific evidence is very clear that climate change is a huge threat to our wellbeing and the state of the whole planet. 

“What we’ve seen is that we still have a window to act on both mitigation to reduce those greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of climate change and reduce the intensity of those impacts of climate change, but also to start to take really serious action to adapt and manage the risks that we are already seeing and experiencing and will only grow.”

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

Many initiatives prioritise immediate climate risk reduction which can reduce the opportunity for transformational adaptation. 

Dawson said: “The longer we delay action, the bigger those risks will be and the more costly they will be to deal with and so it’s a real wake-up call that the opportunities are there. It isn’t just ‘let’s throw in the towel and walk away’.” 

António Guterres, the secretary general of the UN, described the report as an “atlas of human suffering”.

Climate Minister Eamon Ryan said it is a “stark reminder” of the “need to act to avoid the most damaging and catastrophic effects of climate change”. 

Cities

Dawson was a lead author on the report’s chapter on cities.  The majority of people around the world live in urban areas at the moment.

The report said 2.5 billion more people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050, with up to 90% of this increase in Asia and Africa. 

Almost 11% of the world’s population (896 million people) also lived in low-lying coastal areas in 2020. This could increase to more than one billion people by 2050. 

Dawson said cities are “acutely vulnerable” to climate change, with coastal cities at a heightened risk.

Sea level rise, increases in tropical cyclone storm surge and more frequent and intense rainfall will increase the risk of floods in coastal cities in parts of the world as global warming worsens. 

Dawson said coastal settlements, “whether they’re a few 100 people or major metropolises like New York or Shanghai will be increasingly threatened by rising sea levels”.  

“We are talking about a billion or so people by 2050 likely to be at risk of coastal flooding in the cities and settlements around the world,” he said. 

Managing the risks of coastal flooding and other impacts is more “feasible” if the global temperature rise does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

In August 2021, a different 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.

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 target “alive”. 

Dawson said: “As we push up towards 2 degrees we see certain places – low-lying islands and settlements – facing an existential threat of being completely submerged.

“As we go beyond 2 degrees, then the risks really start to increase for coastal settlements.

“That is going to be a big challenge, so that would apply to Ireland, the UK and across Europe. This is why it’s really important that we adapt our coastal infrastructure and settlements and also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report sets out that low-lying coastal cities, settlements and small islands will need to respond to ongoing sea level rise in the years ahead.

Some people living in coastal areas are already facing adaptation limits due to the cost of implementing coastal protections, the report added. 

Solutions

But alongside all the risks, the report has emphasised the solutions available.

Dawson said that for low-lying and coastal areas, these include options to reinforce existing measures such as sea walls and adapt settlements to be able to cope with intermittent flooding.

But he said the “hard engineering” measures such as building bigger and stronger sea walls need to be “complemented by nature-based approaches”. 

“In the coastal settlements, this could be restoring beaches. It could be, depending on where you are in the world, restoring salt marshes.

These sort of form a natural protection and what we’ve seen is that a combination of hard and nature-based approaches can actually provide augmented levels of protection and flexibility for the longer-term. 

Benefits of action

Dawson said the immediate benefits of implementing adaptation measures should not be forgotten. 

“Adaptation and this sort of action of managing risks isn’t just about something that’s 50 years down the line.

It provides benefits now in terms of managing risks we’re already facing across Europe with flooding, which certainly impacts Ireland as well and in other parts of Europe with issues around water shortages, heatwaves.

“Many of the actions also provide other benefits. Implementing green spaces, nature based solutions within our cities don’t just provide benefits for flood management and urban cooling during high heat, it provides benefits in terms of air quality, in terms of day-to-day mental health and wellbeing.” 

Dawson said the report authors found that local governments acting on climate measures helped people unite in taking action on climate change.

“By bringing together community groups, structure operators, businesses, local governments and national governments to think about how to address climate risks locally and developing strategies that are appropriate for those areas, that is when we’ve seen the best and most plausible and accepted local plans,” he said. 

He gave an example of the Climate Ready Clyde strategy in Glasgow – a cross-sector initiative set up to make a strategy and action plan for climate adaptation in the Scottish city. 

Dr Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC working group behind today’s report, said the findings give a “very serious reality check” around climate change.

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

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