IPCC Report: Our Takeaways on Adaptation

Our collective climate action in the next decade is paramount to Earth’s future, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in a new landmark report.

Our ability to adapt to climate change will be extremely limited if greenhouse gas emissions do not rapidly decline — and every bit of warming makes adaptation more difficult, it says. “Every bit of warming matters. The longer you wait… the more you will pay later,” report co-chair Hans-Otto Poertner of Germany told the Associated Press.

The new report, the second installment of the IPCC’s latest assessment, issued dire warnings about the pace of climate adaptation in comparison to the pace of climate disasters. Adaptation includes actions that help people and ecosystems prepare for and adjust to climate change. Adaptation alone can’t prevent the damage brought on by climate change, but aims to reduce it as much as possible. 

There is still time to protect our planet, but the IPCC says most countries are doing too little, too slowly. “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Here are some of our key takeaways on adaptation from the IPCC:

  1. Maintaining the resilience of biodiversity requires the “effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater, and ocean areas.” From Grist: “Forest conservation and management … can limit climbing risks from disease and wildfires, while restoring sponge-like wetlands and rivers can keep flooding in check. Preserving biodiverse forests and soggy peatlands has the added benefit of keeping some of the world’s biggest carbon sinks intact.” 
  2. Warming is producing compounding hazards that complicate adaptation. Sea level rise, for example, results in “losses of coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services, groundwater salinisation, flooding and damages to coastal infrastructure that cascade into risks to livelihoods, settlements, health, well-being, food and water security, and cultural values,” the report says. 
  3. Sea level rise is a “distinctive and severe adaptation challenge,” the report says. Planned relocation and infrastructure such as levees can help protect billions of highly vulnerable people, but need to be “planned well ahead, aligned with sociocultural values and development priorities, and underpinned by inclusive community engagement processes,” the report says. 
  4. Keys to implementing, accelerating, and sustaining adaptation include “political commitment and follow-through, institutional frameworks, policies and instruments with clear goals and priorities, enhanced knowledge on impacts and solutions, … and inclusive governance processes.” The report calls for governments, civil society, and the private sector to align and integrate financing and actions — and to prioritize equity and justice when making development decisions. 
  5. For the first time, the authors emphasized the mental health toll for people harmed or displaced by extreme weather events and for young people worried about their futures due to climate change. 

These takeaways are serious stuff, but we should not abandon hope. We should focus on the science that shows our actions in the next decade can still prevent the worst outcomes. “Near-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems,” the report says. 

Climate action that is informed by science and coordinated to integrate inclusivity, equity, and engagement is more important now than ever. We are proud of the impact we are co-creating across private and public sectors, and are ready as ever to help organizations get started or ramp up their sustainability efforts to make a measurable, meaningful impact. 

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

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