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    New UN climate report issues a drastic warning: act now, or we are done for

    For years developing countries have asked for industrial countries to put aside US$100 billion a year to help poorer countries that never caused the climate crisis and enable them to adapt to the worst of climate breakdown. The money still hasn’t arrived in any consistent amounts and now that goal is probably being further put off by the prospect of war with Russia. In fact, Germany just announced that €100 billion will be spent on defence. As social and ecological nightmares bear down on the world as a result of Putin’s madness, the greatest planetary crisis, climate and biodiversity breakdown, is accelerating. The west has steadfastly refused to act swiftly on weaning itself away from methane gas and oil for its energy requirements—until now, when the safety of renewable energy (not nuclear) has become more appealing in the face of a decision to stop Russian imports of gas. How perverse and ghoulish is it that it takes a war for Europe to take insulating homes seriously! Meanwhile Ukrainian scientist Svitlana Krakovska, a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has said that the sale of gas and oil to Europe by Russia has funded the war.  “This war…makes this window of opportunity [to stop climate breakdown] even more narrow, because now we have to solve this problem first.”

    It takes years to put together and have the world’s governments accept the scientific findings of the IPCC, which published its first report in 1990. It is eight years since its last exhaustive report came out. On February 27 this year the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report was published. Please see the 37-page Summary for Policymakers (https://tinyurl.com/ipcc-ar6-summary) to learn more. The full report runs to thousands of pages. It assesses the impacts of climate change by looking at ecosystems, biodiversity and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change. Many scientists are now telling us ominously that these current reports will be the last ones that can guide us away from a doomsday future. Unless the world acts now, a 2030 report will be too late to ferry the world into a safer and more stable climate.

    The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has already called the climate crisis a ‘code red’ emergency, and now with the publication of the second part of the IPCC’s latest report he is more specific. He tells us that this report painfully details what a code red world looks and feels like. Calling the abdication of leadership by world powers ‘criminal’, with the largest polluters “guilty of arson on our only home”, he goes on to say that the newest report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership… With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

    A synthesis report will be published in September this year, pulling together all the scientific work that not only targets climate, but also focuses in on biodiversity loss, ecological justice and the indisputable need to act now. Inaction will create irreversible negative changes for planetary-safe boundaries to be upheld.

    The concept of risk is a key factor in the report. The many graphics illustrate the complexity of mapping the world’s vulnerabilities. Changes in ecosystem structure, detailed as terrestrial, freshwater and oceans, that focus on all parts of the world’s regions from deserts to arctic and from Asia to North America are highlighted. “Anthropogenic climate change has exposed ocean and coastal ecosystems to conditions that are unprecedented over millennia.” It doesn’t stop there. Impacts on water scarcity, food production, health and wellbeing, cities and even infrastructure are carefully analyzed. What the 330 scientists who have contributed to this latest report are saying with the highest degree of confidence is that the decisions made so far do not bode well for humanity’s prospects.

    The report’s 21st-century analysis is broken into a 2022–2040 scenario, a 2040-plus description, and a later 2060-plus conclusion. Fundamentally the rise of fossil fuel emissions over the century will create irreversible and catastrophic changes. To emphasize this the report says, “Global warming, reaching 1.5 °C in the near-term would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.” (We are at 1.2 °C now.) Because biodiversity loss accelerates quickly as 1.5°C is passed, more than 3 billion people will be directly impacted. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are in jeopardy: “Climate change including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes [has] reduced food and water security.” 

    Only in the near term can we hope to ward off the worse breakdown scenarios. “Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage,” the report warns. “Multiple climate hazards will occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact, resulting in compounding overall risk and risks cascading across sectors and regions.” Even efforts to adapt will come to naught unless immediate strong mitigation actions are realized in the next decade. 

    The IPCC report details the need not only for short-term adaptation strategies, but also for ‘transformational’ ones.Transformational adaptation and relevant transitions look to long-term community and government involvement. “Without transformation, global inequities will likely increase between regions and conflicts between jurisdictions may emerge and escalate,” the report states. Short-term adaptation gains that do not reach out to diverse goals for resilience development will fail. “With increasing global warming, losses and damages will increase and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits.” Please note that ‘losses and damage’ does not only apply to physical losses and damages, but also impacts mental health issues.

    In other words, robust actions need to be implemented now; climate-resilient development “has a strong potential to generate substantial co-benefits for health and wellbeing.”

    This brings us to the dangers of maladaptation, whereby apparent solutions actually make things worse by not leaving space for natural processes. “Maladaptation especially affects marginalised and vulnerable groups adversely (e.g. Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, low-income households, informal settlements), reinforcing and entrenching existing inequities. Adaptation planning and implementation that do not consider adverse outcomes for different groups can lead to maladaptation, increasing exposure to risks, marginalising people from certain socio-economic or livelihood groups, and exacerbating inequity. Inclusive planning initiatives informed by cultural values, Indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, and scientific knowledge can help prevent maladaptation,” the report states.

    Until recently, scientists have been poor communicators. It wasn’t long ago that they were told not to make or endorse potentially political statements. (Remember how Stephen Harper and more recently Donald Trump tried to muzzle scientists?) This has now changed. Recognizing that facts alone don’t inspire most people to take action, the IPCC asked the charity Climate Outreach to put together a manual for scientists to communicate effectively with the public. This is essential if communities are to be more engaged in being part of the solution to stop the slide towards climate breakdown. Climate Outreach speaks of a ‘social mandate’ as a result of the high priority most people now place on climate actions. In order to drive low-carbon behaviours, society must reflect the push for creating transformative policies that in turn allow corporations to place greater emphasis on vastly mitigating their high-carbon behaviour, thus making it a lot easier for national, regional and local policies to implement low-carbon-based legislation as a result of low-carbon social norms. Tragically we see so often that a weak social mandate fuels high-carbon behaviours, and corporations and governments are not incentivized to act. Climate Outreach is determined to turn this around. All the rest of us need to be there too. Please see https://climateoutreach.org

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