THE IPCC has said that human-caused climate change is already resulting in detrimental effects on people and the planet. It calls for urgent action to accelerate climate resilient development and risk management across all industry sectors – including energy, water, and mining – to account for worsening climate hazards.
The report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, is the second part of the sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The first part was released in August last year, detailing the science behind human-induced climate change and concluding that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is going to get worse as the world heads towards 1.5oC of warming over the next 20 years. The second part describes the current detrimental impacts of climate change, deforestation, land use change, and pollution on people and the planet, as well as the importance of adaptation as the world continues to warm.
Widespread impacts have already been seen on ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure from the increase in extreme events such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation events, drought, and wildfires. There has been widespread deterioration of ecosystems and changes in seasonal timings caused by climate change, which have adverse socioeconomic consequences as human and ecosystem vulnerability are interdependent.
I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. [This] IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General
It said that 3.3 – 3.6bn people currently live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, with its impacts increasing food insecurity and water scarcity. By 2100, 50 – 70% of the world’s population could be exposed to periods of life-threatening conditions due to heat and humidity. The impacts of climate change also hinder efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. [This] IPCC 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. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now. The facts are undeniable.”
“I know people everywhere are anxious and angry. I am, too. Now is the time to turn rage into action. Every fraction of a degree matters. Every voice can make a difference. And every second counts.”
The IPCC said that the climate change is causing an increase in the frequency, magnitude, and total area affected by water-related disasters, and that the impacts of floods and droughts are expected to increase across all economic sectors, including industry output and energy production. The risks of both water availability and water-related hazards will increase in the mid to long term in all regions, with the risk being greater at higher warming levels. Compared to damages at 1.5oC of warming, flood damage will be 1.4–2 times higher at 2oC, and 2.5–4.9 times higher at 3oC.
Industry and energy sectors are projected to have their share of water demand rise by 24% by 2050, which will increase competition among water-use sectors. Mining activities which require sufficient water availability are also at risk. It said that since many intensely mined regions are already water-scarce, small changes in overall rainfall could destabilise mining operations.
The present failure of the international community to respond with an integrated adaptation strategy is grave. Local communities, economies and some entire countries are already paying the price while nations argue over who is liable.Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of England's Environment Agency
Most thermoelectric power plants are located close to a water source which therefore makes them more vulnerable to flooding. Thermoelectric power plants will become more vulnerable to cooling water availability on global and regional scales, with power generation capacity reducing due to water stress. It said that aside from the advantage of reduced emissions, moving to renewable energy also lowers the chance of interruption to power supplies due to water shortages.
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of England's Environment Agency, said: "It is adapt or die. Previous IPCC reports have talked about terrible climate risks, this report shows how impacts to people, nature and the economy are interconnected. The IPCC offers us a glimmer of hope, the window to deliver climate resilience is still there, but it is closing fast. The present failure of the international community to respond with an integrated adaptation strategy is grave. Local communities, economies and some entire countries are already paying the price while nations argue over who is liable.”
"This isn't only happening in the global south. Climate adaptation is integral to everything the Environment Agency does. Last week, we protected over 40,000 homes from flooding in the recent storms, but the disruption to transport links and supply chains, power outages, damage to trees, offices, shops and farms shows everyone needs to rapidly prioritise adaptation as new extremes shift the dial on what's normal. To save both lives and livelihoods, we all need to plan, adapt and thrive.”
The IPCC says that biobased solutions can have a role to play in dealing with the climate crisis, such as using biomass instead of fossil fuels in the cement and steel industries, using biofuels in the transport sector, and using bio-based plastics. However, the mitigation value can be limited in the way that land is managed for biomass plantations. There is a risk that ecosystems and biodiversity could be compromised, as well as risks with creating competition with agricultural land.
It cautions that some strategies could be a “maladaptation”, with a short-term benefit causing long-term problems. The report cites studies that show that if bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) becomes a becomes a major component of climate change mitigation strategies, there will be a detrimental impact on biodiversity. One study showed that the land conversion needed to enable BECCS to be used to meet a 2oC warming target would have a greater impact on species loss than a global temperature of 4oC.
BECCS also uses a lot of water through irrigation, depending on the scale of deployment and land use, which could enhance water scarcity. “To avoid the worst impacts of BECCS, it will need to be carefully targeted, according to context and local conditions and other mitigation strategies prioritised so its use can be minimised,” the report said.
It also says that while afforestation can be used as a nature-based solution to climate change, if it takes place in the wrong types of areas such as those that would not naturally support forests, there are risks that it can destroy biodiversity, along with increase fire risks and impact water supply.
Infrastructure – including water, sanitation, and energy systems – has already been compromised by both extreme and slow-onset climate events, which has led to economic losses, disruption of services, and impacts on human wellbeing. Supply chains are also impacted. There are increasing global risks to water, energy, and food systems because supply chains crossing national boundaries might break down. Supply chains relying on specialised commodities are particularly vulnerable to extreme climate events, for example specialised industrial commodities such as semiconductors are only produced in a few countries.
Climate change is expected to change energy demand, such as the need for more cooling during heatwaves, but energy infrastructure is susceptible to climate risks. It said that energy infrastructure planning must take into account a greater number of scenarios due to climate change, for example damage to overhead power lines will increase due to increased snowfall, wildfires, and windstorms depending on the region. Energy infrastructure such as offshore and onshore extraction of fossil fuels, as well as refining, can also be disrupted by worsening extreme events. For example, pipelines can be damaged through the thaw of permafrost, extreme heat causing expansion, and soil damage such as subsidence. Key infrastructure will become increasingly vulnerable if design standards don’t account for changing conditions.
Climate-related impacts on critical infrastructure can have impacts on health and the economy as well as direct impacts on the infrastructure. For example, a case study on flood hazards in Europe found that a power outage will have an effect on the local economy six to eight times greater than direct flood damage and asset repair costs.
We need to be smart and take climate change into account when we decide where and how we build, how we design products and infrastructure, and how to develop resilient food systems and supply chains.Swenja Surminski, Head of Adaptation Research at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change
It says that transport and energy infrastructure in coasts, polar regions, and along rivers will face a steep rise in risk even under medium warming. Damages from multiple climate hazards to critical infrastructure, including energy and industry, in Europe are expected to increase tenfold by the 2080s under medium warming. Costs for maintaining and reconstructing infrastructure will increase with greater warming levels.
Swenja Surminski, Head of Adaptation Research at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and a contributor to the report, said: “We still see decisions being made today by governments, businesses, investors that completely disregard current and future climate risks. We need to be smart and take climate change into account when we decide where and how we build, how we design products and infrastructure, and how to develop resilient food systems and supply chains. There are some encouraging examples but overall adaptation investment is still lagging, and climate risks are ignored, or seen as something in the distant future. The IPCC report makes it clear that inaction is a bad strategy. And it shows that we have solid knowledge and information to inform today’s decisions.”
The report says that while net zero commitments have grown, there is still a high likelihood of passing 1.5oC of warming by the 2030s which would lead to worsening climate impacts in all regions. It says that we need to do more than just reduce emissions; we also must improve climate resilience to deal with the impacts of climate change that are already being felt and which will get worse. This needs to be built into risk management, including planning for situations in the future and not just based on current weather extremes. This will likely cause disruption in economic and social systems in the short term, but create long term benefits for human and planetary health. It says: “From a risk perspective, limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations reduces climate-related hazards while adaptation and sustainable development reduce exposure and vulnerability to those hazards.”
Climate resilient development is already challenging at current warming levels and may not be possible in some regions if warming exceeds 2oC. Additional challenges in adaptation are introduced when multiple risks interact, for example future sea level rise combined with storm surges and heavy rainfall will increase flood risks.
It said that many adaptation options exist, but implementing them requires effective governance and decision-making processes. It noted that most current adaptation is fragmented, small-scale, sector specific, designed to respond to current or near-term impacts, and focussed on planning rather than implementation. It notes the importance of implementing policies that incentivise deploying low-carbon technologies as well as climate resilient infrastructure. It also said that institutional policies and frameworks that set clear adaptation goals and define responsibilities can strengthen and sustain adaptation action.
As we continue to see extreme weather events occur, whether they be fire, flood, seismic or other events, it is vital that we focus on better risk assessment.Trish Kerin, Director of IChemE’s Safety Centre
For energy systems, it says that adaptation options should support infrastructure resilience, reliable power systems, and efficient water use. Diversification of energy generation, including increasing renewable capacity, and energy efficiency and storage improvements can reduce vulnerabilities to climate change. It suggested updating design standards for energy assets, smart-grid technologies, robust transmission systems, and improved capacity to respond to supply deficits.
It also added that adaptation won’t prevent all loss and damages and that with increased warming, loss and damage will become harder to avoid.
Independent carbon consultancy company Carbon Intelligence said in a statement responding to the report: “While many businesses are focused on shorter term climate change mitigation actions, which are clearly the priority, there is a need to evaluate longer term horizons, particularly for significant investment decisions like where to locate a new facility or which market to serve.
“Traditional risk modelling tends to be based on what we have experienced in the past, and the data records are typically quite short. The future will be more volatile than we have previously experienced, with climate change causing increasing and more extreme fluctuations in raw material and commodity pricing due to higher temperatures, water stress and extreme weather. Updating risk models to reflect this needs to be a priority for businesses everywhere.”
Trish Kerin, Director of IChemE’s Safety Centre, said: “As we continue to see extreme weather events occur, whether they be fire, flood, seismic or other events, it is vital that we focus on better risk assessment. When developing response plans for natural hazard triggering technological disasters (Natech) we need to ensure that we are attempting to mitigate the consequence, regardless of the triggering event. This allows for more robust response planning when the inevitable event occurs, as opposed to discounting the need for mitigations because the event seems unlikely.”
The summary report for policymakers concluded: “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
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