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The necessity of adaptation in response to climate change - IPCC, Climate Change 2022, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Vulnerability and impacts of climate change:

"The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments"

This new IPCC report emphasizes the important impacts of climate change in terms of extreme weather events (hot extremes, heavy precipitations, droughts and fire) affecting ecosystems, people, settlements and infrastructures.

The report observes substantial damages and increasingly irreversible losses in terrestrial freshwater, coastal and open marine ecosystems (coral bleaching, drought related tree mortality, hundreds of local losses of species, loss of kelp forests…). Climate change has also impacted food and water security, hindering efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, agricultural productivity growth has slowed over the past 50 years and ocean warming and acidification have negatively affected food production from aquaculture and fisheries. The largest impacts of food and water insecurity have been observed in many locations in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands and the Arctic – especially for indigenous people, small-scale food producers, low-income households with children, elderly people and pregnant women. This is coupled with an increased occurrence of food and water borne diseases.

“Roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least some part of the year due to climatic and non-climatic drivers”

Climate change has negatively affected physical and mental health of people globally. Communities are more exposed to extreme events leading to increased mortality and morbidity, which is coupled with trauma from weather and climate extreme events and the loss of livelihoods and culture.

Some economic impacts have also been observed notably relating to agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy and tourism as well as outdoor labour productivity. Extreme events reduce economic growth on the short term, a trend that is aggravated by some patterns of settlements and infrastructures.

Climate change has also impacted security and conflicts since it is driving displacement in all regions - flood and drought-related acute food insecurity and malnutrition have increased in Africa and Central and South America. Non-climatic factors are still the dominant drivers of existing intrastate violent conflicts, but some regions extreme weather and climate events appear to have had a small negative impact on their length, severity or frequency.

It appears that there have been important adaptation efforts reducing vulnerability to climate change – even though there are disproportions between regions and sectors.

“Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”

Human practices relating to the degradation and destruction of ecosystems increase people’s vulnerability to climate change - unsustainable land use and land cover change, unsustainable use of natural resources (deforestation…), loss of biodiversity, pollution, among others – and affect the capacities of ecosystems, societies, communities and individuals to adapt to climate change.

“Globally, less than 15% of the land, 21% of the freshwater and 8% of the ocean are protected areas. In most protected areas, there is insufficient stewardship to contribute to reducing damage from, or increasing resilience to, climate change »

High human vulnerability is observed particularly in West-, Central- and East Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States and the Arctic, particularly in low lying areas and mountain regions. Indeed,  vulnerability is higher in locations with poverty, governance challenges and limited access to basic services and resources, violent conflict and high levels of climate-sensitive livelihoods. Between 2010-2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability. Vulnerability at different spatial levels is exacerbated by inequity and marginalization linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof, especially for many indigenous peoples and local communities. Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many indigenous peoples and local communities.

Vulnerability is highly dependent on socio-economic developments – migrations, inequalities, urbanizations – notably the ability of governments, communities and the private sector to provide infrastructures and basic services (sanitation, water, health, transports, communications and energy).

“The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt”

The necessity of climate adaptation:

“Many adaptation options exist and are used to help manage projected climate change impacts, but their implementation depends upon the capacity and effectiveness of governance and decision-making processes »

There has been progress in adaptation planning and implementation in all sectors and regions. There is a growing awareness of public and political awareness of climate impacts and risks, which led to 170 countries and many cities including adaptation in their climate planning. Also, pilot projects and local experiments are being implemented. Adaptation initiatives can generate additional benefits such as improving agricultural productivity, innovation, health and well-being, food security, livelihood, and biodiversity conservation.

But it is uneven and there are still adaptation gaps between current levels of adaptation and the levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks.

Also, many initiatives tend to prioritize immediate and near-term climate risk reduction. Current adaptation is often fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current impacts or near-term risks and focused more on planning rather than implementation.

There are identified limits to adaptation – soft and hard limits, limits that are malleable or not. Soft limits are often associated with financial, governance, institutions and policy constraints. Indeed, financial flows are an important enabler of adaptation initiatives and at the moment the vast majority of global tracked climate finance has been targeted to mitigation while a small proportion was targeted to adaptation. It has also been noted that adverse climate impacts can reduce the availability of financial resources by impacting national economic growth, thereby further increasing financial constraints for adaptation, particularly for developing and least developed countries. Also, inequity and poverty constraint adaptation as well as the lack of climate literacy at all levels, limited availability of information and data that constraint to adaptation planning and implementation.

There are also hard limits to adaptation that often relate to natural adaptation limits reached by ecosystems, it is estimated that “above 1.5°C global warming level, some ecosystem-based adaptation measures will lose their effectiveness in providing benefits to people as these ecosystems will reach hard adaptation limits ». Indeed, above this threshold, there will be limited freshwater for Small Islands and for regions dependent on glacier and snow-melt, by 2°C global warming level, soft limits are projected for multiple staple crops in many growing areas, particularly in tropical regions. By 3°C global warming level, soft limits are projected for some water management measures for many regions, with hard limits projected for parts of Europe.

The IPCC report warns about increasing maladaptation that can create more vulnerability, exposure and risks that are difficult and expensive to change.

“Maladaptation can be avoided by flexible, multi-sectoral, inclusive and long-term planning and implementation of adaptation actions with benefits to many sectors and systems. »

Identified enabling conditions:

  • Political commitment
  • Follow through
  • Institutional frameworks – set clear adaptation goals and define responsibilities and commitments coordinated among actors and governance levels – institutional budget and policy planning cycles
  • Enhanced knowledge on impacts and solutions 
  • Mobilization of and access to adequate financial resources 
  • Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) -to track progress and enable effective actions
  • Inclusive governance processes – prioritize equity and justice

The future of adaptation:

This IPCC report argues for Climate Resilient Development that integrates adaptation measures and their enabling conditions with mitigation to advance sustainable development for all. 

The report is insisting on the urge to seize the opportunity to enable climate resilient development, which involves that governments, civil society and the private sector make inclusive development choices that prioritise risk reduction, equity and justice. Climate resilient development is facilitated by international cooperation and by governments at all levels working with communities, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media, investors and businesses; and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups, including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and ethnic minorities.These partnerships are most effective when supported by enabling political leadership, institutions, resources, including finance, as well as climate services, information and decision support tool.

Climate change has already largely impacted human and natural systems. Past and current decisions have not advanced global climate resilient development, current decisions and actions will determine the future of development.

Figue SPM.1 IPCC

Key facts:

Summary of the predictions:

Risks in the near term (2021-2040)

If global warming reaches 1.5°C in the near-term, it would increase multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. The level of risk will depend on concurrent near-term trends in vulnerability, exposure, level of socioeconomic development and adaptation. 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, compared to higher warming levels, but cannot eliminate them all.

Mid to long term risks (2041-2100)

Beyond 2040 and depending on the level of global warming, climate change will lead to numerous risks to natural and human systems. For 127 identified key risks, assessed mid- and long-term impacts are up to multiple times higher than currently observed. The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming

Lexicon:

Risk: the potential for adverse consequences for human or ecological systems, recognising the diversity of values and objectives associated with such systems

Exposure: the presence of people; livelihoods; species or ecosystems; environmental functions, services and resources; infrastructure; or economic, social or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected.

Vulnerability: the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected and encompasses a variety of concepts and elements, including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt.

Adaptation: in human systems, as the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects in order to moderate harm or take advantage of beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, adaptation is the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate this

Resilience: the capacity of social, economic and ecosystems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure as well as biodiversity in case of ecosystems while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation. Resilience is a positive attribute when it maintains such a capacity for adaptation, learning, and/or transformation

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