The report’s strength lies in its emphasis on climate resilient development
“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.” — IPCC WGII 2022.
The Sixth Assessment Cycle (AR6) of the Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) focuses on the assessment of impacts, vulnerabilities and necessary adaptation measures in the context of climate change. The report builds on the findings of the previous assessment cycle (AR5 – published in 2014) as well as the contributions of Working Group I in AR6.
Collectively, it presents the work of 270 main authors, with an additional 675 contributing authors, from a total of 67 countries, received up to September 2021. For AR6, the published report has strongly emphasised the interactions and interdependence between the three main drivers of the planet: climate, ecosystem and biodiversity, and human society.
It has examined a voluminous amount of literature, including that based on climate model simulations, to outline the impact of climate change observed in the past and the projected risks of reaching different levels of warming at three different time periods in the future (near-term: 2021-2040, midterm: 2041-2060, long-term: 2081-2100).
The report identifies the global temperature to have already increased by 1.09°C from pre-industrial levels. In the absence of effective change, it will be difficult to restrict the rise to 1.5°C. This clearly implies that anticipated damage on biodiversity loss, tree mortality, species extinction and increased human mortality due to heat and infections may be impossible to rectify even if global warming is reduced later.
The report clearly states that although climate change and global warming pose a universal threat, vulnerable habitats and the 3.3 to 3.6 billion at-risk individuals are more likely to bear the brunt of it. In the current scenario, this high risk may be connected directly to non-climatic parameters such as, poor socio-economic conditions, unsustainable land-use, gender inequities, demographic shifts and patterns of colonialism. In some cases, additional risks also arise from maladaptation.
The resulting impacts have already started manifesting in the form of increased episodes of wildfires, floods and heatwaves. Furthermore, the report indicates that climate risks are already increasing in frequency, intensity and complexity, making them difficult to handle.
Multiple hazards, each with their own set of associated climatic and non-climatic risks, may occur simultaneously. These risks are bound to interact at some point in time, resulting in a compounding and cascading effect, where each risk results in a new one, possibly in a completely different sector.
Such a scenario holds the potential to increase the scale of adverse impacts, making the implementation of remedial measures more challenging. It also steers the conversation on climate change towards an increased need for climate-informed trans-boundary management and cooperation.
The report has indicated the certainty with which a given impact can be attributed to climate change, thus increasing the credibility of the findings. It not only provides a comprehensive picture of the current and estimated future climate situation by recognising the value of a multifaceted and inclusive understanding, it also considers all major domains relevant today (economic, technological, institutional, social, environmental and geophysical) including an independent evaluation of different geographical regions, which could prove valuable in developing solutions on a local scale.
Considering the subsequent findings, the report has defined ‘climate resilient development’ as the way forward in the current fight against climate change. The suggested climate resilient development approach suggests the use of adaptation and mitigation measures together to achieve the goals of sustainable development, where adaptation can help lower risks and reduce vulnerability.
The report repeatedly discusses the role of adaptation in the fight against climate change and highlights a range of measures that may be adopted depending on the ecosystem service or social setting under threat.
Although adaptation is one of the most plausible options today, there is a limit to which a given species or ecosystem can adapt so more rigorous prevention and mitigation measures need to be taken as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, the adaptation solutions outlined in the report are sufficient as a starting point for immediate action, given that they are implemented properly. These solutions serve all dominant ecosystems and sectors, including terrestrial and marine ecosystems, urban and rural infrastructure, and energy systems.
Moreover, the measures have been proposed by taking into account both indigenous knowledge and scientific research, which further strengthens their applicability and effectiveness while simultaneously resolving concerns over local representation and inclusivity.
In addition to this, the report highlights the gaps in the current implementation of adaptation. It shows that the current adaptation measures are fragmented and small scale. They are also unequally distributed across regions. It stresses on the need for institutional frameworks and policies to ensure robust adaptation.
In this context, the findings of the report present a basis for further research on the topic, while also identifying the areas that require more attention, thereby saving valuable time. Overall, the report is crucial to developing an in-depth understanding of the current and projected impacts of climate change.
The findings can be an eye-opener for individuals and institutions that are still ignorant of the reality of climate change. The report’s strength lies in its emphasis on climate resilient development, which is the need of the hour. Mitigation and adaptation measures taken in isolation are likely to prove insufficient and ineffective in sustaining the widespread and rapidly evolving impact of climate change.
The author is a research fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and is based in Islamabad