On Monday, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group II, released its latest report assessing the damages of climate change.
In a press conference, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres summarized how climate adaptation saves lives. “As climate impacts worsen — and they will — scaling up investments will be essential for survival….Delay means death.” The stark reality is far too little is invested into adapting to climate change.
The report covers a broad swath of information — including the importance of safeguarding biodiversity, which fashion has jumped on the bandwagon to support), planning climate resilient cities and communities, forging inclusive partnerships, strengthening climate policy and funding climate resilient development — that varies by region and sector.
The report builds upon decades of work and trails an August report decrying the need for net-zero emissions. Another report is anticipated in late March or early April.
For the first time ever, the report consecutively outlines the integration of Indigenous leadership as a positive and necessary step toward climate adaptation. Colonialism is also addressed.
“This is the first time that [colonialism] has been explicitly called out in the summary for policymakers,” said Dr. Sherilee Harper, report author and associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in a press conference Sunday.
Alongside climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, the report outlines losses and damages to climate change where the most vulnerable populations — a marked 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people — are already suffering disproportionately.
Even if global warming is limited to 1.5-degrees Celsius, as urgently demanded, human life, safety and livelihoods in low-lying coastal areas will be placed at risk from sea level rise and coastal erosion.
For North America, that means the increasing volatility of severe storms and hurricanes. Other barriers include misinformation, politicalization of climate change and the lack of acknowledgement for Indigenous populations.
Lack of private sector and citizen engagement were cited among the barriers in Europe and North America.
“One of many simple examples is that all large cities in the U.S. need heat action plans. Doing so requires change in how federal agencies facilitate coordination, education about the risks of heat and of how to develop early warning systems, engagement with trusted voices for marginalized communities, building overall capacity, among others. That can be more complex than deploying a new technology,” said U.S.-based Dr. Kris Ebi, a report author and professor, Department of Global Health at the University of Washington.
Climate change is taking a toll on human health, too, with the prevalence of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, undernutrition, mental disorders and allergic diseases on the rise in many regions, including Asia.
For many regions, the losses are much more tangible.
In 2019 alone, 9.6 million people were displaced in South East and East Asia (top garment-producing regions), due to cyclones, floods and typhoons.
Small islands present the most urgent need for investment in capacity building and climate adaptation strategies but face the steepest barriers. Entire livelihoods are at stake in the Caribbean Sea and Southern Tropical Pacific, where coral reef systems fuel economies and life. Under the worst-case scenario — of a 2-degree Celsius planet and higher — 99 percent of corals are lost, per the projections.
Meanwhile, steep financing gaps also plague ecosystems in Central and South America — home to the Andes, the Amazon Forest (one of the largest biodiversity and carbon repositories) and other regions that are already vulnerable to climatic-related migration and population displacement, severe weather including droughts and the like.
While countries in Africa are among the least offenders for rising greenhouse gas emissions, their sectors are also among the most constrained by lack of financing and equitable development. In this case, the report calls for public and private sectors to increase funding by billions of dollars per year. Multilateral funds, stronger project pipeline development and finances focused on grassroots project implementation would help realize “transformative” adaptation.
Speaking to the multifaceted need to prioritize climate change amid today’s world issues, report author Dr. Edwin Castellanos, who is based in Guatemala, said: “We will always have emergencies at hand that seem to be more urgent than climate change….Governments in developing countries always have to wrestle with immediate lack of resources that need to be taken care of. And that sometimes makes one think, ‘Well should we worry about the future if we have so many problems nowadays?’
“The problem with that thinking is if we don’t worry about problems of climate change — which are not only the future but are also current — then it’s going to be more difficult and more expensive to address those issues in the future….So yes, even though we have many current needs — the pandemic, a lack of resources, poverty — we need to start addressing these problems of climate change. Not only mitigation but also adaptation,” he said.