By Mary Hearty
The newly released report on Insights in Climate Science has proven that without data and evidence to inform decisions and support programs and policies, urgent climate action cannot happen.
According to Simon Stiell, United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary, science is at the heart of everything that we do. It provides evidence and data on the impacts of climate change, but it also gives us the tools and knowledge on how we need to address it.
The report presents 10 major insights from climate change research, derived mainly from literature published in 2021 and 2022.
Dr. Johan Rockstrom, Professor in Earth System Science and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research highlighted the insights during a side event at the 27th Conference of Parties in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Questioning the myth of endless adaptation
The first insight notes that despite having a remarkable capacity to adapt, humans and ecosystems will be increasingly confronted with intolerable climate change impacts that they will not be able to handle as the planet continues to warm.
Adaptation alone cannot keep up with the impacts of climate change which already is far worse than previously predicted.
“1.5 degrees Celsius is not a goal, it is a physical limit. When we go beyond it, we are likely to trigger tipping points. We also have scientific evidence that it also poses limits to adaptation,” Dr. Rocktrom explained.
Therefore, he said, effective syncing of ambitious mitigation and adaptation agendas, in light of emerging science on limits to adaptation, is needed in order to avert and minimize further losses and damages.
“Rapid mitigation is more urgent than ever. As global temperatures rise, adaptive responses become less effective,” the scientists stated in the report.
This is because investing in mitigation is a way of reducing the need to invest in adaptation and resilience.
Vulnerability hotspots cluster in regions at risk
According to the report, vulnerability hotspots are clustered around regions at risk including Central America, Asia, the Middle East, and several regions of Africa like the Sahel, Central and East Africa.
In the most vulnerable countries, it is reported that mortality from floods, drought and storms is 15 times higher than in the least-vulnerable countries.
This is because inequality and insufficient resources have rendered the adaptive capacity for marginalized communities weak, particularly in low-to-middle-income countries.
“We were able to identify these hotspot regions that have socio-economic risks across the world. 1.6 billion People already live in vulnerability hotspots, a number that will double in 2050 if we continue burning fossil fuels,” Dr. Rockstrom said.
New threats on the horizon from climate-health interaction
According to the report, this is a rapidly emerging field of research where health scientists and climate change scientists are putting forward the evidence that the impacts of climate change on the health of humans, animals, and entire ecosystems are increasingly widespread, and new risks are emerging.
This is not only extreme heat, wildfires, and floods, it also poses the risk of infectious diseases increasing.
“Therefore, we need urgent policy advancement, surveillance, early warning systems, and multi-sectoral information sharing and action to make the climate agenda a true human-health protection agenda,” the climate research expert advised.
“We also need the mitigation and adaptation investment done in an integrated manner for human health.”
According to Dr. Rockstrom, scientific evidence on the ground shows that climate change is increasingly causing a threat and amplifying displacement. Migration is potentially pushing societies towards conflict.
And so, he said it is important to facilitate safe and orderly migration as an adaptive strategy to climatic pressures, including circular migration.
Though, to ensure that migration serves as an efficient adaptation, it remains crucial to prepare receiving areas ahead of time to absorb the inflow of climate migrants. This includes the preparation of labour and housing markets, as well as cultural integration.
Human security requires climate security
Dr. Rockstrom said there is rising evidence that in order to have a secure and peaceful future, climate change must be addressed very rapidly.
For instance, they stated in the report that human insecurity, propelled by resource scarcity and decreased productivity of agricultural lands, can increase tensions within and across communities, in some instances contributing to violent conflict.
Consequently, environmental crimes, such as illegal deforestation, illegal fishing, illegal logging and illegal mining, can increase.
These activities precipitate environmental destruction, both directly and indirectly yielding GHG emissions, for instance through land-use changes.
Sustainable land use is essential to meet climate targets
A radical shift in land use is also required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the report.
Climate mitigation through land-use change can support multiple co-benefits, such as preventing the conversion of natural forests, protecting existing primary and old-growth forests, and restoring degraded forests will protect diverse ecosystems, environmental services, and livelihoods while capturing and storing more carbon.
Scientific evidence by the IPCC shows that 25% of greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by intact nature.
While agricultural expansion is a major driver of forest loss in the tropics and thus a key driver of GHG emissions, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services vital to the livelihoods of nature-dependent and rural people.
The report also urges countries to strengthen forest-based actions of the Paris Agreement, to prevent the conversion of natural ecosystems, particularly tropical deforestation and degradation.
At the national and local levels, policymakers are advised to implement policies and incentives to reduce non-CO2 gas emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide, from livestock and other agricultural practices.
Private sustainable finance practices are failing to catalyze deep transitions
Dr. Rockstrom observed that all the good work on sustainable finance is still operating within the currently existing business models which are not substantially shifting the allocation of capital towards meaningful mitigation.
“We are still doing a lot of good work on finance but it is only scratching on the surface, the deep indent is not shifting the financial flows at the pace and scale required,” he said.
The finance sector is therefore advised to ensure that the sustainable finance practices adopted to allocate capital to climate-friendly investment actually lead to low-carbon development and climate resilience in the real economy.
Loss and damage
He called for urgent planetary imperative global policy response on loss and damage.
Though is a complex and challenging agenda as current impacts are posing unavoidable loss and damage, Dr. Rockstrom said we need measures for finance, social protection, and humanitarian action.
He added that we also need investments to avoid future impacts causing loss and damage that we may not even be able to cope with.
Inclusive decision-making for climate-resilient development is an imperative agenda
“A lot of social sciences are not surprisingly showing how we need to get local scales, local needs, local communities, multi-sectoral stakeholders engage to have climate policy implementation,” Dr. Rockstrom said.
Climate-resilient development is built on societal choices that go beyond the formal decision-making of politicians and policymakers, the report notes, adding that being inclusive and empowering in all forms of decision-making has been shown to lead to better and more just climate outcomes.
Breaking down structural barriers and unsustainable lock-ins
Additionally, the report finds that there is unequivocal scientific evidence that shows that changes in systems are required to be able to decarbonize the global economy, but those changes are not seen in the real world.
Therefore, Dr. Rockstrom suggested that structural barriers that are upstream causing the inability to move to transformative changes need to be broken down.