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UN warns half of humanity lives in danger zone now due to climate change hazards

Scientists find progress on adaptation is uneven, with gaps increasing between action taken and what is needed to deal with growing risks

Climate adaptation investments need to speed up to restore degraded ecosystems effectively and equitably, given that climate change affects the lives of billions of people worldwide, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said Monday.

The IPCC Working Group II report, which is the second installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, was approved on Feb. 27 by 195 member governments of the IPCC following two weeks of negotiations.

People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, scientists said in the report which was very scathing of the lackluster efforts to date to combat climate change.

“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership and reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.

“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone now,” the United Nation’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, was quoted as saying in the report.

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world despite efforts to reduce the risks.

The IPCC said that the world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C and further warned that even temporarily exceeding this warming level would result in additional severe impacts, some of which would be irreversible.

“It is essential to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Science tells us that will require the world to cut emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. But according to current commitments, global emissions are set to increase almost 14% over the current decade,” Guterres warned, underlining the need for phasing out fossil fuels to reduce emissions and well-managed transition to renewables.

“That spells catastrophe. It will destroy any chance of keeping 1.5 alive.”

Consequences of inaction risk humanity and the planet

Increasing heat waves, droughts and floods are already exceeding the tolerance threshold of plants and animals and driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals.

These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage, according to the report.

“They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic. To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” the IPCC said.

Scientists found that so far progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

“The report emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option,” Lee stressed.

‘Failure will result in suboptimal future for people and nature

According to the report, the options to adapt to a changing climate must be pursued with equal force and urgency.

Guterres explained that he has been pushing to get to 50% of all climate finance for adaptation.

“I am also pressing to remove the obstacles that prevent small island states and least developed countries from getting the finance they desperately need to save lives and livelihoods. Delay means death,” he said.

He called on G20 countries to lead the way, warning that failure to do so would mean humanity will pay an even more tragic price.

“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water,” said Hans-Otto Portner, the IPCC Working Group II co-chair.

“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

Scientists say climate change interacts with global trends like the unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and the COVID-19 pandemic while jeopardizing future development.

“Tackling all these different challenges involves everyone including governments, the private sector, civil society and working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.

“Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a suboptimal future for people and nature.”

Window for action narrows

The IPCC found that cities, representing half of the world’s population, are the hotspots for the impact and risk of climate change.

People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding, as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level, rises, the report revealed.

“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Roberts said.

Even though climate change is a global challenge, the IPCC considers that local solutions are required through adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership, which it said would lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal. Climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” Portner concluded.

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