In gloomy Amsterdam, global warming might feel like a distant prospect. This feeling is not the worldwide norm, though. On the 28th of February 2022, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their new report on the vulnerabilities, adaptations and impacts of global warming. To no one’s surprise, things are not looking up (The Economist 2022a). A grim but important difference between this year’s report and previous ones is that the IPCC no longer needs to rely on predictions to determine the effects of global warming, but can instead study real data to track its consequences (The Economist 2022b). The findings show that the impacts are larger in scale and scope, and appear more frequently than what had been predicted (Directorate-General for Climate Action 2022). As a result, the IPCC finds that the opportunity for mitigating the worst effects of global warming is rapidly narrowing (Harvey 2022).
In terms of the impact of climate change, the report depicts a world with more extreme temperatures and levels of unusually high or unusually low precipitation. Such conditions may lead to more frequent occurrences of wildfires, droughts, floods and storms. Such conditions may also endanger the homes, livelihoods as well as food and water security of large vulnerable groups (The Economist 2022a; Zhong 2022). Furthermore, the timing of seasons has changed, disrupting animal migratory patterns. Changes in weather and seasons may also be to blame for the slowdown of agricultural productivity (The Economist 2022a). Changes in temperatures and the degradation of natural systems also exacerbate disease rates and disease vulnerabilities (Zhong 2022). To top it off, all of the negative effects of climate change have a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable groups of people (The Economist 2022a; Zhong 2022; Levin, Boehm & Carter 2022). Poor countries do not have the necessary monetary resources to undertake the large scale infrastructural and social projects that are needed to adapt well to climate change.
While some adaptation to a warmer world has been undertaken, the report warns of a growing adaptation gap - meaning that even as countries try to implement adaptation technologies, the gap between what they are doing and what they need to do grows ever larger (The Economist 2022b; The Economist 2022a). Adaptation may, for example, be necessary to enable being outdoors at all - a high level of heat combined with high levels of humidity can be lethal, since the body cannot cool down by sweating (The Economist 2022a). Any adaptation undertaken now will also save money in the future - some estimates include that spending on adaptation is ten times more cost-effective than dealing with the fallout later (Carrington 2022). However, with increasing adaptation, there is also a high risk of maladaptation - i.e., that adaptation efforts either exacerbate the impacts of climate change or the vulnerabilities of climate change. Take building sea walls as an example: putting a wall around a city to protect it against rising tides may protect the city in some ways but, at the same time, it can worsen seafloor erosion or push the risks onto another region farther downstream than the city (The Economist 2022a; Zhong 2022).
Tragically, natural systems cannot adapt in the same way as human systems can. The report warns that several natural systems are approaching their maximum capacity for climate change adaptation. Such ecosystems include coral reefs, rainforests, coastal wetlands and polar and mountainous areas (The Economist 2022a; Zhong 2022). Among other concerns, the degradation of these ecosystems means that they might end up as additional sources of carbon, rather than acting as carbon sinks (Harvey 2022). In part due to their ability to act as carbon sinks, bolstering natural systems is one of the effective ways to mitigate, and even potentially reverse, climate change. Another big benefit of working with natural systems is that strengthening them also has other positive effects. For example, strengthening wetlands not only improves their carbon uptake, but it also mitigates flood risks and restores biodiversity (Zhong 2022). In the same way, changing agricultural practices to be more regenerative and holistic could improve water and food security, soil quality, and nutritional value in food as well as mitigate pollution, excess nutrition, biodiversity loss, and vulnerability to disease (Levin, Boehm & Carter 2022).
In light of the IPCC report, no one can be blamed for letting the gloominess get to them, even as Amsterdam gets sunnier with the spring season. Hopefully, the realization of climate impact predictions will develop in parallel with realizations of climate action promises. The spring of 2022 will likely be a distinctive spring for extreme weather events and coral bleaching, making it also a terrific spring for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. So, when you are out enjoying the sun, please make sure you consume sustainably, care for your natural environment, and hold your governments accountable.
Written by Ella Otterbeck, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
Source: State of the Nation
Carrington, Damian. 2022. “UK Not Prepared for Climate Impacts, Warns IPCC Expert.” The
Directorate-General for Climate Action. 2022. “Urgent Need to Adapt to Massive Impacts of
Climate Change Highlighted in Latest IPCC Report.” European Commission, February 28, 2022. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/news-your-voice/news/urgent-need-adapt-massive-impacts-climate-change-highlighted-latest-ipcc-report-2022-02-28_en
Harvey, Fiona. 2022. “IPCC Issues ‘Bleakest Warning Yet’ on Impacts of Climate Breakdown.”
The Guardian, February 28, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/28/ipcc-issues-bleakest-warning-yet-impacts-climate-breakdown
Levin, Kelly., Boehm, Sophie., & Carter, Rebecca. 2022. “6 Big Findings from the IPCC 2022
Report on Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” World Resources Institute, February 27, 2022. https://www.wri.org/insights/ipcc-report-2022-climate-impacts-adaptation-vulnerability
The Economist. 2022a. “The Latest UN Climate Report Is Gloomy, with Some Sunny
The Economist. 2022b. “Climate Change Must Be Adapted to as Well as Opposed.” March
Zhong, Raymond. 2022. “5 Takeaways From the U.N. Report on Climate Hazards.” The New
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