Climate change report issued by IPCC Working Group II
31 March 2022
On February 28th, 2022, the IPCC released its latest report, “AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability,” in its sixth assessment cycle. The United Nations Environment Programme and World Meteorological Organization established the IPCC in 1988 “to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the current state of knowledge about climate change.” Since its founding, the IPCC has released five Assessment Reports, in cycles of approximately five to seven years.
This latest report is the second of three contributions from three separate IPCC author and editor “Working Groups.” The first contribution, “AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis,” was published in August of 2021. The third report, “AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change” is expected to be approved in early April. Finally, a Synthesis Report, which will build on the findings of the three Working Group contributions, as well as three Special Reports published earlier this cycle, is scheduled for release in early October 2022.
Each IPCC report undergoes three stages of review. Each Working Group submits a first order draft based on “an assessment of all relevant scientific, technical and social-economic information.” Self-nominated experts accepted by the IPCC, “on the basis of relevant expertise,” review this draft. Next, experts and governments review the second draft, along with the first draft of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), a “distillation of the main policy-relevant findings from the underlying report.” Third drafts of the report and SPM are sent to governments, who provide another round of commentary on the SPM. Finally, the report and SPM must receive a formal endorsement from the responsible Working Group, as well as the panel of the IPCC plenary session. Working Group II comprises 270 expert authors and review editors nominated by UN member governments. The “AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability” report received over 50,000 comments from experts and governments throughout the drafting process.
The report focuses on the interactions among climate systems, ecosystems (including biodiversity) and human society. In the context of climate change, risk can arise from interactions among climate-related hazards and the exposure and vulnerability of affected human and ecological systems. The report identifies 127 key risks. These risks include, for example, that climate change and related extreme events will significantly increase ill health and premature deaths, that climate change will increasingly put pressure on food production and access, that risks to cities, settlements and key infrastructure will rise rapidly with further global warming, and that global economic damages will increase exponentially with global warming levels. The report also considers a new aspect in the risk concept, which is the risk that can be introduced by human responses to climate change.
Observed and projected impacts and risks
First, the Working Group reports that human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability. If global warming transiently exceeds 1.5°C in the coming decades or later, then many human and natural systems will face additional severe risks, compared to remaining below 1.5°C. The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.
The report also details that the vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions, and is driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance. Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change.
For the 127 identified key risks, the report finds that mid- and long- term impacts will be up to multiple times higher than currently observed. The Working Group also predicts that multiple climate hazards will occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact, resulting in compounding overall risk and risks cascading across sectors and regions. Furthermore, some responses to climate change may result in new impacts and risks.
Current adaptation and its benefits
The report reviews a number of climate responses and adaptation options, such as green infrastructure and ecosystem services, improved crop land management, coastal defence, planned human relocation and resettlement, and resilient power systems. These adaptations are examined for feasibility from economic, technological, institutional, social, environmental and geophysical perspectives, as well as for their benefits to sectors and groups at risk.
The Working Group points out that current adaptation-related responses across all regions and sectors are dominated by minor modifications to usual practices. This approach may suffice for the short term, the report cautions, but only small or locally contained reductions of risk are being achieved. Long-term risks require more extensive, transformative changes in our behavior and infrastructure.
Moreover, the report finds, we still don’t well understand the extent to which these adaptations are reducing climate risk, and for whom; we must also watch for unintended consequences and side effects. Monitoring and evaluation of implemented actions are critically important. Very few nations currently have in place operational frameworks to track and evaluate climate responses and their results.
Climate resilient development
The report argues that worldwide climate resilient development action is more urgently needed than previously discussed in the fifth assessment cycle, and that there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to enable such development.
Sustainable development in the climate context, as described in the report, should include:
- Clean energy generation
- Circular economies
- Healthy diets from sustainable farming
- Appropriate urban planning and transport
- Universal health coverage and social protection
- Training and education
- Water and energy access for everyone to reduce poverty
A key takeaway from the report is its emphasis on regional information and cross-sectoral comparisons, showing that places with poverty, governance challenges and limited access to basic services and resources, violent conflict and high levels of climate-sensitive livelihoods are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. Currently, the report evidences, marginal approaches and old ways of doing business dominate.
Governments will instead need to shift their policies in terms of ambition, scale and speed; they must aim to fully unleash the potential of local communities, civil society, academia, the private sector and the international community in a coordinated and coherent manner.
Some observers already fear that governments will try to water down the IPCC report, and at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, many countries were disappointed that wealthier nations failed to agree on a program to issue funding to poor countries for the loss and damage they sustain. These issues are likely to take center stage at the upcoming COP27 summit.
Authors: Felise Cooper and Alex Rabatin