The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just published its latest climate change report. Things are worse than previously thought, and the predictions are shocking. But, there is still hope, providing humankind is willing to adjust.
Countries are currently not doing enough to mitigate the problem, and unless action is taken immediately, the climate crisis is likely to spiral out of our control. If this happens, the entire planet will be affected, and no human-inhabited region will be able to escape climate change’s devastating effects.
While much of the above information may sound similar to what was already common knowledge, this latest report (written by 270 researchers from 67 countries) shows the real extent of both the damage done and the further disastrous consequences we can expect.
Governments have not invested enough in necessary adjustments, companies have not halted their harmful practices, and wealthy, western countries have continued much as they did before, albeit with a guilty conscience and veneer of greenwashing. As a result, coastal communities and those in the global south are already experiencing the worst changes.
UN Secretary General António Guterres described the new IPCC report as an “atlas of human suffering,” and a “damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” He added: “the facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
‘Half measures are no longer an option’
This release is one of three updates on the current state of the climate crisis that will make up the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. The first publication, finalized in August of last year, focused on the physical science basis for global warming. (LIVEKINDLY covered that here.)
The most recent installment concentrates on the impact itself, humankind’s vulnerabilities, and areas where adaptation will be essential. The third report, expected in spring, will delve into the potential solutions that may yet help us mitigate the ongoing warming process.
The latest release is dismal, but it’s not without solutions for politicians, businesses, and organizers to act on. While we can all learn from these, it’s important to note that the responsibility lays firmly with governments, legislators, policy-makers, and corporations to help transform society into one that can provide future generations with a liveable existence.
“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,” says IPCC chair Hoesung Lee. “Half measures are no longer an option.”
4 ways to make climate change less devastating
Transition to renewable energy
One of the best ways to reduce overall warming is and has always been a global transition to renewable energy, as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas is the main cause of climate change.
For context, keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—the threshold set by the Paris Agreement—compared to pre-industrial levels would require the world to eliminate practically all fossil fuel emissions by 2050. But right now, we are on track to reach somewhere between 2 and 3 degrees warming before the end of the century.
This is also not as simple as just switching to electric cars, as EVs will be charged on a grid that is still mostly powered by fossil fuels. In reality, the transition to sustainable energy needs to incorporate every single aspect of production and society.
It’s worth noting here that dealing with climate change simply isn’t going to get any easier than it is right now, and if appropriate action isn’t taken, catastrophes will only worsen in a devastating cascade of knock-on effects. The time for a slow-but-steady move to sustainable energy was 30-plus years ago. Now, we need to make the change as fast as possible.
Prioritize conservation globally
Protecting biodiversity and ecosystems is fundamental to climate resilience. But we are currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event, and scientists predict that over one million different species are on track to be eradicated in the coming years.
The majority of world leaders already talk the talk when it comes to conservation, but biodiversity is still falling, deforestation is still happening, and unsustainable practices like bottom trawling, recreational hunting, and factory farming are still harming conservation areas.
Conservation also isn’t just about preserving what’s left. The most important habitats, valuable plant life, and effective carbon sinks—like mangroves, rainforests, and peat moorland—must also be restored to their former glory as soon as possible. Rewilding, replanting, and reforestation efforts are essential in the restoration of nature.
But currently, many mangroves are destroyed to make way for agriculture, Amazon deforestation is at an all-time high, and the UK is comprehensively burning its most valuable carbon-storing moors. It’s past time for a reality check on our treatment of the natural world, and there must be a global shift from exploitation and dominance to protection and restoration.
The transformation of…everything
This idea of adaptation runs throughout the new report, which specifically references short-term versus long-term change. While incremental development represents a step in the right direction, embracing transformative adaptation—dramatic changes to the way we do things—will help us get away from harmful systems and embrace our now-inevitable collective future.
For example, modernizing farming to reduce its impact on the environment can be partnered with making agriculture more resilient to climate risk. The report notes that specific effective adaptation options include “cultivar improvements, agroforestry, community-based adaptation, farm and landscape diversification, and urban agriculture.”
This would address both the problem of continued warming and our future in an already changed world. There will be more heatwaves, worse drought, and countless other adverse impacts that are already far more widespread than previously predicted. (Around 50 percent of the global population currently faces severe water scarcity in some capacity.)
Measures to protect the land against flooding caused by rising sea levels are already being set up, but for some coastal communities, this is too little, too late. Adaptation will also only take us so far, and if temperatures keep rising many parts of the world will be unable to adjust to such a dramatically altered environment. Even if people do adapt where they can, there needs to be a huge increase in infrastructural investment around the world to facilitate this.
Investment in the future, right now
One area that absolutely requires further investment is healthcare. Health systems must be supported in such a way that they are prepared for the problems of the future, from additional zoonotic diseases (a distinct possibility, according to study author Colin J. Carlsson) to heatstroke and dehydration. Even in wealthy countries such as the UK and US, healthcare remains fraught with inequality, and is frequently undermined by politicians and the media.
In general, wealthy nations are both the most responsible for climate change and the most adaptable to it, whereas lower-income nations will require external financial support if they are to prepare for further warming. But the leaders who can provide it have yet to adequately step up. Wealthy nations previously pledged over $100 billion per year by 2020 to help with infrastructure and adaptation abroad, but since the initial promises were made this has fallen short by up to $20 billion.
Climate change has already worsened injustice and inequality worldwide, and will continue to do so unless it is addressed in a meaningful, egalitarian, and globally-minded way. Wherever there are people, there must be new money invested to create infrastructure that supports adaptation. And for many small island nations, who are already among the worst affected, this could even mean large-scale relocation further inland. A heartbreaking and expensive endeavor that deserves international recognition and support.
This is our final chance to avoid the worst of climate change
Throughout the IPCC’s new report, there are descriptions of ongoing and potential calamities, devastation, and inevitable consequences due to a lack of action on climate. We are now right down to the wire, ultimately because governments, companies, and the ultra-wealthy have not done enough with the window of opportunity we previously had. But there is still just enough time to ensure that the very worst predictions don’t come to pass.
Overall, there has been a global focus on the here and now, stopgaps, and short-term solutions that have enabled the western world to continue much as it did before. But a common thread running through all of the above points is the idea that we need to start thinking about the future in a big way, and embracing transformational change.
That means planning ahead in a way that will involve all of us rethinking how we live, how we eat, how our homes are constructed, and how we protect nature. It could potentially mark the end of an era of extreme and decadent excess, replaced by a more holistic attitude to the world around us. Priorities will shift, and governments must anticipate this—and the obstacles we face as a species—rather than holding onto a past that is no longer viable.