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“A rapidly closing window”: the urgent need for meaningful climate action for people and nature

March 21, 2023
Floods, drought, food and water security are all disrupted by climate change. Image: Internets Daily | Flickr Creative Commons

Climate change poses a significant threat to both human wellbeing and global ecosystems, but “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released this week.

The IPCC AR6 report emphasises that whilst the situation is increasingly serious, there are, “multiple, feasible and effective options” available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help societies adapt to human-caused climate changes.

“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”

Five years ago, the 2018 IPCC report outlined the challenges of restricting global warming levels to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, continued increases in greenhouse gas emissions has already led to current global temperatures around 1.1°C higher than those around 1850–1900.

The new report stresses that every increment of warming escalates hazards such as heatwaves and heavier rainfall. As a result, increasingly extreme climate-related risks around drought, flooding and water security place increasing pressure on the health and livelihoods of global communities, particularly those in developing nations.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said co-author Aditi Mukherji from the International Water Management Institute. “Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were fifteen times higher in highly vulnerable regions,“ she continued.

As we regularly highlight on this blog, freshwater ecosystems are significantly impacted by a changing climate. The IPCC report highlights the interdependencies of climate change and water. It outlines how increasingly extreme climatic events have left many global communities vulnerable to floods, droughts, reduced water and food security, and water-borne diseases. Moreover, it highlights the substantial, and increasingly irreversible, losses of plants and animals in freshwater ecosystems driven by heat extremes and changes in the water cycle.

The report also highlights the potential of freshwater nature-based solutions in helping mitigate the effects of climate change. Such measures include wetland restoration, reforesting river catchments and natural water management and storage in agricultural landscapes. These approaches can help buffer floods and droughts, and offer biodiversity habitat. The report states that 30–50% of global land, freshwater and ocean areas need to be effectively conserved in order to maintain their ecosystem resilience to climate change.

Image: IPCC AR6 2023

The report emphasises the need for governments to rapidly implement ‘climate resilient’ development strategies which shift our global reliance on fossil fuels towards clean energies and technologies. These include wind and solar power, energy efficiency schemes, ‘green’ low-carbon cities, transport and agriculture, alongside halting deforestation.

The report states that at the moment global governments are not doing enough to mitigate the impacts of current climate change, let alone to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement on emissions. Indeed, IPCC models suggest that without a strengthening of global climate policies, global warming of 3.2°C is projected by 2100.

The message is clear, humanity is at a climate crossroads. “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years,” state the report authors.

The report argues that increasing finance to climate investments is a key step to achieve the rapid cuts in carbon emissions needed to slow down global warming. It calls on governments, investors and central banks to help scale up deep emissions cuts through ambitious policy and governance.

“Transformational changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritise risk reduction, and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably,” Hoesung Lee said. “We live in a diverse world in which everyone has different responsibilities and different opportunities to bring about change. Some can do a lot while others will need support to help them manage the change.”


Read the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assesment Report (AR6)

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