Orange News: Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous disruptions to ecosystems and leaving billions around the world highly vulnerable to climate change, despite efforts to reduce risk. This is a key finding of “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, according to the Chair of the IPCC Hoesung Lee, is a strong wake-up call about the consequences of inaction. To lower climate risks to societies and ecosystems, the world needs to align our socio-economic development patterns with a more climate-resilient future.
The IPCC report synthesises the latest research on the vulnerabilities of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, with the aim of providing a scientific basis for policymaking. It notes that human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread losses and damages to nature and people. These impacts are especially potent because threats can emerge at the same time, leading to compounding risks that cascade across regions. For instance, simultaneously occurring heat and drought events can compromise food production and labour productivity, which in turn can increase food prices and lead to health risks of malnutrition. Adverse effects can further spread risks across national boundaries through supply chains and natural resource flows. Water, food, and energy, three sectors that are key for human survival, are explicitly pointed out as areas with considerable risk of disruption. These impacts are not happening in a far-off future, but billions of people are already experiencing them today.
One of the ways to minimise these risks is to limit global warming and mitigate future climate change. The Paris Agreement brought mitigation into the global spotlight – the race is now on for countries to bring their emissions down to zero. Around the world, including in Hong Kong, a large amount of funding (around 90% of all climate-related funding) is being funnelled into mitigation measures. However, the IPCC report reminds us that irrespective of the emissions scenario, many climate risks are already becoming unavoidable. Even if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in Paris, there will still be considerable losses and damages from climate change. One of the authors of the IPCC report, Professor David Viner comments, “we may not be able to stop the worst impacts of climate change and prevent the severe damage to key systems, but with adequate financing of adaptation and resilience, many systems and the most vulnerable can be afforded some protection.” Governments around the world therefore must expend more effort on adaptation.
How societies can adapt to climate change is not a question that hard numbers can fully answer; after all, climate change cannot only be understood through scientific data, economic figures, or quantitative indicators. Through a review of leading qualitative social scientific research on climate change, the IPCC report asserts that past and present unsustainable development patterns are a primary cause of our increase in exposure to climate hazards. Moreover, the report rightfully places climate justice in the spotlight of discussions about adaptation. It shows how vulnerability to climate change differs substantially among and within regions, driven by unequal patterns of development, resource use, as well as historical and present inequities.
If current climate vulnerability is based on past and present development trends, then our future is in our hands: the adaptation, mitigation, and socio-economic development choices that we make today and tomorrow will determine our future. In response to this finding, the IPCC report suggests that we should practice “climate-resilient development”. This refers to development that simultaneously achieves three targets: ambitious mitigation, enhanced adaptation, and greater equity. Climate-resilient development hinges on inclusive governance processes that use partnerships to reduce climate-related risk and address inequities against traditionally marginalised groups. What this means on a policy level is that legal frameworks, policy interventions, investments, and capacity building efforts are targeted to local conditions, are decided based on collaborative processes, and are intended to reduce structural vulnerabilities. In other words, pathways towards a climate-resilient future are not only decided from the top-down but can more importantly be grounded in choices that we make about how to organise our societies and economies.
There are two concrete steps that can be taken towards the implementation of climate-resilient development. Firstly, there needs to be an institutional framework that values inclusive decision-making. Institutions need to enable meaningful participation of the most vulnerable groups in society, while also being flexible to emergent risks. Secondly, there must be strong and ambitious mobilisation of resources across society. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that tremendous resources can be mobilised with sufficient political will. We need to treat climate risks with the same amount of urgency as a pandemic and allocate even more resources in the short- and long-term to ensure the wellbeing of our communities. Heightened ambition, greater collaboration, and increased investment flows will allow us to develop towards a greener, healthier, more liveable, and more equitable future.
Originally published on Orange News on 14 Mar 2022. Written by Lawrence Iu.