Urgent action on climate change needed ‘to ensure a viable future’, warns UN report

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Climate change is no longer a distant threat – it’s an ongoing catastrophe that is already endangering humans and natural environments around the world, according to an urgent new report from the United Nations which indicates that the world is running out of time to ward off the most devastating consequences of global warming.

The report, released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday, outlines the growing risk that climate change poses to human health, infrastructure, the stability of food supplies and water resources and the biodiversity of the planet’s ecosystems.

The assessment, by 270 scientists from 67 countries who make up the so-called IPCC Working Group II, represents a broad consensus within the research community on how global warming affects people and the environment – and the potential consequences of inaction.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, climatologist and co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, in a statement. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to ensure a livable future.”

The report found that humanity will face multiple climate hazards over the coming decades if global warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Human-caused climate change has already contributed to global warming of about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The effect of climate change on the availability of food and water is particularly worrying. Heat waves, droughts and floods – all of which are made worse by climate change – have already exposed millions of people around the world to acute food and water insecurity, according to the report.

“Overall, the picture is bleak for food systems,” one of the report’s authors, Rachel Bezner Kerr, professor of global development at Cornell University, said in a press briefing on Sunday. “No one is spared from climate change.”

Although climate change is expected to affect all regions of the planet, the assessment found that people in Africa, Asia, South America and Central America are particularly vulnerable and more exposed to negative consequences, including death. According to the report, residents of the Arctic and small island countries also bear an unequal burden of climate impacts.

Image: Flood in Brazil
A view of houses destroyed after a mudslide in Petropolis, Brazil, February 16, 2022.Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images File

Bezner Kerr said that taking aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of climate change will help reduce the most dire consequences of global warming, adding that “each increased warming will increase the risk of impacts serious”.

The IPCC report also highlighted the growing threat of global warming to human health, including the impact of climate change on people’s mental well-being – a first for the IPCC. New research has shown, for example, that increased exposure to heat waves, wildfires and other extreme weather events can harm mental health.

Among the dire warnings addressed in the new assessment is that the people and ecosystems hardest hit are also the least able to cope, including low-income populations and low-lying coastal regions that are threatened by the rise in sea level.

Many of the risks aggravated by climate change are linked to problems already experienced in these communities, such as increasing social inequalities, unsustainable use of natural resources, loss and damage from disasters and other extreme weather events. and the ongoing repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. .

“Our assessment clearly shows that addressing all of these different challenges requires everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – to work together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” Working Group II said. President Debra Roberts, head of the Sustainable and Resilient Cities Initiatives Unit at eThekwini Municipality in Durban, South Africa, said in a statement.

Image: Heavy rain calls for a state of emergency in 145 towns in Minas Gerais
Aerial view of a car and debris after the Rio das Velhas overflow in Honorio Bicalho, Brazil, January 12, 2022.File Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

The cost of inaction, on the other hand, could be devastating, according to the report. In addition to threats to humans, climate change is having irreversible impacts on some species and ecosystems, said report author Camille Parmesan, adjunct professor of geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s very, very clear that wildlife and natural systems are already being pushed against hard limits,” Parmesan said. “This is why we are witnessing the extinction of species. This is why we see the most sensitive ecosystems – mountain tops, the High Arctic – undergoing massive changes.

John Kerry, the US presidential special envoy for the climate, said the IPCC assessment paints a ‘disastrous picture’ of how humanity is already affected by global warming and outlines the risks of ignoring science of the climate.

“We have seen the increase in climate-fueled extreme events and the resulting damage – lives lost and livelihoods ruined,” Kerry said in a statement. “The question at this point is not whether we can totally avoid the crisis, it’s whether we can avoid the worst consequences.”

The IPCC, created in the late 1980s, is made up of thousands of scientists from 195 member governments who look at the most recent published and peer-reviewed research on global warming and compile the results into a report on the current state of the climate.

The new report is part of the IPCC’s latest summary on climate change, called the Sixth Assessment Report, or AR6. The full assessment includes four sections: the report of Working Group I on the Science of Climate Change, which was published last year; the report of Working Group II on vulnerabilities and socio-economic impacts; the next report of Working Group III on possible means of mitigating climate change, which will be published in April; and the Synthesis Report, which reviews the findings of all working groups and incorporates relevant information for policy makers.

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