New IPCC report on climate impacts

02/28/2022 - Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 published its 6th Assessment Report highlighting climate change impacts. The working group consisted of 270 scientists from across the globe who scanned more than 34,000 pages of scientific literature on the current state of science on what the warming climate means for our life on Earth. They’ve agreed on a more than 3,000 pages report synthesising those insights, and on a 36 pages Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). Several PIK scientists were involved, such as Katja Frieler, co-chair of Tranformation Pathways research at the Potsdam Institute. She was a lead author of the report's chapter on observed cross-sectoral impacts and also contributed to the Summary for Policy Makers.
New IPCC report on climate impacts
Cover of the new IPCC report on climate impacts, compiled by its Working Group 2. (Cutout, source: IPCC)

"We are already now leaving the world as we know it," Frieler says. "Observed climate impacts are increasing across sectors, our report shows. Exceeding 1.1°C of global warming today doesn't sound like much, yet the impacts of human-induced climate change on people and nature become more and more visible. For example, our greenhouse gas emissions are already largely responsible for the observed occurrence of mass bleaching threatening warm water corals. They are contributing to increased drought-induced tree-mortality. And they are driving far reaching shifts in the timing of many natural processes."

Frieler adds: "Compared to the previous assessment report, we have also gained a much better scientific understanding of societies' sensitivities to weather conditions. In particular, how weather extremes affect our infrastructure, economies, and health. The numbers are clear. More people die from heat-related health issues due to global warming. Human induced sea level rise and the increase in heavy precipitation linked to them have expanded the damages induced by tropical cyclones. A series of observed droughts with severe negative impacts on food security have been partly attributed to anthropogenic climate forcing. All this is happening already today at, again, just 1.1°C warming - which clearly shows that we must urgently limit further temperature increases. This is not just an environmental issue, it's about our own safety."

Also on the IPCC report, Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Professor at the University of Potsdam, with regard to future impacts:

"Climate impacts are rising fast, hitting earlier than anticipated and affecting more people. Already 1.5°C will undermine livelihoods for billions of people due to heatwaves, floods, droughts, and sea level rise. And it is critical to realise that climate impacts are not only about temperature, but also the health of natural ecosystems, which determine the resilience to climate change. Food insecurity, water scarcity, and intolerable heat, when hitting vulnerable societies is a prescription for social instability, causing rising numbers of displaced people, migration and conflict.

Solving the climate crisis is here and now, and our utmost global priority for a safe and just future for humanity on Earth. Moreover, the report shows that there is no safe landing well-below 2°C global temperature increase unless we act on all planetary boundaries by securing the resilience of the biosphere - land, water, plants and animals. It's our life-support system and buffering capacity to climate shocks. Fail and we risk triggering not only massive climate impacts, but also trigger cascades where collapse of ecosystems amplify warming, and causing even further social instability. The IPCC is clear, the moment of urgency is here."

Finally, comments by Hermann Lotze-Campen, agricultural economist and co-lead of the research department on climate resilience at PIK and Professor for Sustainable Land Use and Climate Change at Humboldt University Berlin:

“What farmers around the world grow on their fields and what we eat is increasingly threatened by climate change. This varies greatly from region to region, and the changes are not sudden but gradual. But fundamentally, the IPCC report shows that man-made warming is causing damage to agriculture. So climate change is coming to our plates.

Based on significantly improved data, considerable economic damage can already be attributed to climate change. Regionally, this clearly also affects agriculture and forestry. Rising temperatures, increased heat waves and droughts are already hampering the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for combating hunger and increasing water availability. Millions of people, especially in Africa, Asia and South America, are acutely affected by climate-related food and water shortages due to reduced crop yields. The report makes it clearer than ever that climate change exacerbates inequality. For the first time, the report also shows how multiple climate risks interact. Lower crop yields in tropical regions, exacerbated by heat-related lower labour productivity of rural populations, lead to higher food prices and health risks from malnutrition. In addition, weather-related extreme events can trigger shock waves in international agricultural trade. After 2040, climate impacts may be several times greater than we are already seeing today. Every tenth of a degree of warming beyond 1.5 degrees will lead to escalating economic damage and more frequent regional crop failures.

But there is something we can do. Effectively protecting of 30-50% of land and water areas can help not only stabilise important ecosystems but also secure food supplies. And: Adaptation is crucial, but still progressing too slowly.  Significant investments are needed for climate-resilient innovations. The new report also points out possible synergies much more clearly than before. Stress-tolerant crops and livestock, diverse farming methods, nature-based solutions for pest control and carbon storage can all have a positive impact on each other. A diet that is as plant-based as possible reduces competition for land and water and increases regional scope for adaptation.

Of course, all adaptation can only help if we simultaneously bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. A healthy planet is the basis for a climate resilient and sustainable development path. It’s in our own hands, really."

Weblink to the IPCC AR6 Working Group 2 climate impacts report:


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