The second half of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change, 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, was released 28 February 2022.
In addition to the over 3,000 page report, the IPCC provided an abridged “high-level summary of the key findings” for policymakers and an “extended” technical summary.
The former summary for policymakers comes in at 29 pages excluding the supplementary information tables. Although more digestible than the whole from which it was synthesized, it can be beneficial to further break it down.
First, what is the IPCC?
Created in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IPCC was created as the official scientific body for researching, organizing, reviewing and publishing the most recent developments in climate science. Contributors represent 195 UN member nations.
What is the ‘Sixth Assessment Report’?
Beginning in 2007 with Assessment Report 4 (AR4), the IPCC’s Assessment Reports provide the most comprehensive and current information available related to the chosen topic within the discussion of climate science.
Assessment Reports are published in parts by different Working Groups within the IPCC. Two more publications are expected to complete Assessment Report 6. In April 2022, Working Group III is expected to publish the third portion, AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. The final synthesis report should follow in September 2022.
So, what does this report say?
Climate change – which the report defines as an identifiable and persistent change within the climate system – at current and projected levels is a real and present danger to “all continents and across the oceans.”
For example, food insecurity, especially related to the production of wheat and maize (think bread, cereal, noodles, corn, cornmeal, tortillas and polentas), is already being exacerbated by current emissions trends. These effects can be seen in higher prices and lower supply driven by “climate-related extremes” (droughts, floods, earthquakes, etc.), which halt production and disproportionately affect poor and rural people.
Speaking of “climate-related extremes,” those aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. Flooding from the torrential rains in TN in March 2021, the Australian wildfires in 2019-2020 and the drought-induced water shortage in the southwest US at the beginning of the year are all examples.
Governmental responses reflect another point from the IPCC’s report; human systems are not currently prepared for a future living with the consequences of high emissions. Infrastructure collapses disproportionately affecting poor and marginalized peoples are likely. The risk is compounded for people in developing nations, low-lying areas, or around coastal systems.
Additionally, climate change incentivizes human migration. Displacement resulting from non-arable lands or over-fished, polluted coastal regions leads to further strain on vulnerable infrastructure and the remaining land and resources. The effects of this strain are most likely to be transferred onto the most vulnerable and the displaced.
The report notes that economic and health-related impacts are more difficult to anticipate due to a lack of literature currently, however the projections are similarly grim. Economic sectors can expect “more likely than not” to experience higher losses than those projected.
People can expect pre-existing conditions to worsen, particularly through the next half-century as temperatures rise and increase likelihood for injury due to heat-related disease and food- and water-scarcity.
Facing habitat degradation and higher extinction rates than in previous centuries, animals also attempt to change migratory patterns. However, the rate of adaptation for some animals will not match the rate of climate change. Species loss is inevitable.
The main takeaway? Current and projected climate change has passed the point of reversal, even at the most ambitious of emissions projections. The global community must prioritize active adaptation and mitigation policies now, or risk losing those options in the future.
There is good news. The worst of these consequences may be highly mitigated by actions taken now on individual, corporate and governmental levels. Indigenous traditions like controlled burnings and crop and livestock rotations, corporate incentives and constraints towards ecologically sound business alternatives and infrastructural changes towards robust public transit systems and “green” energy production are all examples of steps that can be taken now.
Individuals might consider eating less meat per week, since livestock production and distribution are considerable contributors to greenhouse emissions. Learning more and raising awareness on the issue in productive conversations with friends and family are also encouraged behaviors.
The IPCC’s report reads grim, as the headlines around climate change often do, but it doesn’t need to. Understanding what is happening and what could soon happen is the first step to shaping a better future.