global climate change

In the past month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released two major sections of the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change—Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.  

The IPCC is the United Nation’s (UN) conglomerate of climate scientists, representing 195 countries, who assess published research to create comprehensive reports of the state of climate change and what we need to do to stop it. 

The reports highlight the importance of social justice, urgent action, and a call for diverse knowledge streams; and remind us that the natural systems we live in will face severe risks after 1.5⁰C of global warming. This could happen as soon as the early 2030s if mitigation efforts are not enacted, and the window to act is narrowing quickly.

Quote on climate change vulnerability

Quote on 1.5° threshold.

Key Messages on Adaptation and Resilience

The first report emphasizes the potential and likely impacts of climate change on humans, biodiversity, and ecosystems. Themes of the report include: 

1. The poorest people in the world are hit the hardest. 

  • Human vulnerability will continue to concentrate where the capacities of local, municipal, and national governments, communities, and the private sector are least able to provide critical infrastructures and basic services. 

  • Many deaths from climate change occur in the Global South. The impacts of heating are 15x higher than in other regions like Europe. 

2. Impacts are more adverse and widespread than previously reported. 

  • Up to 3.6 billion people now live in a situation where they are vulnerable to climate change. 

  • Extreme weather events are negatively impacting mental health, well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness globally. These risks are likely to increase in the next few years 

3. Impacts (and therefore solutions) are intersectional. 

  • Widespread, pervasive impacts to ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure have resulted from increases in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes, including extreme heat on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation, drought, and wildfire. 

  • The impacts and risks of climate change are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage. Climate hazards occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks interact, resulting in compounding overall risks cascading across sectors and regions.

4. Global warming beyond 1.5⁰C will make climate risks significantly higher.

  • If temperatures rise by 1.7⁰C or more, half the human population will be exposed to periods of life-threatening climate conditions from heat and humidity, along with other extreme climate events. 

5. Adaptation and resilience are possible, but only if we prioritize social justice. 

  • Equitable outcomes contribute to multiple benefits for health, well-being, and ecosystem services, of Indigenous Peoples and marginalized communities. 

6. Focus on climate-resilient development, especially in growing urban areas. 

  • Safeguarding the biodiversity of ecosystems is fundamental to climate resilient development. 

  • Climate resilient development needs to include partnerships with traditionally marginalized groups including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and ethnic minorities. These partnerships are most effective when supported by political leadership and institutions with financial resources, climate services, information, and decision support tools. 

Key Messages on Mitigation 

The message from the report on mitigation is clear: it is now or never. Global emissions for 2010-2019 were at their highest in human history. We can halve emissions by 2030—but only if we act now. The good news from the report is that the solutions we need to reduce emissions and stay below the 1.5⁰C threshold already exist. Themes of the report include: 

1. We need to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy. 

  • With our current rate of fossil fuel consumption, we will never stay below the 1.5⁰C threshold. 

  • An electrified global energy system is the most promising with high utilization of wind and solar energy. 

2. We need to transform our land use. 

  • Food and farming are responsible for 23-42% of all greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • Halting deforestation and restoring nature has the biggest potential as a climate solution in the sector of forests, farming, and land use. 

3. Urban areas are key. 

  • Reducing energy and material consumption, electrification, and enhancing carbon uptake in the urban environment are going to be crucial. 

  • City planning must incorporate climate-smart solutions. 

4. There are opportunities for individual behavior change to make an impact. 

  • The report calls out demand-side mitigation for the first time including reducing consumption of animal products, utilizing public transportation, and upgrading homes to be more energy efficient. 

  • The richest 10% of the population cause a disproportionate amount of emissions, so lifestyle changes of these folks can be particularly impactful (cut emissions by 40-70% by 2050). 

5. Governments must increase climate investments. 

  • Current climate finance falls short, especially in developing countries. The report recommends financial aid of $100 billion a year to support mitigation efforts. 

What is RTI doing to support adaptation and mitigation? 

Experts from our Center for Climate Solutions are partnering with governments—domestically and abroad—to create holistic solutions to tackle the global challenge of climate change and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. For example, creating a climate risk and vulnerability mapping tool at the neighborhood scale for the City of Longmont, Colorado to help planners create climate-informed policy. We’re also studying how off-grid electricity can help deliver health solutions, such as vaccines, in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, how to increase “green jobs” in Africa, and what the trade-offs are when converting cropland to a solar farm. 

Additionally, recent research demonstrates the economic benefits, human health improvements, and job creation that climate change mitigation programs could bring for U.S. states. It also provides new insight into the level of climate finance needed to reduce emissions in domestic and global forest sectors. 

 

References 

IPCC Working Group II (WG2). (2022). Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. United Nations. 

IPCC Working Group III (WG3). (2022). Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. United Nations.