The world’s climate scientists and governments have declared climate change is now a threat to human wellbeing and warned we are about to miss the window to “secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.
The finding comes in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of climate change and how we can adapt to them.
The new report found the scale of the impacts from climate change threatened to overwhelm Australia’s — and the world’s — ability to adapt in the coming decades, with some impacts requiring rapid and radical transformations in how we live and operate, combined with immediate and sharp cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Immediate actions aimed at stopping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius could reduce many of the most severe impacts to society and ecosystems, but will not stop all of them.
Current global policies put the world on a course of at least 2.1C warming by 2100, and possibly as much as 3.9C.
Regardless of our actions now, the report says regional and urban areas will face irreversible changes that will impact millions of people’s lives, including:
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” IPCC Working Group II co-chair Hans-Otto Pörtner said.
“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”
The report urges urgent action to adapt to the changes we will see, as well as cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Those urgent adaptation actions include improving low-income houses to cope with heat, changing planning regulations to stop dangerous development, and planning for the closure of some industries.
The report advises we must address inequality between rich and poor, which it says exacerbates vulnerability to climate change and undermines our capacity to adapt.
“What’s clear is that climate change already is impacting on the poorest and most disadvantaged people across the globe disproportionately. And those projections are expected to continue,” said one of the report’s authors, Mark Howden from the ANU.
The report also said the time for incremental adaptations was past, and we now needed “transformational” changes.
For example, instead of protecting houses from rising sea levels, some may need to be abandoned or rebuilt on higher ground. Some sectors, such as snow tourism in Australia, may need to prepare for closure altogether.
“Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said.
“This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
Delaying not an option, IPCC says
The emissions reduction policies of Australia and the rest of the world would leave many human and natural systems beyond adaptation limits, the report said.
But it said many of the most devastating impacts were still avoidable by simultaneously implementing transformational adaptation and drastically cutting emissions.
“It is essential to meet the goal of limiting [the] global temperature rise to 1.5C. And science tells us that will require the world to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” Mr Guterres said.
“But according to current commitments, global emissions are set to increase almost 14 per cent over the current decade.”
“I know people everywhere are anxious and angry,” Mr Guterres said. “I am too. Now is the time to turn rage into action.”
The report is the second of three being produced by the IPCC in its sixth assessment round (AR6).
It was written by 270 authors and synthesises more than 34,000 pieces of scientific research. And it is approved by 195 governments.
The first report, released in August last year, analysed the physical basis for climate change, and was labelled a “code red for humanity”.
Report says government failing to address inevitable sea level rises
The report criticises Australia’s federal government, as well as state governments, for an “absence” of clear guidance, “rendering Australia unprepared for flooding from sea-level rise”.