It is too late to overturn the serious damage society has induced to the Earth’s climate, but it is not too late to prevent its major consequences.
In 1998, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), together with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with the primary objective to provide scientific data and research findings to governments that can be used to establish climate policies and use key inputs for international climate deliberations. The IPCC’s projects are supported by thousands of professionals all over the world who devote their time as authors to assess the thousands of scientific papers annually to provide such a concise overview of what is known about drivers of climate change, impacts, and potential consequences, as well as how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks.
The Working Group II (WGII) of the IPCC evaluates the system vulnerabilities of socioeconomic and natural systems to climate change, as well as the negative and positive implications of climate change and adaptation options associated with climate change. From a global to regional perspective, the WGII assesses the different effects of climate change. It encompasses their vulnerabilities, as well as their natural and human systems’ capacities and thresholds for mitigating climate change and thus reducing climate-related risks, including options for achieving project objectives with an equitable and coordinated approach.
On June 23 of last year, leaked reports of the IPCC draft caused increasing concerns among climate activists. The 4,000 page report assessed the severity and speed of climate change as more ominous. It stated that within the next few decades, climate change will inevitably reshape the future. Humanity will be enduring “unlivable” heat, cities submerged in water, and ubiquitous malnutrition and hunger.
Today, February 28, 2022, IPCC WGII released the official version of its own report, focusing on the consequences on nature and human society should temperatures continue to rise.
We are headed toward climate collapse
“[This report is] an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership” – Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations
The 2015 Paris Agreement was established with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, so as to avoid the worst case scenarios of climate change. However, according to this report, there is a 40% chance that global temperatures will cross the 1.5°C limit for at least one year by 2026. Additionally, current projections predict that temperatures will continue to rise to 2-3°C above pre-industrial levels, given the current responses from governments across the globe. Every fraction of a degree of warming increases the risks for the planet.
As it stands, the planet has warmed 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, and this has already had, and will continue to have, devastating impacts on ecosystems and on the humans that rely on those ecosystems. A total of 127 climate impacts have been identified by Working Group II, ranging from the natural world, to health sectors, to agriculture, to economy. Species ranges will continue to shift, extinctions will continue to accelerate, and whole ecosystems will be in danger of collapsing. As it stands, coral reefs are facing serious threats the world over, indigenous populations in the Arctic are facing cultural extinction, and food production has lowered and will continue to decline. In terms of human impacts, currently, more than 4 in 10 people globally (3.3 to 3.6 billion people) live in places highly vulnerable to climate change. Should we reach the 1.5°C mark, tens of millions more people will face chronic hunger by 2050, 130 million more people will face extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of people living in coastal cities will be at risk of flooding and storm surges, and 350 million more people living in urban centers will face water scarcity. These numbers increase if warming reaches 2°C or even 3°C. If warming continues, parts of the globe will become completely uninhabitable for humans.
According to the IPCC WGII report, we are at risk of breaching several tipping points, which would lead to compound and cascading impacts. Warming of 2°C would push the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica past the point of no return, potentially causing sea level rise of up to 13 meters globally. Some regions such as central Brazil, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and central China, and coastlines across the globe could face multiple climate calamities at once, including drought, heatwaves, cyclones, flooding, and wildfires.
The areas currently most impacted by climate change, and at greatest risk of further impacts, are the ones least responsible for the climate crisis. This includes the Philippines. As an archipelagic country, we are at great risk of rising sea levels. As a country that is dependent on fisheries, we are at risk if and when coral reef ecosystems collapse. As an agricultural country, we are at risk of food shortages due to droughts, typhoons, and other natural disasters. Over the past two years, the country has experienced three category 5 typhoons. We can expect the number and intensity of typhoons to increase as the climate continues warming.
In the press conference that accompanied the release of this report, Dr. Debra Roberts, co-chairperson of the IPCC WGII, frames the report as a “reality check” specifically for developing nations. This should not be the case. Developing nations like the Philippines are already aware of the reality of climate change. If anything, this report should be a “reality check” for the Global North, the developed nations, who are most responsible for the climate crisis.
The report also warns that the current levels of adaptation in place are insufficient to respond to future climate risks. While adaptation actions have increased, the progress for adaptation is uneven, and not fast enough. As temperatures increase, the gap between adaptation actions taken and adaptation actions needed increases, and this gap is even larger for low-income populations. Additionally, adaptation efforts require more money than they are currently getting. For one, governments the world over, but especially from the so-called Global North, are not providing the money they promised. For another, even if they did, it would not be enough. Most importantly, adaptations will not be enough should we continue with “business as usual.” Above 1.5°C, some natural solutions will no longer work, and certain populations will no longer be able to adapt. Make no mistake, adaptations are necessary, because the impacts of climate change are here, and they are here to stay. However, they cannot be a substitute to cutting emissions. We cannot depend on individual initiatives or “carbon offsetting” programs. What the planet needs is a radical transformation of the consumption-focused nature of our current society.
System change not climate change!
In light of the new report, as well as the ongoing and felt impacts of climate change in our country, the Philippine government must enact policies and programs that will better equip the country to handle the effects of the climate crisis. Global leaders, especially those of historic emitters such as the United States, the European Union, and China, must take accountability for their roles in causing the climate crisis, and to enact a just and swift transition from fossil fuels to green energy. We, as a global society, must demand a shift away from the capitalist, imperialist economic system that brought us here in the first place.
Individual efforts are not enough. Efforts by individual governments, or individual sectors are not enough. Governments and private sectors all over the globe must all act radically, and must all act now. It is not enough to work under the current framework of capitalism. Even the IPCC WGII Report continues to function under this framework, consistently arguing that adaptation and mitigation will be “good for economies.” There is more at stake here than the economy, especially a profit-oriented one. When it comes to the climate crisis, we cannot afford to be policy neutral. We know the cause. We know the solution.
In his opening remarks at the press conference, Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said, “Now is the time to turn rage into action.” We call on the Filipino youth to take action. It is our future at stake.
Photo credit: Ma Ti via unsplash.com
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