IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released the second working paper of its sixth assessment report on February 28th. The report was finalized and approved by 270 authors and 195 governments.
The first part, released in 2021, warned that the global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is unavoidable. This report, titled “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability”, has assessed the effect of climate change on different levels and our vulnerability and capacity to adapt to it.
Key Highlights of the 2022 Report
1. Impacts of Human-Induced Climate Change
The report says that human-induced climate change “has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.” Leaving global warming unchecked will intensify the climate hazards we are already facing. The wildfires in Australia, Cyclone Idai in Africa, and floods in South Asia are examples of what the future holds for humanity if we continue down the path we are currently walking on.
2. Efforts to Adapt
While efforts have been made to reduce our vulnerability against the horrifying repercussions of climate change, the report states that soft limits to some human adaptations have been reached. It essentially says that whatever measures we have taken to adapt to climate change are not working. However, soft limits, such as poor planning and ineffective measures, can be addressed by bringing changes in governance, institutional, financial, and policy levels. It is crucial to understand that no further adaptation would be possible once we hit hard limits. Nothing we do, apart from reducing emissions, will work.
3. Low-lying and Coastal Areas
In its 2022 report, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that even if we take the least possible emissions and warming (1.5 degrees Celsius), the global mean sea level will rise at least 0.3 meters above 2000 level by 2100. The rise in sea level means more violent storms, floods, and in extreme cases, submergence of entire cities. The low-lying and coastal cities are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change once the sea levels rise.
The IPCC report has given a range of options for urban adaptation and protecting the coastal cities. They range from social and policy measures to creating physical barriers.
4. Climate Resilient Development
The impact of the unsustainable development methods we have chosen has led to more exposure of ecosystems, species, and humans to climate change. The report has urged governments and policymakers to focus on climate-resilient development. Climate-resilient development happens when the focus is on choices that enable inclusive development, priority is given to equity, risk reduction, and justice. The adaptation planning should involve indigenous, marginalized, and vulnerable groups of people.
Climate Change and Consequences for India
The report has described India as one of the most vulnerable countries to heat and rising sea levels. India can be one of the countries where heat and humidity will pass the limits of what is considered necessary for human survival. The report called the intolerable heat wet-bulb temperatures. Hot-bulb temperature is a measure that combines both heat and humidity. For India, the predicted figure is 31 degrees Celsius, which is extremely dangerous for humans. At 35 degrees Celsius, a healthy human resting in the shade will not survive for more than six hours. Currently, India experiences wet-bulb temperatures between 25-30 degrees Celsius.
Around 35 million people will be at risk of annual coastal flooding by 2050, and by the end of this century, 45-50 million would be at risk if the emissions continue at the present rate. About 40 percent of people in India will face water scarcity by 2050. At present, 33 percent of people face water scarcity.
In terms of crop production, India’s yield can fall almost 9 percent by 2050. In southern India, the yield of maize can decrease by 17 percent. This threatens the country’s food affordability, food security, and economic growth. Needless to say, the report paints a bleak picture of India’s future unless swift and necessary actions are taken.
Climate change and Social Justice
“Most vulnerable people and systems are observed to be disproportionately affected,” says the IPCC report. While the focus has increased on adaption planning and implementation, its progress is unevenly distributed. The report mentions maladaptation as a possibly unintended outcome. Maladaptation means that instead of helping, the adopted measures have promoted existing social inequities and adverse climate-related outcomes. Most adaptation plans made to combat climate change do not take marginalized and vulnerable groups into account, leading to adverse outcomes.
Climate change will affect the entire world, but the worst will affect the most vulnerable people. Marginalized and poor people are the most vulnerable to climate change despite being the least responsible for it. It is time we remember that climate change cannot be fully tackled without achieving social justice.