UN Report Reveals Risks of Climate Inaction
Billions at risk of natural disasters, food insecurity, and disease.
By Asiyah Choudry
April 27, 2022
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published its Sixth Assessment Report analyzing the global and regional implications of the climate crisis. The report was developed by the IPCC Working Group II, a team of 270 authors spanning 67 countries. It presents a bleak vision of the future unless we take immediate action in face of a “narrowing window of opportunity.”
Read on to find our summary and key takeaways from the report.
Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
Natural ecosystems provide a range of services that are critical to the well-being of life on this planet. These functions include pollination, food production, climate regulation, and soil formation, among many others, which support human and animal life. A 2011 paper estimates that the value of global ecosystem services is equivalent to $125 trillion a year. This is equal to $148 trillion a year in today’s dollars - greater than the US GDP in 2021. However, given the absence of substantial climate action globally, it is clear that the immense value of global ecosystem health has been severely underestimated.
The IPCC report examines the effects of various levels of warming on ecosystems and the ensuing consequences on the services they provide. According to the report, terrestrial ecosystems currently store 3,500 gigatons of carbon. Ecosystems like tropical rainforests and Arctic permafrost remove 2.5 - 4.3 gigatons from the atmosphere on an annual basis and keep carbon out of the atmosphere. Warming temperatures and human activities like deforestation are releasing stored carbon from these natural carbon sinks and increasing global emissions.
Risks associated with sea-level rise – including coastal erosion, coastal habitat loss, and loss of homes and livelihood – are projected to increase tenfold by the end of the century without human action to counter climate change.
We also see that waning terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem health will have devastating repercussions on global food systems. It is projected that 8% of global farmland will become unusable with warming below 1.6℃. A variety of animal species are also at risk. In the US alone, 150 species are considered extinct and an additional 500 species have not been spotted for decades. At 2℃ of warming, it is estimated that 10% of species on earth are at high risk of extinction.
Human health and well-being
Climate change is anticipated to exacerbate existing global inequalities. In the absence of climate risk mitigation measures, the effects of the climate crisis will be most harshly felt by some of the most vulnerable populations including women, indigenous communities, the elderly, and ethnic minorities. Among the most impoverished communities, climate change is expected to drive a shift towards increased urbanization, as droughts and reductions in land productivity will render agrarian livelihoods unsustainable.
The report finds that climate-related disease, deaths, malnutrition, and threats to mental health are on the rise. In North America, the increased prevalence of dengue and chikungunya virus is attributed to climate change.
In addition, heat poses a significant risk to human health and is associated with declining labor productivity. In countries with warm seasons, climate change-related heat mortality is on the rise. India could see as many as 1 million extreme heat-related deaths every year without changes to current levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
What does this mean for future generations?
By 2100, 48-78% of people may be exposed to heat stress. Water is expected to become a source of conflict due to an increased prevalence of droughts and flooding. With a 2°C increase in global temperatures, it is estimated that between 800 million and 3 billion people will face water scarcity. In addition, the frequency of extreme weather events is projected to increase fourfold.
In a world without climate action, the vision of the future is bleak. It’s a scathing indictment of our failure to take action even though many people knew what was happening all along.
Building climate resilience
Unfortunately, humanity is not on track to meet significant emissions reduction targets. The window for climate action is narrowing before environmental damage becomes irreversible. It is more critical than ever that we take substantial action to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The report suggests that building climate resilience requires a two-pronged approach.
First, we must improve the health of global ecosystems. To achieve this, we need to boost global conservation efforts, granting 30% of the Earth’s surface a protected status to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem health. Conservation has the benefit of improving an ecosystem’s ability to provide ecosystem services, in addition to supporting human resilience to climate change. Seagrasses and coral reefs, for example, help to regulate floods for coastal communities.
Secondly, we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. One way of achieving emission reductions is through sustainable development. The Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as “...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In practice, this means doing things like building climate-resilient cities, pursuing a more circular economy, or transitioning to lower carbon energy sources. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are one model that can support the transformation of global communities and economies going forward.
How can you help?
While this report paints a bleak picture, the team at GreenPortfolio still believes we can act to improve this outlook. If you’re looking to learn more about how you can help fight climate change, Project Drawdown is a great resource for identifying effective, evidence-based climate solutions that you can implement in your home, business, or daily habits.
Did you know that you can also fight climate change with your personal finances? There are several sustainable financial products available on the market that enable you to use your investments to advance environmental causes. Impact investing, for example, is one way that you can create positive, measurable, environmental, and social impacts.
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