I contributed to the new climate report as one of the lead authors of Working Group II. This report is the result of an impressive process: several hundred scientists assessed thousands of scientific publications on the consequences of climate change and on approaches for adapting to it and summarised the current state of knowledge – mainly via video conferences – in this report. Today, the essence of the findings is presented to policymakers and the public.
The message is clear: climate change poses a threat to human well-being and the health of our planet. Adaptation is urgently required. And it is possible. I consider the following findings to be particularly important.
The consequences of climate change are everywhere
Climate change already has impacts worldwide – our planet has warmed by a global average of about 1.1°C since 1880. The consequences can be found in practically all areas of the environment and life, and are in some cases severe. All geographical areas are affected, from the tropics to the poles, sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs, forests on land and seagrass meadows and algae forests of the oceans, and also sectors such as water and energy, agriculture, human health and nutrition.
Even if humanity succeeds in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C, far-reaching risks and damage to environmental systems and people can no longer be avoided in many places. The greatest climate risks are faced by people and the natural environment in regions with the highest temperature increases, and on coasts, along rivers, and in mountain regions.
However, this new report does not merely list risks and damage. Rather it focuses on solutions in terms of adaptation to climate change.
The adaptation gap is growing
It is encouraging that many adaptation activities have recently been initiated, particularly in the areas of flood protection, irrigation and water supply. However, the geographical distribution of these measures is very uneven. In many countries and regions, adaptation processes are already reaching their limits.
A north-south divide is becoming increasingly apparent: in poor and poorly governed countries of the Global South, the “adaptation gap”, the gap between increasing climate risk and the measures taken by society to limit them, is growing much faster.