These two articles were produced by Thomson Reuters Foundation, charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, a global news and information company that operates the Reuters news service. Journalists for Thomson Reuters Foundation cover the human and development impacts of climate change.
By Megan Rowling
More frequent and intense heat, heavy rain, drought and other climate change impacts are damaging nature, people and the places they live, scientists warned in a key report on Monday.
And just as efforts to reduce planet-heating emissions have lagged, so have measures to adapt to global warming, in order to protect societies, economies and ecosystems, they said.
Any further delay will mean missing “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all”, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a report approved by 195 governments.
The 270 scientists that worked on it called for a shift to a new model of “climate-resilient development.”
But they said this would become harder to achieve – even impossible in some regions – if global warming exceeds an internationally agreed limit of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.
The planet has already heated up by about 1.1 C – and a rise of 1.5 C could be reached by the early 2030s, scientists predict.
Efforts to adapt to climate change and slash emissions will be more effective with stepped-up funding, technology-sharing, political commitment and partnerships targeting equity and justice for the most vulnerable communities, the report added.
Here are selected comments from climate scientists, officials, campaigners and other key observers on the report:
Hoesung Lee, chair, IPCC
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.
“Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks… Half measures are no longer an option.”
Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary-general
“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.
“… People and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now.
“The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University climate scientist and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy
“Take almost anything we already know to be wrong with the world ¬ from hunger, poverty, and lack of access to basic sanitation and healthcare in low-income countries, to the treatment of indigenous people and racial injustices in high-income countries – and the climate emergency is making it harder to solve.
“Crucially, however, (the report) also makes it clear that now is not the time to abandon hope.
“… From how we produce our food and plan our cities, to how we protect our most valuable ecosystems and work to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, the IPCC makes clear there is potential to adapt our economies and societies and make them more resilient to these emerging threats.”
Teresa Anderson, climate justice lead, ActionAid International
“This report presents a harrowing catalogue of the immense suffering that climate change means for billions of people, now and for the decades to come. It’s the most hard-hitting compilation of climate science the world has ever seen. You can’t read it without feeling sick to your stomach.
“A global system that provides support to climate-vulnerable countries to pick up the pieces and rebuild in the aftermath of climate disasters is long overdue. The COP27 climate negotiations in Egypt later this year must finally agree to a funding facility to address (climate change) loss and damage.”
Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report
“This report is a flashing red light, a big alarm for where we are today.
“For the first time, the IPCC explicitly calls out the concern about humanitarian impacts of climate change already occurring today.
“… We are confronted with rising risks of disasters in so many places. But the report also shows that we can do something about it. We just need to raise our ambition dramatically in light of what this report is showing is coming our way.”
Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)
“SIDS (small island developing states) have suffered and will continue to suffer unprecedented damage if global temperatures continue to rise, particularly if they rise above 1.5 C.
“Adaptation is critical to our survival in the face of climate change, but current financing schemes are under-funded and inaccessible to the majority of SIDS.
“Now more than ever, it is paramount that developed nations fulfill the commitment to double adaptation finance and increase funding for SIDS and other climate-vulnerable regions as agreed to in the Glasgow Climate Pact.”
Michael R. Bloomberg, U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy on climate ambition and solutions
“The IPCC’s new report paints a devastating picture of the suffering and disruption that climate change is already causing for growing numbers of people around the world – and the growing costs we’re already paying for years of inaction and denial.
“It should cause leaders in the public and private sectors to take a hard look at what they’re doing right now to solve the problem and to protect the people and businesses they’re responsible for – and it will help the public to hold leaders’ feet to the wildfires.”
Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II (which produced the new report), and a physiologist and marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water.
“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development – but adequate finance and political support are essential.”
Rachel Licker, principal climate scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists
“Today, at about 1.1 C of warming above pre-industrial levels, more than 40% of the world’s population is already living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as frequent extreme heat, worsening drought and rising sea levels. Some places are experiencing irreversible impacts or extremes so severe that adapting may no longer be a viable option.
“This report spells out in alarming detail how much more is at risk if policymakers fail during this consequential decade to drastically reduce global heat-trapping emissions and adapt to the impacts that are no longer avoidable.”
Sanjayan, CEO, Conservation International
“As the world’s most vulnerable – and least culpable – begin to feel the early effects of a warming planet, it is high time for the Global North (countries) to make good on past promises.
“In addition to expediting carbon mitigation efforts, the world’s wealthiest nations must scale up adaptation funding — starting with frontline communities.
“If done right, these investments will not only reduce exposure to climate risk, but also address the biodiversity crisis, resource shortages, and long-standing cycles of economic inequality.”
Jyotsna Puri, associate vice-president, International Fund for Agricultural Development
“We need to wake up to the fact that a window is fast closing and there is a point beyond which ecosystems and farmers won’t be able to adapt anymore.
“If small-scale farmers, who grow much of the world’s food, can no longer produce what is required, poverty and hunger will continue to increase, and more global migration, instability and conflicts will follow. Investments and action on adaptation are needed now. There is no time to lose.”
Debra Roberts, IPCC Working Group II co-chair, and head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit for eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa)
“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services.
“But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”
IPCC scientists warn climate change losses becoming ‘difficult to avoid’
By Laurie Goering
Since late January, the African island nation of Madagascar has been hit by four tropical storms, driving fresh losses in a country with 1.6 million people already in need of food and other aid following repeated droughts and the Covid–19 pandemic.
Bangladesh, a world leader in adapting to climate change impacts, could lose more than a tenth of its land to sea level rise in two decades, potentially forcing 15 million of its 165 million people to find new homes in an already crowded nation.
And Somalia now finds itself in a third consecutive drought season, with the number of people requiring emergency assistance soaring from 5.9 million last year to 7.7 million this year, even as appeals for funding go largely unanswered.
“They have run out of water, they have run out of pasture, their livestock has died,” said Walter Mawere, of aid agency CARE, who recently visited a camp for displaced people in the Horn of Africa nation.
There, he met a pregnant woman with three children who had walked 10 days from her home to the camp – and wasn’t sure if her husband, who had tried to take their remaining goats to water and then disappeared – was still alive.
Without help for families like hers, the situation “will be a catastrophe”, Mawere said during an online discussion, warning of a repeat of 2011 when a quarter of a million people died.
As efforts to adapt to accelerating climate change impacts remain underfunded, poorly planned and piecemeal – and as some shifts increasingly cannot be adjusted to at all – the “loss and damage” associated with global warming is growing.
A flagship report by 270 leading climate scientists on Monday, warned such losses are already happening and are set to grow much worse if measures to curb emissions from fossil fuel use worldwide are not dramatically stepped up.
“With increasing global warming, losses and damages increase and become increasingly difficult to avoid, while strongly concentrated among the poorest vulnerable populations,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report noted.
Such losses “are not comprehensively addressed by current financial, governance and institutional arrangements, particularly in vulnerable developing countries,” added the report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
Finding ways to address climate change “loss and damage” – from destroyed homes and infrastructure, to forced migration and loss of cultural landmarks – is proving a major challenge.
Aid organizations, normally called on to help in crises, are overwhelmed by demand and lack the means to respond to soaring climate impacts on their own, said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.
“Many humanitarian agencies are now really asking themselves the question: What needs to be done? … How do we deal with that given the immense pressure already on our budgets?”
Meanwhile, wealthy countries – responsible for most of the emissions driving climate change – have strongly resisted efforts to establish new loss and damage funding systems, fearing high bills to repair and compensate the growing damage.
At the COP26 U.N. climate talks in November, they blocked a bid by vulnerable nations to create a dedicated fund for that purpose – though the increasingly clear need to deal with surging losses won new recognition.
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of COP26 host Scotland, did make a symbolic $2.7–million donation toward a “loss and damage” fund, urging other nations to follow suit.
The IPCC itself faced some opposition to including references to “losses and damages” in the report’s summary for policy makers, approved by 195 governments, with the United States reportedly pushing unsuccessfully to have them excluded.
But Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said surging losses were growing hard to ignore, even in richer countries.
“Until now, it has really been hitting poor people in poor places, which doesn’t register globally,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But now in the United States people are dying because of the impacts of climate change,” he said, pointing to western wildfires, New York floods and a record heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in the past year. “The reality can’t be denied.”
Securing a higher profile for “loss and damage” within the IPCC work’s has been tough, he said, because the reports are based on existing studies, and scientific work on loss and damage is only now taking off.
But Huq, an advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum of countries and former IPCC author, said nations at the highest risk from climate change would ask for a special report on loss and damage in the next IPCC round of scientific assessments.
‘Staring us in the face’
Meanwhile climate-driven losses – from devastating floods in Germany to a string of tropical storms hitting southeast Africa – are becoming harder to ignore or dismiss.
“We are moving from one disaster to the next,” said Chikondi Chabvuta, who works for CARE Malawi. The increase in the number and intensity of cyclones “is making life as we know it very unpredictable,” she noted.
In Malawi, schools in hard–hit regions have suspended classes as they instead accommodate displaced families, she said, and the government is struggling to find funds to meet rising demands for help.
As climate–changing emissions continue to grow globally, “is it worth it for the lives we are losing daily?”, she asked.
Madagascar, hit by the same storms – Emnati, Dumako, Batsirai and Ana – just since January, has seen the rice crop it was about to harvest wrecked, as well as key cash crops such as cloves, coffee and pepper, the World Food Programme reported.
“In a country where the majority of people make a living from agriculture, an estimated 90% of crops could be destroyed in some areas,” hiking hunger in the impoverished nation where many barely get by even in normal times, the U.N. agency said.
In its new report, the IPCC noted that 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people – or more than one in four globally – already live in places that are “highly vulnerable to climate change”.
As impacts strengthen – from coastline–threatening sea level rise to more damaging floods – “risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage”, it said, with worsening drought and heat, for instance, fueling wildfire risk.
Multiple climate hazards will increasingly happen at the same time, with other risks like conflict or epidemics interacting with them and compounding overall threats, the scientists warned.
Huq said that stark assessment should spur swifter action urgently, to prevent more people going hungry and losing their homes – or their lives.
“The impacts are now staring us in the face and nobody can ignore them,” he said. “Everybody will have to deal with them whether they want to or not.”