The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (Part 2) – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been released on 28th February, 2022. It is the second part of IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. The report has warned of multiple climate change-induced disasters in the next two decades even if strong action is taken to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. 

The report has said the ability of human beings, and natural systems, to cope with the changing climate was already being tested, and further rise in global warming would make it even more difficult to adapt. In this regard strong commitments and their conversion into reality is desired for tackling climate change. 

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What is the IPCC?

It is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations for assessing the science related to climate change. It was established in 1988 by UNEP and WMO (World Meteorological Organization). It provides policymakers with regular scientific assessments related to climate change. India is also a member of IPCC. 

IPCC itself does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Instead, thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of IPCC on a voluntary basis. The IPCC is divided into 3 Working Groups (WG) that deal with: (a) Study the science of climate change (WGI); (b) Impacts and Adaptation (WGII); (c) Mitigation (WGIII).

What is the IPCC Assessment Report?

The Assessment Reports are the most comprehensive evaluations of the state of the earth’s climate. Hundreds of experts go through every available piece of relevant, published scientific information to prepare a common understanding of the changing climate.

The first assessment report was released in 1990 and the subsequent editions were released in 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2015.

The first part of IPCC Sixth Assessment Report was released in August 2021. It was centered around the scientific basis of climate change. The second part talks about climate change impacts, risks and vulnerabilities, and adaptation options. The third and final part of the report, which will look into the possibilities of reducing emissions, is expected to come out later in the year.

Read More: IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report: Findings and Suggestions – Explained, pointwise
What are the key findings of the Sixth Assessment Report?

Vulnerability Mapping: Over 45% of the global population is living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change. Observed impacts are concentrated amongst the economically and socially marginalized urban residents.

Degree of Impact: The impacts  are more disruptive and more widespread compared to 20 years ago. If the temperature rise crossed the threshold of 1.5°C from pre-industrial times, then many changes could be irreversible. Infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems have been compromised by extreme and slow-onset events. This has resulted in economic losses, disruptions of services and impacted the overall well- being.

Climate change will severely impact food production and food security. Droughts and heatwaves will trigger biodiversity loss, as well as human migration

Global sea levels will likely rise 44-76 cm this century if governments meet their current emission-cutting pledges. With faster emission cuts, the increase could be limited to 28-55 cm

Narrow Window to Climate Resilient Development IPCC Assessment Report

Source: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (WGII)

The report observes that the window of opportunity to enable climate resilient development is rapidly narrowing.

Adaptation efforts: The report has recognised that progress is being made to adapt to the new situation, but in most places, it is nowhere close to what is required to be done. It has said the gaps in adaptation were a result of lack of funds, political commitment, absence of reliable information and a sense of urgency.

New Coverage: The latest report has, for the first time, made an assessment of regional and sectoral impacts of climate change. It has included risks to, and vulnerabilities of, mega-cities around the world. 

Also for the first time, the IPCC report has looked at the health impacts of climate change. It has found that climate change is increasing vector-borne and water-borne diseases such as malaria or dengue, particularly in sub-tropical regions of Asia.

Increasing frequency of extreme weather events like heat waves, flooding and drought, and even air pollution was contributing to under-nutrition, allergic diseases and even mental disorders.

The report has a strong focus on the interactions among the coupled systems viz. climate, ecosystems (including their biodiversity) and human society. These interactions are the basis of emerging risks from climate change, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss and, at the same time, offer opportunities for the future.

Climate Change Interaction among coupled systems IPCC Assessment Report

Source: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (WGII)

Meeting the objectives of climate resilient development requires society and ecosystems to move over (transition) to a more resilient state. The recognition of climate risks can strengthen adaptation and mitigation actions and transitions that reduce risks. Taking action is enabled by governance, finance, knowledge and capacity building, technology and catalysing conditions.

What are the findings of the report with respect to India?

The report identifies India as one of the vulnerable hotspots, with several regions and important cities facing very high risk of climate disasters such as flooding, sea-level rise and heat-waves.

For instance, Mumbai is at high risk of sea-level rise and flooding, while Ahmedabad faces serious danger of heat-waves. Several cities, including Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Patna and Lucknow are approaching dangerous levels of heat and humidity.

By the middle of the century, around 35 million people in India could face annual coastal flooding, with 45-50 million at risk by the end of the century if emissions are high.

Climate change and rising demand would lead to at least 40% of the Indian population living with water scarcity by 2050 compared with about 33% now. It is estimated that both the Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins will witness increased flooding as a result of climate change.

The report says that wheat, pulses, coarse and cereal yields could fall almost 9% by 2050. These disruptions to crop production are expected to cause price spikes in India, threatening food affordability, food security and economic growth.

Direct damage is estimated at $24 billion if emissions are cut as currently promised, and $36 billion, if the emissions remain high and ice sheets are unstable.

At present, wet-bulb temperatures in India rarely exceed 31 degrees C, with most of the country experiencing maximum wet-bulb temperatures of 25-30 degrees C. 

It notes that if emissions are cut, but only by the levels currently promised, many parts of northern and coastal India would reach extremely dangerous wet-bulb temperatures of over 31 degrees C towards the end of the century.

What is Wet-Bulb Temperature?

  • It is a measure that combines heat and humidity. A wet-bulb temperature of 31 degrees Celsius is extremely dangerous for humans, while a value of 35 degrees is unsurvivable for more than about six hours, even for fit and healthy adults.
What is the significance of the IPCC Assessment Reports?

Policy Formulation: IPCC reports form the scientific basis on which countries across the world build their policy responses to climate change. They are meant to present factual situations with as much scientific evidence as is possible.

High Degree of Credibility: The fact that these findings are the product of the combined understanding of the largest group of experts on climate science lends it a credibility greater than any individual study.

Bridges the capacity divide: The reports present information related to the most vulnerable regions which helps nations take proactive steps for their protection. This is of very high relevance particularly for countries that lack the resources or the capacity to make their own impact assessments.

Global Cooperation: These reports also form the basis for international climate change negotiations that decide on the responses at the global level. It is these negotiations that have produced the Paris Agreement, and previously the Kyoto Protocol. The Paris Agreement was negotiated on the basis of the Fifth Assessment Report.

What are the challenges faced by nations in tackling climate change?

Financial Constraints: Many nations don’t have enough financial resources to do considerable investment in critical sectors such as urban infrastructure and prepare social safety nets for the most vulnerable populations.

Lack of Political Will: Climate Change and the associated impacts have still not become electoral issues in most countries. This puts climate change on the back seat and results in half hearted efforts.   

Geopolitical Instability: The conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and recently in Ukraine brutally hurt the economic capabilities of nations. This impedes their efforts towards tackling climate change.

What should be done?

First, masses should be sensitized towards climate change by taking support of NGOs like GreenPeace India. This would also help in creation of Climate Change based Political Parties.

Second, countries must switch to Green GDP or Green Accounting in order to decrease damage to the environment. 

Third, Developed countries must accept historical responsibility and provide financial resources to the developing countries based on the principle of equity and justice.

Fourth, Adaptation efforts must go hand in hand with ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. As with increased warming, the effectiveness of many adaptation options declines.

In this regard, the successful local level adaptation plans in cities such as Surat, Bhubaneswar and Indore can be adopted. They have enabled its people to make cities resilient to climate change. 

Conclusion

Each of these IPCC’s reports have also progressively expanded the scope of their assessment, and introduced fresh information about different aspects of climate change. Mere acknowledgement of the findings by the nations is not enough, rather broad consensus at national and international level is desired to mitigate climate change.

Source: The Hindu, Indian Express, Indian Express, Business Standard, The Times of India, The Times of India.

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