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New IPCC Report Flags Climate Impacts and Risks, Looks to Solutions

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Climate change continues to cause dangerous and widespread disruptions in nature, but the magnitude and rate of climate change and its associated risks depend on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in Working Group II’s contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, released on February 28. 

Enhancing our knowledge of climate change’s impacts and risks can enhance our responses and accelerate adaptation efforts, it added. 

In its report, the IPCC flagged 127 risks - including heatwaves, droughts, floods, and biodiversity loss risks - and showed, at both global and regional levels, how these risks change with temperature gradient changes. 

“As climate impacts worsen – and they will – scaling up investments will be essential for survival. Adaptation and mitigation must be pursued with equal force and urgency. That’s why I have been pushing to get to 50% of all climate finance for adaptation,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at a press conference held after 195 governments approved Working Group II’s report. 

To reduce human suffering, lower risks and avoid projected damages, near-term actions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C are critical. Even at global warming of 1.5 degrees C, multiple climate hazards await. Exceeding the 1.5 degrees C threshold will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible, the IPCC warned. Some ecosystems, including coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rainforests, and polar and mountain ecosystems, are near or have already surpassed their adaptive capacity, it added. 

Monitoring and evaluating change is essential for tracking progress and climate change progression. “In a warming world, [adaptation] measures that are effective now might not work in 20 years. Adaptation strategies might have to be revised constantly. Revisions should be fact and data driven,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II said during the press conference. 

Generally, across the risks identified in Working Group II’s report, the current rate of planning and implementation to adapt to climate change are insufficient, the IPCC said. 

To date, most adaptation efforts have been focused on water-related hazards, but Working Group II’s report shows that the strengthening of health systems can reduce the impacts of infectious disease, heat stress, and other climate-related risks. Nature also offers significant untapped potential to reduce climate risk and deal with the causes of climate change, the IPCC said. For example, the global food system can be made more resilient through adopting stress-tolerant crops and livestock, agroforestry, and increased diversification on farms, it added. Strengthening biodiversity, meanwhile, can improve pest control, pollination, and carbon storage while providing shade for temperature-sensitive crops, like coffee and cocoa, it noted. 

ESG and SDG Link Fortified  

With each IPCC report during this assessment cycle, the IPCC’s message has been clear: the world we live in today will not be the world we live in tomorrow. While Working Group I’s report, released in August 2021, laid out the physical basis for climate change, Working Group II’s report provides an understanding of how these different lines of evidence come together for people, ecosystems, and the planet. 

Working Group II’s report, through its body of research, also fleshes out the concept of Climate Resilient Development, which was introduced in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report

As a concept, Climate Resilient Development more closely links the corporate language of ESG to the UN’s broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At its core, Climate Resilient Development implements GHG mitigation strategies and adaptation options to support sustainable development, and it shows that orienting towards human health, ecosystem health, and planetary health should be the goal, the IPCC said. 

This bridge to the UN’s SDGs is useful as well as timely. In March, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) will release a first beta version of a new risk management and disclosure framework aimed at helping financial institutions and companies incorporate nature-related risks and opportunities into their strategic planning. And in early March, Finance for Biodiversity (F4B) published a first-of-a-kind integrated transition framework that seeks to provide financial institutions with practical guidance on how to integrate their understanding and management of climate and nature as they transition to a net zero, nature positive world. F4B’s new framework is consistent with, and can be used alongside, the work of the TNFD. G7 Finance Ministers and the G20 Sustainable Finance Roadmap are among those that have endorsed the TNFD. 

In its work, the TNFD will build on the work of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ (TCFD) voluntary framework for helping companies and governments disclose climate-related risks. On April 6, the UK will be the first G20 country to mandate TCFD-aligned climate disclosures across its economy. The European Union, Canada, and New Zealand have also announced plans to introduce or enhance their domestic climate disclosure regulations. 

Working Group II’s Reality Check 

At our current 1.1 degrees C of warming, weather extremes have already caused impacts that are proving difficult to manage. 

  • The impacts of human-induced intensification of tropical cyclones, sea level rise, and heavy rainfall have resulted in increased losses and damages, and the impacts of these climate hazards are magnified in cities, where half of the world’s population lives. 
  • Heatwaves, amplified by urban heat islands and air pollution, are damaging human health. 
  • Critical infrastructure, such as transportation, water, sanitation, and energy systems, have been compromised by extreme weather at our current level of warming. 
  • Weather extremes are fanning global shocks to trade

What’s at Risk for Agriculture & Food Systems 

The challenges that we face increase with higher levels of warming, and those most exposed to climate change impacts have the least resources to adapt. 

An increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events on land and in the ocean will affect billions of lives and livelihoods and trigger mass mortalities in species,  including trees and corals. It can also cause significant disruptions to food systems and have serious implications for food security. 

  • Human-induced warming already appears to have slowed the growth of agricultural productivity over the past 50 years in mid to low-latitudes. Going forward, climate change will make some current food production areas unsuitable. And by midcentury, it will undermine food security, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central America.
  • Heat and drought will cause reductions in crop yields. According to the IPCC’s report, global warming above 2 degrees C will result in yield reductions for staple crops across most of Africa compared with 2005 yields. In particular, the report cited negative impacts on yield for maize, rice, soybean, and wheat under rising temperature scenarios. (With Gro Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture users can observe projected temperature changes by mid to end of century weighted by individual cropland area.) 
  • Rising atmospheric CO2 concentration is projected to decrease the water efficiency of growing maize and temperate cereal crops in parts of the USA, Eastern and Mediterranean regions of Europe, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
  • At 2 degrees C of warming, it may be challenging to farm multiple staple crops in their current growing areas, particularly growing areas in tropical regions.
  • Also, regions that are highly dependent on snowmelt could experience a 20% decline in water availability for agriculture beyond 2050. (This problem could be further exacerbated by increasing precipitation volatility around the world, as shown using the Gro Climate Indicator for Weather Variability for Precipitation.) 
  • Climate change will also change the rates of reproduction and distribution of weeds, insect pests, pathogens, and disease, increasing the stress on crops, forests, and livestock and increasing the risk of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. 
  • Food safety will be negatively impacted as well because higher temperatures and humidity will favor toxigenic fungi, plant and animal-based pathogens, and harmful algal blooms. 

Iterating to Better Climate Risk Management 

Climate risk management requires integrated risk assessment and adaptation planning. With this in mind, Gro has developed a global climate data and analytics platform that helps users understand the complex, interacting, and compounding nature of climate risks in a way that facilitates Climate Resilient Development. 

Our platform maps environmental data and the latest climate scenarios to physical locations, so users can more easily fold integrated climate risk modeling and mapping into decision-making processes. 

To help users increase their resilience against climate change and other related risks, we are continually expanding our climate risk product suite. 

For climate risk, we have been able to leverage our agricultural risk expertise. Some of our current climate risk products are: 

  • The Gro Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, a dashboard-like interface that lets users create custom visualizations to measure growing conditions (currently and historically) and project the effect of climate change on growing conditions anywhere in the world today and out to 2100.
  • The Gro Climate Risk Navigator for Infrastructure, an application that uses current and historical estimates for things like weather variability and temperature. Upcoming versions will include projections for drought, flood, and cyclone risk.
  • The Gro Land Suitability Ranking, an application that identifies which places are best suited to grow a given crop at the district/county level anywhere in the world, using multiple environmental projections through 2100.
  • All of these tools use the Gro Climate Indicators, a suite of indices that help users identify, monitor, and project changes in the environment.
    • These include observed temperature, precipitation, flood, and the Gro Drought Index, which is a global drought data series that has significantly improved the performance of our yield models in the U.S. and other producing regions.
    • As well as long term projections for temperature, precipitation, heavy precipitation, extreme heat, and weather variability.
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