Some effects of the climate crisis may be ‘irreversible’, IPCC report warns

28 Feb 2022

Image: © piyaset/Stock.adobe.com

In its latest report, the UN body has issued a stark warning that the climate crisis is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

A new climate report published today (28 February) has warned that some effects of the climate crisis may be irreversible if human activity leads to global heating exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. It added that the people and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit.

The report is the second instalment of the sixth report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The last report was published in August 2021 and focused on the scale of the effect humans were having on the climate.

Future Human

“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, IPCC chair. “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.”

‘This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction’
– HOESUNG LEE

The new IPCC report looks at the causes, impacts and solutions to the climate crisis and gives the clearest indication to date of how a heating world is affecting all the living things on Earth, especially endangered species and low-lying coastal regions.

Weather extremes have exposed millions of people to “acute food and water scarcity”, the report said, especially in low-income regions and parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic.

Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPPC working group behind the report, said that growing urbanisation and the climate crisis together pose a complex risk to those that who “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,” she said.

The climate crisis isn’t just adversely affecting humans. Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already “exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds”, driving “mass mortalities” in species such as trees and corals, the report found.

Lee added that the new report recognises the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences “more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments”.

“It emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option,” he said.

Irish response

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan, TD, said that today’s report is “a stark reminder to us all” of the need to act to avoid the most damaging effects of the climate crisis and that “limits are already beginning to be reached”.

“The most extreme impacts can still be avoided through enhanced adaptation and mitigation efforts. There is still time, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing, unless there are deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years,” he said in a statement.

Ryan said that while no country is immune to the effects of the climate crisis, the countries that suffer the most are the ones that have often contributed least to the problem.

At COP26 last year, Ireland committed to providing €225m per year in climate finance to developing countries by 2025. In the same month, Ireland published the Climate Action Plan 2021 with the goal of reducing overall emissions by 7pc each year, ultimately reaching a 51pc reduction by 2030 and setting the country on a path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

Ryan said today that his department will provide €3m for a trust fund established through the Asian Development Bank to support small island development states in their response to the climate crisis.

Stephen Prendiville, head of sustainability at EY Ireland, said that the new IPCC report “makes for further sober reading” and highlights “our collective global failure” to take action.

“Having just experienced three named storms in one week this February, the impact of climate change is not some imagined threat of a faraway land,” he said.

Prendiville added that the “brief window” for action pointed out by the IPCC must be used as an opportunity by Ireland immediately – even if it comes at some expense of the economy.

“We must do more to incorporate nature-based solutions in our adaptation approach, to allow for a more sustainable economic future, even if this means foregoing some short-term economic productivity,” he said.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com