New IPCC Report on Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
Market Insight 02 March 2022 02 March 2022
On 28 February 2022, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the second of four reports forming part of its sixth round of scientific assessment of the state of the planet (AR6). UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the 3,500-page report as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”.
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options. Since being founded in 1988 the IPCC has reported regularly to the UN and the international community on the scientific understanding of climate change, its causes and effects.
The IPCC’s August 2021 report
The first report forming part of the AR6 reporting cycle was published in August 2021. Over 3,000 pages with input from 234 scientists, the report synthesised tens of thousands of scientific papers in concluding that climate change is worsening heat waves, drought, floods and storms. The report outlined five plausible scenarios for the future with various scales of climate action. Scientists underlined the need to prepare for crossing the 1.5-degree threshold in the next ten years, leading to worsening climate effects. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called that report a “code red for humanity”.
The IPCC’s February 2022 report
The second report, published on 28 February, focusses on how physical changes in the climate affect peoples’ lives. The report called Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability is published by Working Group II, a group of 270 scientists from 67 countries who have considered Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The report references over 34,000 scientific papers. The working group was tasked with assessing the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change and options for adapting to it. Uniquely, the work of the group considers not only environmental systems – ecosystems and biodiversity – but human societies, cultures and settlements. It brings in expertise from natural, social and economic sciences, highlighting the role of social justice and diverse forms of knowledge such as indigenous and local knowledge.
The key findings are:
- Tipping points - in particular melting glaciers (accelerating sea level rise), and thawing permafrost (which releases methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas in the short term) are in some areas approaching irreversibility.
- Human heath - without appropriate adaptation heat-related illness and death and food-borne and infectious disease are set to rise globally.
- Water – already half the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity during part of the year.
- Food - millions of people risk losing food security as agricultural productivity growth has already slowed and extreme weather events have intensified.
- Biodiversity - as many as 9-14% of terrestrial and freshwater species studied will likely face a “very high” risk of extinction at a warming level of 1.5°C. At 2°C, this rises to 10-18% and at 3°C to 12-29%.
The report collates more knowledge at local and regional levels and linkages between biodiversity and climate change. It outlines a sobering conclusion that “gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks”. It also provides a comprehensive assessment of adaptation options and identifies future challenges and opportunities that can inform Parties’ actions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
COP26 in Glasgow last November was described as the first COP to take place during an era of climate change. Although the effects of climate change have been felt gradually so far, with 1.1 degrees of anthropogenic change, there are now widely-recognised impacts on lives and livelihoods around the world, with the urgency for action underlined each year by increasing loss and damage due to wildfire, sea level rise, extreme weather, melting of permafrost, drought and desertification.
The climate risk framework used in the report will be familiar to insurance market practitioners, focussing on hazard, exposure, and vulnerabilities, including their spatial distribution, cascading impacts, disaster risk reduction, and risk uncertainties.
The overall message of the report is stark. As the co-chair of the IPCC’s working group put it: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”