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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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    Urgent call for action

    Aqilah Rahman

    Leading scientific experts presented the annual 10 new insights in climate science during the recent, COP27 climate conference.

    The annual update presented insights from climate change research mainly from literature published in 2021 and 2022, highlighting the interactions between climate change and other drivers of risk, such as conflicts, pandemics, food crises and underlying development challenges.

    “Adaptation alone cannot keep up with the impacts of climate change, which are already worse than predicted,” said Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell at the report’s launch.

    “Adaptation actions are still crucial and are critical to upgrade small-scale, fragmented and reactive efforts. But the potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless. And they will not prevent all losses and damage that we’ve seen. I therefore applaud parties for getting ‘loss and damage’ onto the agenda for COP27 and I look forward to a thorough discussion on this issue.”

    The report highlighted that rapid mitigation is more urgent than ever, with adaptive responses becoming less effective as global temperatures rise. Upon hitting limits to adaptation, further loss and damage can be expected.

    People sit by a fountain at the Green Zone of the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre in Egypt during the COP27 climate conference. PHOTO: AFP

    The first insight outlined in the report is questioning the myth of endless adaptation.

    While society is remarkable at adapting, there is a limit, and adapting to the climate will become increasingly difficult as the planets warms beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius or even two degrees Celsius.

    Examples of already-breached limits are extreme heat threatening human life and rising sea levels threatening coastal communities.

    Adaptation cannot substitute mitigation, and the report called for swift mitigation efforts for people and ecosystems to avoid being confronted with limits to their adaptation.

    Secondly, vulnerability hotspots cluster in ‘regions at risk’. By 2050, over three billion people will inhabit “vulnerability hotspots”, areas that are most prone to climate-driven hazards – double the figure today.

    In hotspot countries, climate-driven hazard mortality is 15 times higher than the least vulnerable countries. Regional hotspots are clustered in Central America, Asia, the Middle East and several regions of Africa.

    The third insight highlighted new threats on the horizon from climate-health interactions.

    Climate change accounted for over a third of heat-related death globally from 1991 to 2018.

    Wildfires are becoming more frequent due to drought and high temperatures, and infectious diseases are likely to increase due to climate change.

    Fourth is climate mobility – from evidence to anticipatory action. As weather events become more frequent and intense, involuntary migration and displacement will increase.

    However, some communities may be reluctant to move due to strong attachment to their home. Authorities should be prepared to co-develop alternative strategies with affected communities.

    The fifth insight is that human security requires climate security. The report highlighted that climate change does not cause conflict, but exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in human security which can lead to violence. Mitigation and adaptation strategies, along with efforts to provide for human security, must be made to reduce risks of increasing violent conflict and promote peace.

    The sixth insight is that sustainable land use is essential to meeting climate targets. In order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a radical shift in land use is required.

    Meanwhile, droughts and extreme weather events are already affecting land systems. In addition, land system co-benefits are less likely to hold as global temperature increases, despite sustainable agricultural intensification with integrated land management.

    Seventh is that private sustainable finance practices are failing to catalyse deep transitions.

    While financial markets are crucial to achieve Net Zero, private sector “sustainable finance” practices do not yet catalyse transformations needed to meet climate targets.

    Most of the practices are designed to fit into the financial sector’s business models rather than shifting the capital allocation towards meaningful mitigation.

    Next is loss and damage – the urgent planetary imperative. Loss and damage is already widespread and is expected to increase significantly, invoking an urgent need for a coordinated, global policy response. Non-economic loss and damage should also be taken into account.

    Ninth is inclusive decision-making for climate-resilient development. The report highlighted that climate-resilient development is built on decisions that are not limited to politicians and policymakers.

    Inclusivity and empowerment has been shown to have a positive impact on climate outcomes. At present, there is insufficient “inclusive” decision-making.

    The last insight is breaking down structural barriers and unsustainable lock-ins. Only 18 countries so far have shown sustained reductions in production – and consumption-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for longer than 10 years.

    The gap between the national pledges on GHG emissions and reductions required by the Paris Agreement is widening, while businesses are focussed on increasing production.

    The report called for progressive production-consumption arrangements and policies that deliver new sustainable lock-ins across industry, infrastructure, business models and sociocultural norms, among others.

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