The WG2 assessment of this year has drawn much attention from people of different groups across the globe after the WG1 report of last year that labelled the changes in climatic conditions over the last several decades as unprecedented.
The call for climate action, according to the WG1 report, has been louder than previous assessments. The WG2 assessment hasn't painted a rosy picture either. Drawing upon thousands of scientific publications, the WG2 assessment has warned us to respond to climate change sooner and with effective measures, or we might miss the rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to make transformational changes to make the world resilient and sustainable.
Notably, the panel report on the impacts of climate change was first released in 1990 and the subsequent four reports were published by 2014. The 2022 version of the report has included an extensive assessment of regional impacts of climate change, the ability of humans and nature to adapt to the rapidly changing climatic conditions, a more pronounced view on loss and damage, etc. The report has, among other things, flagged issues, such as maladaptation, adaptation gaps and the possibility of irreversible damage.
For instance, the panel report has cited that about 26 million people in the coastal regions of Bangladesh are experiencing very high levels of salinity in groundwater of shallow depth. Worsening floods in Bangladesh, led by increased precipitation, are affecting crop production during the summer. And the possibility of extreme rainfall has been doubled in Bangladesh attributable to human-induced climate change.
The WG2 assessment has further touched upon the severity of the super cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal and Bangladesh in May 2020. The damage from the cyclone was estimated to be in the order of USD 13.5 billion.
The assessment has reiterated that the climate crisis would significantly accelerate in the future and some of the impacts could be irreversible, both for human and natural systems, in the event that the world communities, combinedly, fail to manage global warming within 1.5 ° C compared to the pre-industrial levels.
While adaptation is key to ameliorating these impacts, the report delineates that adaptation measures taken across different regions are not evenly distributed and, in some cases, they have been implemented in isolation.
Echoing the adaptation gap report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the authors of the WG2 have concluded with high confidence that a significant gap persists between the current level of adaptation efforts and the level needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The report has also mentioned the term 'limits to adaptation', a situation where societal goals cannot be met through adaptation efforts. Within 'adaptation limits', enhanced adaptation measures could bridge the adaptation gaps as claimed in the report.
And beyond the 'adaptation limits, climate change mitigation could only bridge the adaptation gaps. It is mentionable that global heating above 1.5°C would make the prevailing adaptation options less effective and result in "limits to adaptation" for vulnerable regions and sectors, subject to locations/sites.
The most significant factor that contributes to the limits to adaptation is the lack of finance. There is a clear disparity in allocating climate finance as mitigation projects receive more funding and attention than adaptation projects.
The panel report has raised cases of maladaptation citing examples from different countries. In one such demonstration of maladaptation, measures implemented in Ethiopia to address droughts have led to increasing charcoal production, overgrazing, conflicts and marginalisation of livelihoods.
Elsewhere in Cambodia, reforestation and conservation measures are affecting local biodiversity. Thus, maladaptation can, in fact, accelerate risks in the foreseeable future rather than benefit people in the longer term.
While the term "loss and damage" has received more attention in the report, the topic is claimed to remain emerging now. As far as the Asia region is concerned, it is evident that both tangible and intangible losses linked to climate change are increasing.
Like other regions, the gaps in loss and damage persist, as reflected in the WG2 assessment, potentially due to the non-reporting of the terminology in the literature prominently. The way-out includes measuring and reporting losses and damages resulting from climate change consistently.
Alongside these, the panel report has dwelled upon the harsh realities of climate change, ranging from record-breaking heat waves to droughts, floodings, water crises, etc. that are affecting nearly half of the global population at the current level of 1.1° C warming.
More precisely, almost half of the global population lives in areas highly vulnerable to climate change and half of the population living on the planet experiences a severe water crisis at some point in a year.
From these, we can imagine the terrible disasters that could unfold at the warming beyond 1.5° C. Yet, not all is doom and gloom. A liveable future is still possible if we take the WG2 assessment seriously and act accordingly.
However, we perhaps have a rapidly closing window of opportunities to seize in the next few years for a liveable future if we are to believe the WG2 assessment. And it entails strong political will and funding commitments to amplify efforts on adaptation, rectify the mistakes that increase risks and change the business-as-usual course to curb emissions for a liveable and sustainable future.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.