Environment

World running out of time to adapt to climate change, IPCC warns

Humanity is facing a "rapidly closing window" to adapt to the climate crisis, with the impacts of human-induced change "unequivocal", the report warned.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

António Guterres said leaders around the world have failed to adapt to climate risks.

Humanity is failing to adapt to climate change and faces a “rapidly closing window” to take action, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned today.

The report warned that climate change impacts and risks are becoming “increasingly complex and more difficult to manage”, with some impacts of global heating now irreversible.

At a press conference introducing the report on February 28, António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, called the report a “damning indictment of failed leadership”, and warned that delay on adaptation “means death”.

The latest IPCC report is the second of four parts of the “sixth assessment report” on climate change.

The first, published last August, looked at the physical basis of climate change, and warned of a “code red” for humanity. The second, published today, examines how climate change is already impacting people and ecosystems, as well as exploring how humanity can adapt to these changes.

Headline findings in the report include an assessment that human-induced climate change has already caused “widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability”.

“It is unequivocal that climate change has already disrupted human and natural systems,” it added.

The report says that “some development and adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability”, but warned that adaptation has thus far been too slow and unambitious to meet the scale of the challenge.

“Adaptation progress is unevenly distributed with observed adaptation gaps (high confidence). Many initiatives prioritize immediate and near- term climate risk reduction which reduces the opportunity for transformational
adaptation,” it reads.

Adaptation refers to any measures to help people and ecosystems adjust to the impacts of the climate crisis, including building flood barriers, planting trees or building homes resilient to higher temperatures.

In the UK, the government’s climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee, (CCC) have repeatedly warned that the UK has been too slow to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

While stressing that adaptive measures can be effective in combating climate impacts, the report said that humans and natural systems will reach a point where they cannot adapt if temperatures continue to rise.

Vulnerable communities are already suffering disproportionately from the impacts of the climate crisis, with approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people living “in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”, the report warned.

Developed nations have repeatedly promised to assist climate-vulnerable countries with finance for adaptive measures, but thus far pledges have not been honoured, or have been slow to materialise.

Emma Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency said the report shows the world faces a choice to “adapt or die”:

“Previous IPCC reports have talked about terrible climate risks, this report shows how impacts to people, nature and the economy are interconnected. The IPCC offers us a glimmer of hope, the window to deliver climate resilience is still there, but it is closing fast.

“The present failure of the international community to respond with an integrated adaptation strategy is grave. Local communities, economies and some entire countries are already paying the price while nations argue over who is liable,” she said.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, COP26 president Alok Sharma said policymakers must see the report as “another wake-up call to take action now”, with the risk that costs and impacts will be much higher the longer they delay.

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