This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its sixth assessment report (AR6), which is an urgent call to action. The report confirms that atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than at any time in at least 2 million years and it is now certain that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.
Unless drastic action is taken, we will fall far short of the upper limit of 2°C climate threshold established in the 2015 Paris Agreements.
Dangers are imminent and the future is catastrophic without action. In essence, the assessment from the generally conservative world of science confirms the impacts of climate change we see globally: wildfires from extreme heat and moisture loss, devastating floods from extreme rain events and typhoons from the changing temperatures between the sea and land surface.
The future is here and we need real and meaningful action.
At ADMCF, our programmes are designed to stimulate and lead engagement on climate and biodiversity loss – unequivocally the critical challenges of our time.
Key points from the 6th IPCC report:
The Current State of our Climate
- Best estimates place total human-caused global surface temperature increase at 1.07°C from pre-industrial levels. However, without air pollution, which has contributed to a 0.5°C cooling, we would be at 1.57°C warming now. With aerosol pollution set to decline due to tighter restrictions, the Paris goal to limit warming to 1.5°C becomes increasingly unlikely.
- Warming has caused an increase in anomalous climate and weather patterns, such as the increased frequency and severity of heavy rainfall events, river and coastal flooding, heatwaves, agricultural and ecological droughts from increased evaporation on land as a result of reduced plant cover and poor water management practices.
- The last time glaciers retreated at this global scale was 2000 years ago.
- Global mean sea level increased by 20 cm from 1901 to 2018. The rate of sea level rise is increasing, and is now 3.7 mm per year. Even the most optimistic scenario sees a 0.28m to 0.55m sea level rise by 2100, allowing the encroachment of coastal hazards such as coastal flooding, threatening USD 14.2 trillion in assets by 2100. Sea levels will continue to rise for millennia regardless of any changes in atmospheric CO2 due to deep ocean warming and ice sheet melt.
Emissions and land use/agriculture
- The report estimates with medium confidence that Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) activities accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane, and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions during 2007–2016, representing 23% of the total net anthropogenic emissions of GHGs.
- N2O concentration trends since 1980 are largely driven by a 30% increase in emissions from the expansion and intensification of global agriculture. (The human perturbation of the natural nitrogen cycle through the use of synthetic fertilisers and manure, as well as nitrogen deposition resulting from land-based agriculture and fossil fuel burning has been the largest driver of the increase in atmospheric N2O between 1980 and 2019).
- In the agriculture and waste sectors, livestock production has the largest emission source dominated by methane from digestive functions by about 90%. Methane production in livestock rumens (cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo) are affected by the type, amount and quality of feeds, energy consumption, animal size, health and growth rate, meat and milk production rate, and temperature.
Possible Climate Futures
- Five emissions scenarios were assessed, namely the ‘shared socioeconomic pathways’ (SSPs). The lowest emissions scenario envisions the peaking of emissions in 2025, with net-zero emissions around 2050 in line with Paris goals.
- Warming of 2°C will be exceeded before 2100 unless emissions peak in 2025, and net-zero is reached before 2080 under the two lowest emission scenarios. According to science NGO, Climate Action Tracker, most countries’ commitments are insufficient to achieve 2°C warming.
- Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, impacting assets at risk from floods or low water security.
- There is a time lag for climate to adjust to CO2 levels and other factors. If we continue to emit at current levels, warming will likely rest at 3°C around 2081-2100, which would elicit even greater natural hazards, and disruptions to natural systems risking the collapse of ecosystems, a double threat to our economies.
- The earlier melting of glacial snow will increase flood risk and decrease water resource availability for assets reliant on water from glacier melt rivers. Water risk assessment and flood management strategies will become more important. They should account for an increased availability of water in spring, a decreased availability of water in summer and an overall diminishing water availability due to glacier retreat.
- More intense and frequent rainfall will impact assets in floodplains with poor river flood management plans. Risk management processes should factor in river and pluvial (purely rainfall) flood risk for existing assets in flood-prone areas and intervene with either engineered measures or nature-based solutions, as well as increase relief capacity. Investments should be screened based on physical river flood modelling and statutory risk mitigation strategies.
- The heightened risk of drought and heat waves, and secondary hazards like wildfires will have implications for sectors such as agriculture and power generation. Good water management practices, drought contingency plans and the preservation of plant cover over land will increase resilience to drought. Investments should also be screened for water risk using science-based models, as well as surrounding water management practices and the robustness of government water legislation.
- Sea level rise will threaten low-lying and/or coastal assets. This is compounded by the increase in exposure to tropical storms which can now move further beyond the tropics. Waves generated from tropical storms will likely be higher, and be able to move farther inland. In both cases, risk management strategies should use model exposure to coastal flooding and building integrity to withstand large tidal waves and wind.
- Increases in ocean acidification and increasing deoxygenation will remain for centuries to come. This will be detrimental to fisheries and outdoor aquaculture (e.g. coastal shrimp farms) by encouraging harmful algal blooms, which will deplete oxygen and remove essential nutrients in the ocean for corals and crustaceans to maintain themselves, potentially leading to a food chain crisis.
- Although carbon capture and sequestration technologies are able to remove carbon from the atmosphere, effects from existing warming such as increased extreme weather patterns will take decades to manifest. Therefore, it is crucial to integrate climate considerations into financial risk assessment.
- There is an extremely high risk of breaching the 2°C temperature guardrail set by the Paris Agreement unless dramatic reductions in GHG emissions are realized.
- The consequences of breaching safe limits are existential.
- The physical basis of our economies will be threatened by natural hazards such as flooding. Disruptions to natural systems such as ocean acidification will be exacerbated under increased global warming.
- Urgent action will be needed to avert the worsening of today’s already devastating natural disasters.
We must act together and swiftly to protect ourselves from the potentially irreversible consequences of climate.