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OPINION: Let’s respond to the IPCC’s latest report with inspired action

Also posted in Spanish

Sam Bickersteth and Mairi Dupar of CDKN respond to the IPCC’s Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes a monumental assessment of the effects of climate change on the world’s natural and human systems. The assessment shows that adaptation to climate change is essential, that societies have many effective strategies at their disposal with which to adapt, and that global society must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in order to avoid significantly greater damage from climate change impacts in our lifetimes.

The report, entitled: Climate Change 2014, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, comprises some 2,500 pages, and is based on more than 12,000 studies and compiled by 309 main authors, who responded to thousands of review comments. Issued by the IPCC’s Working Group II, it is the follow-up to the IPCC’s Working Group I report in September 2013: Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science.

The report will reinforce the first-hand, everyday experiences of millions of people around the world who face more weather disasters and climate extremes, together with the insidious effects of melting glaciers and rising sea levels.  In communities, in provinces, and at national level in some of the world’s poorest countries, people are already taking inspired action to adapt to climate change and limit greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC’s latest report provides a cast-iron case for building climate resilience and, in the words of Co-Chair Chris Field, for “turning the recognition of risk into a platform for action”.

May this latest IPCC assessment convince millions of others to join the growing movement to tap human ingenuity and make these positive changes to build resilience, while encouraging the highest-emitting communities and societies to step up to their responsibility to tackle emissions and prevent manmade climate change from getting worse.

Adaptation is essential – and so is mitigation

The report Climate Change 2014, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability spotlights key ecosystems and economic sectors that are already suffering the negative impacts of climate change.  The world’s low-lying coasts are exposed to sea level rise and their densely populated settlements are vulnerable to loss of life and property; the poorest citizens are especially vulnerable. Higher temperatures and increased greenhouse gas concentrations are already suppressing the yields of key global cereal crops, wheat and maize. The world’s oceans (never so thoroughly assessed by the IPCC until now) are suffering grave damage as a result of climate change. Many species are migrating from warming waters to cooler habitats; and it is feared that hundreds of species will be lost altogether.

Climate change is bound to continue for at least several decades whatever action we take today to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. During this time, we will continue to live with rising risks to people and the environments on which they depend. Developing countries are also undergoing rapid population growth, urbanisation, economic growth and land-use change, drivers that can interact with climate change to increase people’s vulnerabilities. Adapting to inevitable change will be the crux of securing the health and prosperity of developing countries’ citizens. In short, the world is already committed to several decades’ more climatic changes as a result of historic greenhouse gas emissions;  leaders must act to protect past and future development gains  from these climate change impacts.

Humankind’s ability to cope does not just depend on our ability to adapt, but on our willingness to cut manmade greenhouse gas emissions deeply and precipitously.  After all, the IPCC’s earlier report on the physical science stated that there is now 95% scientific certainty that humans are contributing to climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said at this morning’s press conference: “What happens with regard to climate change impacts in different parts of the world depends to a large degree on how much we are able to mitigate greenhouse gases.”

Inspired action, now

The Working Group II report outlines a profusion of documented strategies and measures around the way we manage natural resources and the way we are evolving and using technology, all of which are helping societies to cope with climate change impacts. These range from planting mangroves in Tuvalu as a way of restoring the ecosystem and reducing the damaging effects of storm surges on the islands, to installing high-tech flood barriers in the Netherlands.   Many of these strategies can be more broadly shared and adopted.

What’s more, the report notes the increasing trend in merging adaptation, mitigation and development approaches successfully: a three-pronged approach that CDKN calls climate compatible development. How does this look in practice? In Africa, farmers participate in carbon offset and agroforestry schemes which provide development benefits, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation ‘wins’. In South Asia, the development of sustainable cities is improving health while helping build resilience to climate change and reducing carbon footprints.

Transformation of economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions will be needed to achieve climate-resilient pathways, though; and the sooner, the better. The longer action is delayed – warns the report – the more difficult it will be to achieve environmental sustainability in the future.

CDKN’s response to the Working Group II report

As a programme of the UK and Dutch governments to assist developing countries to design and deliver climate compatible development, responding to the IPCC’s latest scientific assessment with practical policy support is at the heart of CDKN’s mission.  This week, CDKN provides its own contribution to the evidence base on building climate resilience, with the publication of two new papers:  ‘What does it take to mainstream disaster risk management in key sectors?’ by Aditya Bahadur et al, together with ‘How to scale out community based adaptation to climate change’ by Elizabeth Gogoi et al.  These include many case studies, based on CDKN’s practical experience, which have ‘take home’ messages for decision-makers in communities, businesses and governments across the world. Among others, we document:

–          How the city of Cartagena, Colombia is creating ‘Adaptive Neighbourhoods’ with the explicit support of the municipality, community groups and businesses, in the face of increased flooding;

–          How communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Mozambique are successfully reprogramming their district development budgets into more climate-resilient activities that benefit local livelihoods;

–          How climate-resilient housing in Da Nang, Vietnam is saving lives and property in the face of typhoons;

–          How the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL) is helping Caribbean policy-makers to weigh up climate-related risks more effectively as they make investment decisions.

We are also pleased to announce the launch of a series of outreach events that CDKN will organise throughout Africa and Asia later this year, to catalyse discussion of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report and the ways that different stakeholders can respond.

CDKN will partner with the governments of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda in June – August 2014 to host policy dialogue events. These events will bring IPCC scientists together with leaders from government, business and civil society in each country to discuss the findings of the Fifth Assessment Report. CDKN will also produce a communications toolkit to increase the ability of developing country journalists and communicators to share the key messages of the report with broader stakeholder groups.

There is much cause for concern in the IPCC’s latest report, but this must not cause “paralysis by analysis”. The topline message of the report is simple and clear: we know enough to act now, and to act effectively to reduce society’s climate-related risk.  CDKN is an alliance of organisations who are “doers”. We want to continue working with other “doers” to share knowledge on climate compatible development solutions, and be the positive change the world needs.

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–          Get in touch about joining our policy dialogue events on the Fifth Assessment Report

 

Image: wheat, courtesy Fotosearch

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