Failing to adapt to climate crisis ‘will cost lives’, world is warned

Countries are urged to deliver on Cop26 promises to invest in adaptation and cut emissions to curb temperature rises in the wake of a UN report.

28 February 2022

Political leaders, campaigners and scientists have called for greater action to help people cope with climate change in the wake of the dire warnings in a new UN report.

The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report spells out the loss and damages caused by climate change and more extreme weather, with widespread negative impacts on lives and health, livelihoods, cities and coastal communities, food and water supplies and the natural world.

Responding to the findings, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.

“With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

He hit out at what he described as a “criminal” abdication of leadership, and said “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home”.

Mr Guterres said it was essential to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, calling for an end to fossil fuel use and a shift to renewables, and to scale up investment in efforts to adapt to the changing climate.

Professor Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, warned: “Preventing debilitating impacts on society from increasing climate change is no longer a choice – that option closed several decades ago.”

But he said: “Today’s report says it is vital to adapt to the increasing climate change we are already seeing and what we know we will see in future.

“But of course lowering greenhouse gas emissions will help to avoid the most extreme climate change impacts.”

Among its many warnings, the report says sea level rise poses an existential threat to small island states, and the Marshall Islands’ climate envoy Tina Stege warned: “Failing to adapt to this crisis will cost lives. Failing to provide fair, accessible climate finance will cost lives.

“Continued dependence on fossil fuels will cost lives. With the consequences of inaction spelled out so clearly, yet again, a failure to act is inhuman and unconscionable,” she warned.

The IPCC report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability a little over 100 days after world leaders at the Cop26 summit agreed to increase action to try and limit global warming to 1.5C, and to provide finance for helping poor countries adapt to the changes they face.

Alok Sharma
Cop26 president Alok Sharma (Aaron Chown/PA)

The outcomes of the UN talks in Glasgow were described as keeping the temperature goal alive, but only with a weak pulse, by conference president Alok Sharma.

In response to the IPCC report, Mr Sharma warned: “We will witness considerable changes in our lifetime and without ambitious action, millions across the planet could no longer have anywhere to call home.

“Yet there is hope. The Glasgow Climate Pact, agreed by almost 200 countries at Cop26, is built on science and today’s report underscores the urgency with which we must prepare for climate change and address a new reality of loss and damage, especially in the world’s most climate vulnerable communities.

“The next decade is crucial, we have a window of opportunity to cut emissions, adapt to a more dangerous climate and build for a secure and clean future which turns the commitments made at Cop26 into transformative action.”

But Kyle Lischak, lawyer at environmental law charity said: “This IPCC report is another blunt reminder that Cop26 in Glasgow last year was not ‘job done’.

“The UK Government must not shy away now, but instead work with even more urgency with other governments and the private sector to deliver more ambition and more action.”

Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid’s climate justice adviser, who is based in Bangladesh, said: “This report is a wake-up call to the world that those on the front lines of this crisis need much greater support if they are going to cope with climate impacts they have not caused.

She said that the UK, which continues to hold the UN climate talks presidency until November, had a vital role in leading efforts to tackle global warming.

“It is now vital that the UK Government spearhead efforts to mobilise much greater funding to help the climate vulnerable adapt and to set up a fund to deal with the permanent loss and damage which cannot be adapted to,” she said.

And environmental campaigners called for action to protect and restore nature, which the report highlights can safeguard humans from climate change in a range of ways, from forests and peatlands that store carbon to coastal wetlands and natural river systems which reduce flood risk.

Dr Stephen Cornelius, from WWF, said the drought and searing heat, destruction of habitats, species extinction and stronger storms and massive floods were “not a list of scenes in an apocalyptic film” but the content of an authoritative scientific report detailing the climate impacts on the planet.

“Our planet is in peril, and it’s being pushed to – and sometimes beyond – its limits, with the most vulnerable people and ecosystems suffering the most,” he warned. But he also said that with swift action, the worst impacts could be limited.

“Nature can be our ally and a crucial buffer, if we choose to restore and protect it,” he said, as he urged world leaders to heed the warnings in the report, increase investment and slash emissions.

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