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New UN report on climate impacts – key questions answered

The latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

28 February 2022

The latest climate report from the UN has been described as “an atlas of human suffering”.

Here are answers to some key questions about the report.

– What is the report?

It is the second part of a global assessment of climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the sixth such assessment the UN body has conducted, with the most recent one back in 2013/14.

This second report looks at the impacts of and vulnerabilities to climate change, and adaptation to global warming.

The first part, labelled a “code red for humanity” when it was published last August, examine the physical basis of climate change, and a third part will set out solutions to the crisis when it is published later this year.

 – What is the IPCC?

It is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was established in 1988 to provide political leaders with scientific assessments on climate change, to help them make policy. Some 195 countries are members of the IPCC.

– There always seems to be another climate report coming out. What is different about this one?

The IPCC reports are an assessment of all the available science on climate change.

This latest study references more than 34,000 published papers, and has involved 270 authors from around the world, who have received tens of thousands of comments on earlier drafts from scientists and governments.

Most importantly, the 35-page summary of the report has been subject to a line-by-line approval process involving scientists and representatives of the 195 governments before it is published – which has taken place online over the last two weeks.

That means that governments have signed off on the findings.

What does the report say?

It says climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health, with around 3.3-3.6 billion people living in situations where they are highly vulnerable to global warming.

Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts to people and nature, including death, physical and mental health impacts, and damage to livelihoods, infrastructure and habitats.

Some of these impacts are irreversible, as humans and nature are pushed beyond their ability to adapt, with glaciers melting, permafrost thawing and species going extinct.

There will be “unavoidable increases” in many climate hazards in the next two decades. Keeping temperature rises to close to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will substantially reduce the losses and damages caused by climate change compared to higher temperatures, but does not eliminate all dangers.

And the report warns that any further delay in concerted global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changes will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

What impact will it have?

While the first part of the assessment came out in the run-up to the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, which aimed – and just about managed – to keep limiting global warming to 1.5C within reach, this one lands just over 100 days after the talks concluded.

It might be hoped the new findings keep up the pressure on governments, who agreed to take more action to cut emissions this year, and increase climate finance and the focus on helping countries adapt to the crisis, as part of the Glasgow Pact agreed at the talks.

Cop26 President Alok Sharma has said there is hope, with a window of opportunity in the crucial next decade 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”.

However, the report has landed just days after the world was plunged into a geopolitical crisis with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This had immediate impacts for the IPCC’s approval process, as the Ukrainian team had to warn on Thursday morning that they might not be able to continue as they were not sure they would have electricity, internet and safety.

On an international scale, there is a danger that governments are once again, as with Covid-19, focused on a crisis other than climate change and unable to work in concert to fix a problem that requires action from everyone, together.

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