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3.3 Billion People Are Highly Vulnerable to Climate Change, IPCC Report Finds

The future’s looking pretty bleak, at least where the health of the planet is concerned. The latest report on climate change from the United Nations noted that at least 3.3 billion people’s daily lives are “highly vulnerable” to climate change, and people are 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather than in years past, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said. In addition, climate-related disasters such as flooding and droughts are displacing large numbers of people, which can exacerbate other geopolitical conflicts.

Increased heatwaves, droughts, and floods are exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, which can drive mass mortalities in trees and corals, and the cascading impacts of extreme weather events and temperatures are increasingly difficult to manage, according to the report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

The gaps between the types of action needed to adapt to climate change and the actions that have actually been taken are largest among lower-income populations, which could further exacerbate global inequality. In addition, some key global trends jeopardize future development, the report says, focusing on the unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequality, losses and damages from extreme events, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

By 2050, a billion people will face coastal flooding from rising seas. More people will be forced out of their homes by flooding, sea level rise, and tropical cyclones, the reports said, and if global warming exceeds a few more tenths of a degree, some areas such as small islands could become uninhabitable, the AP reported.

If the world warms just nine-tenths of a degree from the current goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, wildfires will burn 35 percent more land globally than they do today. For context, the Australian bushfires from 2019 and 2020 burned more than 72,000 square miles, and the blaze took nine months to fully extinguish. The extreme fire season was exacerbated by hotter temperatures than normal, plus years of drought.

The majority of scenarios project that temperatures are likely to shoot well above that mark by the mid-2030s.

And no nation or region will be exempt from the effects of climate change, the report found. The IPCC broke out its findings and key risks by region.

Africa

“Africa has contributed among the least to greenhouse gas emissions, yet key development sectors have already experienced widespread losses and damages attributable to anthropogenic climate change, including biodiversity loss, water shortages, reduced food production, loss of lives, and reduced economic growth,” according to an IPCC fact sheet.

Come 2030, 108 million to 116 million people in Africa will be exposed to rising sea levels (compared to 54 million in 2000) due to increased movement into urban areas, infrastructure deficit, and growing populations in informal settlements that lack appropriate flooding protection.

Food insecurity is likely to grow as well. Since 1961, climate change has reduced agricultural productivity growth by 34 percent, and climate change poses threats to marine and freshwater fisheries. The reduced availability of fish harvests could increase vitamin deficiencies across the continent.

Asia

Parts of Asia have already been hard-hit by climate-related disasters. The risks of flooding in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta—with approximately one-third of the city expected to be underwater in the coming decades—are so high that the government is planning to move its capital more than 1,240 miles northeast, the AP reported.

“By one estimate, as many as 40 million people in South Asia may be forced to move over the next 30 years because of a lack of water, crop failure, storm surges, and other disasters,” according to the AP.

The rapid temperature shifts across Asia are also driving increased energy demand—which infrastructure may not be able to support. The IPCC report noted that among 13 developing countries with large energy consumption in Asia, 11 are exposed to high energy insecurity and industrial systems risk.

Climate change also has significant health implications in Asia, increasing vector-borne and water-borne diseases, undernutrition, mental disorders, and allergic diseases by increasing hazards from heatwaves, flooding, drought, and air pollution.

Australasia

The report outlines nine key risks to Australasian countries, including loss and degradation of coral reefs and associated biodiversity in Australia due to ocean warming and marine heatwaves; collapse of forest ecosystems in southern Australia due to hotter and drier conditions with more fires; loss of natural and human systems in low-lying coastal areas due to sea-level rise; increased heat-related mortalities and morbidity for people and wildlife due to heatwaves; and cascading, compounding, and aggregate impacts on cities, settlements, infrastructure, supply chains, and services due to wildfires, floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms, and sea-level rise.

“The ambition, scope, and progress of the adaptation process has increased across governments, non-government organizations, businesses, and communities,” a regional fact sheet said. “However, adaptation progress is uneven, due to gaps, barriers, and limits to adaptation, and adaptive capacity deficits…. Barriers include lack of consistent policy direction, competing objectives, divergent risk perceptions and values, knowledge constraints, inconsistent information, fear of litigation, up-front costs, and lack of engagement, trust, and resources.”

Central and South America

The Latin America region is highly exposed, vulnerable, and impacted by climate change, “a situation amplified by inequality, poverty, population growth and high population density, land use change particularly deforestation with the consequent biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and high dependence of national and local economies on natural resources for production of commodities,” the IPCC noted.

Urban areas in this region are vulnerable because of their high rates of poverty, poor and unevenly distributed infrastructure, housing deficits, and occupation of risk areas. Unstable political and governmental institutions further complicate the issue, as any financing that could be adapted to address climate change could be lost to corruption.

Climate challenges in Central and South America also drive mass migration. According to the report, “Climatic drivers interact with social, political, geopolitical, and economical drivers; the most common climatic drivers for migration and displacements are droughts, tropical storms and hurricanes, heavy rains, and floods.”

Europe

Four key risks have been identified for Europe, focusing on either heatwaves or water.

If global temperatures rise 3 degrees Celsius, the number of deaths and people at risk of heat stress could increase two- to threefold in Europe compared to projections from the 1.5-degree goal. Most European areas are projected to experience significant agricultural production losses over the next century. More than a third of the population of Southern Europe is at risk for water scarcity, and if the global warming level increases by 3 degrees Celsius, damage costs and people affected by flooding may double. Coastal flood damage is expected to increase tenfold—at least—by the end of the 21st century.

North America

Expect water scarcity to continue. As heavy exploitation of limited water supplies in the western United States and northern Mexico continues, water scarcity impacts and risks are likely to climb.

“Coastal, riverine, and urban flooding affecting communities and ecosystems will become a dominant risk to urban centers,” the report said, “displacing people, compromising economic activity, disrupting transportation and trade infrastructure. Large wildfires will increasingly endanger lives, livelihoods, mental and physical health, property, key infrastructure, and economic activities and contribute to compromised air quality and municipal water contamination with multiple human health implications.”

The report continued: “Without limiting global warming to 1.5°C, key risks to North America are expected to intensify rapidly by mid-century…. Immediate, widespread, and coordinated implementation of adaptation measures aimed at reducing risks and focused on equity have the greatest potential to maintain and improve the quality of life for North Americans, ensure sustainable livelihoods, and protect the long-term biodiversity, and ecological and economic productivity in North America.”

The report also provided updates on the current and potential climate impacts to small islands, biodiversity, and human settlements.

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