Today at COP27, leading global experts highlighted 10 of the biggest climate science insights from the last year.
These revelations come from climate-related research published this year and are put together by Future Earth, The Earth League, World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), plus scientists from around the world.
“The insights provided by this report are alarming, confirming some of what we already know,” said Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, said at the launch of the report.
“[They] give us insights into other areas where urgent action is needed.”
Why are these insights important?
The authors of the report say that their insights show the complex interactions between climate change and other drivers of risk such as conflict, food crises and pandemics.
Every year, these reports offer science-based guidance to policymakers on how best to deal with climate change.
“We need an urgent, global and coordinated response to reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions to secure a safe and just future for humankind,” says Wendy Broadgate, Global Hub Director (Sweden) for Future Earth.
“In a year of compounding crises, including geopolitical instability, extreme weather events, and reverberations from the pandemic, 10 New Insights in Climate Science delivers essential research findings to inform decisions.”
1. The potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless
Coping with the impacts of climate change is important but scientists say that our ability to adapt isn’t limitless. Rising sea levels are capable of submerging coastal communities and extreme heat is intolerable for human bodies. These are just some examples of ‘hard’ limits that we cannot adapt to.
“1.5C is not a goal, it's a physical limit. Go beyond it and we’re likely to trigger tipping points, ” Johan Rockstrom from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research explained at COP27.
“Now we have more and more scientific evidence that it also poses limits to adaptation.”
Going beyond 1.5C would push particularly vulnerable communities past what they can cope with, he added. Reaching 2C would mean that adaptation could by no means substitute climate mitigation.
2. Vulnerability hotspots are clustered in ‘regions at risk’
More than three million people will live in ‘vulnerability hotspots’ - areas with the biggest risk of being affected by climate-driven hazards - by 2050. That is double what it is today.
Linking it back to the first insight, Rockstrom said that it would put one-third of the world’s population in areas that are approaching the limits of adaptation.
These areas include low lying coastal regions, tropical forests, regions vulnerable to monsoons and glacier and mountain ecosystems.
3. Climate change is adversely affecting the health of humans
The impact of climate change on the health of humans, animals and entire ecosystems is increasingly widespread. And new risks are constantly emerging.
Health scientists and climate scientists are working together to put forward this rapidly developing evidence.
It doesn’t just include what are more obvious impacts from wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather but also infectious diseases.
The report says we urgently need policies in place to create surveillance and early warning systems as well as information to make the climate agenda a true human health protection agenda.
4. We need to anticipate that climate change will drive migration
Evidence for increased climate mobility - people moving to cope with the impacts of climate change - is increasing. Climate change is driving migration, displacement and potentially pushing societies towards conflict.
The impact of extreme weather dominates the risks driving this climate mobility. A vast number of people displaced since 2008 had to move due to weather events like floods, storms and wildfires - more than those displaced by conflict.
Though this area of research is still developing, the report says it is important for policymakers to be prepared. Instead of changing policy in reaction to the issue, they need to look ahead and plan long-term for increased climate mobility.
5. Human security requires climate security
To put it simply, human security depends on climate action. Though climate change doesn’t itself cause conflict, it makes existing vulnerabilities worse which can lead to violent conflict. The interaction is one fuelled by “vicious circles”.
Impacts on human security from climate change then become national security concerns. The report points to the war in Ukraine as an example. It has revealed significant problems in food supply and stable access to energy at local, national and international scales due to a dependence on fossil fuels.
6. We need to use land sustainably to meet climate targets
“A radical shift in land use is required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” the report’s authors write.
The expansion of agricultural land is a major driver of forest loss in the tropics. This is also a key driver of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems that people rely on for their livelihoods.
Droughts and extreme weather are also affecting the way we produce food and increasing vulnerability.
To protect land for the benefit of people and the planet, the experts say, we need an integrated approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. More intense agriculture could be better than further expansion into natural areas, while attempts to increase crop yields could help with food security.
7. Private sustainable finance practices are failing
Financial markets are crucial for reaching net zero, the report says - especially in industries with heavy climate impacts.
But the vast majority of today’s sustainable finance practices are designed to protect existing business models rather than combating climate change.
Implementing and strengthening climate policies - like carbon prices and taxes - is most important in creating economic incentives to combat climate change, according to experts.
The sustainability practices of private finance also need to better align with climate policy efforts too. That means increasing transparency on emissions as well as meaning money flows in ways that align with the targets of the Paris Agreement.
8. Loss and damage is an urgent planetary imperative
As many vulnerable nations have already said at COP27, loss and damage from climate change is already happening. It's likely to increase significantly on our current trajectory for global warming.
But while the focus has been on finance in Egypt, and many losses and damages can be calculated in monetary terms, there are other forms that need to be better understood.
A coordinated, global policy response to loss and damage is urgently needed, they conclude.
9. Climate development must involve inclusive decisions
Being inclusive and empowering in all forms of decision making has been shown to lead to better and more just climate outcomes.
And climate resilient development is built on choices that go beyond the formal decisions of politicians and policymakers. Particularly, the report says, as the current form of ‘inclusive’ decision making is not sufficient to meet the needs of climate action or justice.
These decisions are being made around us every day from town halls to company boardrooms. But not everyone’s voice is equally included. The way they are made needs to be more inclusive, the report’s authors say.
10. We need to break down structural barriers and unsustainable lock-ins
Our current strategies to mitigate climate change are still insufficient to keep global warming below 2C.
There are a number of barriers to changing this including how we measure success and social progress. For major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, these measures are often affluence and economic growth.
It leaves us locked into a resource intensive economy - a serious barrier to climate change mitigation efforts. Business models are focused on ever increasing production, weak or vague climate policies are created and there’s even the use of outright violence to benefit the fossil fuel industry.
To achieve real, transformational change, the report’s authors say we need to remove these lock-ins and structural barriers.