What States Need to Know About The IPCC Report – Climate XChange

Last week, U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the second phase of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The report asserts that the effects of climate change will continue to be felt throughout the world should we fail to implement adaptation strategies and scale back greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Following the review of more than 34,000 studies, 270 scientists from 67 countries, known as Working Group II (WGII), compiled this second report. Compared to previous assessments, this report pays greater attention to the changing climate’s impact on society and the importance of social justice.

Last year, the first phase – completed by Working Group I (WGI) – of the AR6 assessed the physical science of climate change, reaffirming the indisputable scientific evidence of an already-warming planet and that human activity is clearly the cause. Read Climate XChange’s short summary of last year’s report here.

In its newest phase of the report, the IPCC maintains that keeping warming below the critical 1.5ºC threshold is still within arm’s reach, but we are rapidly approaching a closing window of opportunity to do so. The final lines read: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”

Since the United Nations is the governing body for the WGII report, the assessments and recommendations in it are global ones. However, those findings can be applied to state-level action in the U.S. Below are some key takeaways from the WGII report and how they can shape states’ future decisions on creating a livable future for all of their residents.

Key Takeaways

Vulnerability and Socio-Economic Status

The WGII report focuses on the projected impacts and risks of climate change on human societies. It indicates that up to 3.6 billion people live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, and regions with development limitations are more vulnerable. As we know, those in the Global South will face – and already are facing – the brunt of climate hazards, despite being among the least responsible for carbon emissions. In highly vulnerable areas, human mortality from floods, droughts, and storms were 15 times higher than in areas considered less vulnerable between 2010-2020.

The IPCC identifies issues such as colonialism and marginalization on account of ethnicity, gender, and class as key culprits in exacerbating vulnerability. Displacement, extreme poverty, and food insecurity are only a few of the impacts that vulnerable populations will continue to face should governments fail to implement critical climate action plans.

In the U.S., the most economically disadvantaged states, and thus some of the most vulnerable, are largely unsupportive of transformative climate policy. Senators from nine out of the ten states with the highest poverty rates don’t support Build Back Better, President Biden’s bill that would keep his climate promises and fund other major social programs. Ironically, though these states are among the least resilient to climate change, their residents are also less likely – when compared with the country’s average – to believe that the impacts will harm them.

It’s important for policymakers to assess the vulnerability of their communities, and accurate demographic data can help. Headwaters Economics’ Populations at Risk Tool allows users to generate free reports about an area’s populations that are more likely to experience adverse outcomes due to different risk factors. For a hazard like sea level rise, states can pair demographic information with a tool like the Surging Seas Risk Finder, which presents maps of areas at risk to coastal flooding and shows sea level projections based on several emissions scenarios. Or, just look up your state’s grade on this resiliency report card.

Indigenous Knowledge

The WGII report assesses climate change impacts and risks in specific regions, taking a look at potential adaptation and climate resilience opportunities. Throughout these regional assessments, the report emphasizes the need for the integration of Indigenous knowledge systems and Indigenous stakeholders in adaptation and mitigation strategies. The IPCC notes that Western science may be insufficient in addressing natural resource challenges, and acknowledges the importance of meaningfully incorporating Indigenous knowledge into assessment processes. Such knowledge may be related to sustainable agriculture practices and responsible ecosystem management. This breaks new ground in acknowledging Indigenous Peoples as increasingly crucial stakeholders in the fight against the climate crisis.

Across the continent, Indigenous communities are taking action to adapt to living in a warming climate, though they are not new to sustainable land stewardship. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, salmon is a keystone species of the ecosystem – meaning without it, the whole system could change or collapse. The Swinomish People, on the Skagit River, are using generational knowledge to create better spawning areas and planting trees to reduce river temperatures and ensure the longevity of the fish – and their people.

At a Climate XChange Webinar in November 2021, Jade Begay, a Dine woman and the Climate Justice Campaign Director at the NDN Collective, asked that policymakers support Indigenous communities in a few ways. She said that policymakers should understand and respect certain frameworks such as Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the National Environmental Policy Act. She also stresses the need to move resources into Indigenous communities in an equitable way and invites policymakers to visit those communities to learn how their systems can benefit policymaking.

Potential Impacts

Early action that limits global warming close to 1.5ºC would “substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change… but cannot eliminate them all.” At global warming levels of 1.5ºC, up to 14 percent of species in terrestrial ecosystems are at a high risk of extinction, rising to 48 percent at 5ºC. The number of people exposed to a 100-year coastal flood is projected to rise by 20 percent should global mean sea levels rise 0.15m relative to 2020 levels. As 40 percent of the U.S. lives on the coast, this should inspire those states to take bigger adaptation measures because the WGII report says what’s being done isn’t enough.

Even hitting what the report calls a “temporary overshoot” – meaning we exceed 1.5ºC but return to below or stay at that level after several decades – would result in irreversible impacts to polar, mountain, and coastal ecosystems due to ice sheet loss, glacier melt, or sea level rise. Human infrastructure, coastal settlements, and cultural and spiritual values are similarly at further risk in the event of a temporary overshoot.

…(read more).

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