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The UN’s climate change panel: the world must act now

Arial photo of a village in Indonesia surrounded by water due to rising sea levels.
The researchers emphasise that the need for climate adaptation. Here a village in Demak Regency, Indonesia, surrounded by water due to rising sea levels. Photo: Aji Styawan / Getty Images Climate Visuals Grant recipient.

On Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new report on how climate change is impacting nature and people worldwide, and on the necessity for adaptation. According to the researchers, more than three billion people live in environments that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and the same applies to many species. The researchers establish that those who are most vulnerable, will be the hardest hit.

The researchers emphasise in the report how society and nature are being affected to an increasing extent by climate change and issue a powerful warning about what will happen if the world does not act now.

We are already experiencing and being affected by climate impacts and they will become increasingly prevalent at 1.5-degree global warming and even more so at higher global warming levels. Some of these impacts can be moderated by adaptation but, of course, the more the world warms up, the harder such adaptation becomes”, says Markku Rummukainen, professor of Climatology at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC), Lund University, and Sweden’s contact person for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI).

The measures the next decade will determine our future

The increased incidence of heat waves, flooding and drought is already impacting certain plants and animals at the limit of their ability to adapt. Extreme weather has also led to millions of people, particularly in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and on small islands, being at risk of acute food and water shortages. Heatwaves also have an impact on the health of many people. The researchers emphasise that the need for climate adaptation is considerably more acute than stated in previous reports and consider that the measures we take in the next decade are very important in determining our future vulnerability.

The fact that there are possibilities to reduce the impacts of climate change through adaptation is one of the bright spots in the report. Among other things, the researchers highlight that the protection of nature and its ecosystems can help to alleviate the impacts. Another emphasised aspect is how climate measures and sustainable development can interact and lead to synergies. However, there is a large global gap regarding measures. It is often the case that the least is done where the need is greatest.

Those who are most vulnerable risk being hit hardest. The report stresses particularly that climate change, biodiversity and other aspects of sustainable development cannot be seen as separate issues – they belong together”, states Markku Rummukainen.

Limits to how far we can protect ourselves

At the same time, the report underlines that there are limits to how far we can protect ourselves through climate adaptation. There has already been irreversible damage due to climate change. Depending on the degree of global warming, the researchers note that there is a strong likelihood that climate change will lead to several serious risks for humankind and nature within just a few decades.

“If the temperature continues to rise, adaptation will gradually become impossible in an increasing number of ecosystems and communities, resulting in major consequences. In particular, if development in general does not become more sustainable, vulnerability will increase, and climate impacts will affect more and more people”, says Markku Rummukainen.

Portrait of Markku Rummukainen. Photo.

About Markku Rummukainen

Markku Rummukainen is Professor of Climatology at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC), Lund University.

He represents Sweden in the UN's climate panel IPCC and is a member of the Climate Policy Council in Sweden.

About Markku Rummukainen's research - portal.research.lu.se

The report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a series of reports every six or seven years. The sub-report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability is a part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The IPCC does not conduct its own research; the report is a compilation of new research from around the world published in recent years.

A further report will be published in early April, focusing on emission reductions and issues concerning technology, energy, land use, transport, industry, infrastructure, policy instruments, economics and so on. The final summarising synthesis report, which also includes the report published by the IPCC in August last year, will be published in September.

The reports, which summarise the global state of knowledge, constitute informed background for decision-makers and others.