As we have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic, varying levels of coping capacity determine the overall wellbeing of societies, populations, and sectors that are better equipped to manage such systemic disruptions. More vulnerable systems face threats of near-total collapse or are left severely crippled.
In the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 (WG2) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), one implicit message is clear: Further delays in climate action toward keeping warming well below the 1.5˚C will only exacerbate existing inequalities and disproportionate vulnerabilities. Climate change is unequivocally a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet, but certain regions and sectors will feel the brunt of its impacts more intensely, thereby undermining any development gains these areas make in the near and long term.
A key feature of the report moves beyond describing climate risks toward a more solutions-based framework of climate-resilient development. It highlights the interdependence of climate, ecosystems, and human systems, and how their interactions must be factored into decision-making for any meaningful adaptation to take place. The report states that “these interactions form the basis of emerging risks from climate change, ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity loss, at the same time, offer opportunities for the future.”
Disregarding such interdependencies run the risk of maladaptation, which the report states there is increasing evidence of across many sectors and regions since the release of the Fifth Assessment Report in 2014. Maladaptation could potentially lock in vulnerability, exposure, and risks that are difficult and costly to reverse, as well as exacerbate existing inequalities.
The report also highlights the increasing complexity of risks and the growing challenges to manage them as we inch closer toward the 1.5˚C threshold. As we are already witnessing in the Philippines and various parts of the world, multiple hazards can and will occur simultaneously.
Both climatic and non-climatic risks can interact, such as the case when Typhoons Rolly and Odette slammed into parts of the country during the pandemic, compounding the risks of a health crisis. Unless we make the necessary investments today, this multiplicity of risks associated with climate change will only further increase the losses and damages we are already experiencing and drive adaptation costs.
While the report notes progress in adaptation planning and implementation across sectors and regions, it also underscores how some ecosystems have already reached their hard and soft limits. Hard limits, meaning no amount of adaptive intervention (perhaps besides drastic emissions reductions) will make a difference, are already evident in ecosystems like coral reefs where we are reaching irreversible turning points. Soft limits, which can be overcome by addressing a range of constraints such as financial, governance, institutional, or policy, could also still lead to irreversible changes if not acted upon with urgency, as could be the case for areas affected by sea-level rise.
With the impacts on different ecosystems varying from region to region, what is clear in the report is that there will be significant implications on our food and water systems, as well as on human health, especially in areas where heat-related diseases and illnesses are already prevalent.
Aside from these sectors, there is also significance placed on cities as both hotspots for risks, as well as opportunities for not just mitigation but also adaptation. With much of the global population rapidly moving toward urban areas, cities play a crucial role in ensuring equitable and just climate resilience.
The window for action is quickly narrowing and we have already missed opportunities for higher climate-resilient development. The sustainable development decisions we make moving forward must be the result of holistic and inclusive action by the government, private sector, and civil society actors, as well as indigenous peoples and other marginalized stakeholders. Climate risks, vulnerabilities, and adaptation measures need to be factored into decision-making across all levels of governance to ensure that the pathways we take do not only lead to achieving climate-resilient development but also climate justice.
You may find more information on the findings of the report and its implications on the Philippines in the OML Center’s IPCC AR6 WG2 Philippines Highlights.
About the author:
Marianna Vargas-Morada is a Climate Reality Leader and the Partnership Manager of Oscar M. Lopez (OML) Center, a climate change research foundation based in the Philippines, focusing primarily on enhancing local climate science and adaptation solutions. Her work involves identifying and engaging strategic partners to expand the reach and impact of OML Center’s work and designing opportunities for the Center to participate in strategic networks.