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These are the biggest climate issues of 2022

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The world’s leading scientific experts today presented the 10 new insights on climate science at the UN climate change negotiations, COP27.

The annual update presents key information from the latest research related to climate change this year and responds to clear calls for policy direction. It emphasizes and breaks down the complex interactions between climate change and other risk factors such as conflicts, pandemics, food crises and underlying development challenges in the report.

Climate issues of 2022

The 10 Insights report is convened by the international networks Future Earth, The Earth League and the World Climate Research Programme, which is co-sponsored by WMO.

“Science is at the heart of everything we do. Science is our common language. It is a fundamental element that informs the COP negotiation process. Science provides evidence and data on the impacts of climate change, but it gives us the tools and knowledge of how we need to address it,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), told a news conference.

“The insights in this report are alarming, confirm what we already know, and give us insight into other areas where more action is needed,” he said.

The scientific synthesis report identifies that the potential for adaptation to climate change is not unlimited. Sea level rise capable of submerging coastal communities and extreme heat intolerable for the human body are examples of ‘hard’ limits to our ability to adapt.

It also highlights that more than 3 billion people will inhabit ‘vulnerability hotspots’, areas with the highest susceptibility to being negatively affected by climate-induced hazards, by 2050, double what it is today.

The report further highlights that persistent reliance on fossil fuels exacerbates major vulnerabilities, particularly for energy and food security, and that deep and rapid mitigation to address drivers of climate change is needed immediately to avoid and minimize losses and future damages.

“The latest science confirms the mounting societal costs of severe climate extremes and the urgent need to deviate from the risks of going beyond the limits of adaptation and crossing irreversible tipping points,” says Professor Johan Rockström, co-chair of Earth League, the Earth Commission and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The potential for adaptation to climate change is not unlimited

Coping with the impacts of climate change is important, but scientists say our adaptive capacity is not limitless. Sea level rise is capable of submerging coastal communities and the extreme heat is intolerable for human bodies. These are just a few examples of “hard” limits that we cannot accommodate ourselves to.

“1.5C is not a goal, it is a physical limit. Go further and we are likely to trigger tipping points,” explained Johan Rockstrom of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research at COP27.

Vulnerability hotspots are clustered in ‘regions at risk’

More than three million people will be living in “vulnerability hotspots,” areas most at risk of being affected by climate hazards, by 2050. That’s double what it is today.

Linking it to the first idea, Rockstrom said it would place a third of the world’s population in areas that are close to the limits of adaptation.

New threats on the horizon from climate–health interactions

  • Compounding and cascading risks due to climate change are adversely impacting human, animal and environmental health.
  • Climate change is already responsible for close to 40% of heat-related deaths and every inhabited continent is experiencing increased heat-related mortality.
  • Wildfires are increasing in frequency due to the combination of higher temperatures and drought, bringing short- and long-term physical and mental health impacts.
  • Outbreaks of infectious diseases are likely to increase due to climate change.

We need to anticipate that climate change will drive migration

  • Involuntary migration and displacement will increasingly occur due to climate change-related slow-onset impacts and the rising frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Climate change and related impacts can also result in many people, particularly poor and marginalised communities, losing their capacity to adapt by moving away. However, others will choose to stay, despite facing increasing climate risks.
  • Worldwide, there is a growing number of anticipatory humanitarian actions to assist climate-related mobility and minimise displacement – with early success stories.

Human security requires climate security

Human security and climate change interact in insidious “vicious circles” that drive short- and long-term actions and impacts. In some contexts, this can exacerbate tensions or amplify existing violent conflicts.

  • Human security depends on climate action.
  • Climate change does not cause conflict; rather, it exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in human security (caused by governance and socioeconomic conditions), which can lead to violent conflict.
  • By increasing vulnerabilities and instability, the human security impacts of climate change become national security concerns.
  • Effective and timely mitigation and adaptation strategies are required to strengthen human security and, by extension, national security. These must be pursued in parallel with concerted efforts to provide human security, to reduce the risks of an increase in violent conflict, and to promote peace.
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed major problems in terms of food supply and stable access to energy on a local, national and international scale arising from dependence on fossil fuels. These vulnerabilities erode human security.
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Sustainable land use is essential to meeting climate targets

Radical land-use change is required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Agricultural expansion is a major driver of forest loss in the tropics, and therefore a key driver of GHG emissions, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of vital ecosystem services for the livelihoods of the rural population and dependent on nature.

  • Agricultural intensification that is sustainable in the long term is preferable to further expansion into natural areas, when adequate policies are in place to limit further land conversion. Efforts to increase food production by improving yields and integrating systems, while minimizing adverse ecological impacts, can also go a long way to improve food security.
  • The land uses that achieve an optimal package of services (for climate solutions, food security, and ecosystem integrity alike) depend on the climate pathway: the greater the degree of warming, the less likely current assumptions about the ability to ground systems to provide these co-benefits will apply.
  • Integrated land management can provide climate solutions while benefiting people and the environment; however, land use changes are more often trade-offs than mutual gains. Approaches that work to balance stakeholder-identified trade-offs are more likely to deliver socially acceptable climate and conservation outcomes.

Private sustainable finance practices are failing

Financial markets are crucial to achieving net zero, especially in economic sectors with strong climate impacts.

  • The vast majority of sustainable finance practices today are designed to fit into existing financial sector business models rather than allocate capital in a way that provides the greatest impact in the fight against climate change.
  • The implementation and strengthening of climate policy measures, such as carbon prices and taxes, minimum standards, and support measures for low-carbon solutions, remain of paramount importance to direct economic incentives towards climate solutions and thus change capital towards these solutions.

Loss and Damage: the urgent planetary imperative

As many vulnerable nations have already said at COP27, the loss and damage caused by climate change is already occurring. It is likely to increase significantly on our current trajectory of global warfare.

Loss and damage is already occurring and will increase significantly on current trajectories, but rapid mitigation and effective adaptation can still prevent much of it.

Climate development must involve inclusive decisions

Being inclusive and empowering in all forms of decision-making has been shown to lead to better and fairer climate outcomes.

And climate resilient development is based on choices that go beyond the formal decisions of politicians and policy makers. Particularly, the report says, since the current form of ‘inclusive’ decision-making is not enough to meet the needs of climate action or justice.

Breaking 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 the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, these measures are usually wealth and economic growth.

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