Climate change is forcing the world to adapt to the inevitable and those most affected have contributed the least to rising temperatures.

Climate change is going to force the world to adapt to the inevitable. Those most affected have contributed the least to the deadly increase in the world’s temperatures. Even if the world manages to halt global warming at 1.5°C this century – and that’s a big if – climate change will have profound consequences for billions of people on every continent. Humanity’s window of opportunity to “secure a liveable future” is “brief and rapidly closing”. This is the latest grim assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), a body of experts convened by the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report, which was synthesised from 34,000 studies by more than 1,000 scientists and approved by the governments of 195 nations – “an atlas of suffering”, and it’s an apt description. Three in four people could be exposed to deadly heat stress by the end of the century.

A billion coast dwellers could suffer serious flooding every year by 2050. Storms, droughts and wildfires will become more frequent and intense and affect more people each year. Nearly one in five assessed species on land will be at high risk of extinction by 2100 if the world warms 2°C. Even keeping global temperature rise below 1.6°C would see the world lose 8{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of its farmland by century’s end – when most estimates suggest there could be another two billion people living on Earth.

Crucially, these impacts will not fall evenly on the global population. The report suggests that countries in Africa, Asia and low-lying islands will be the hardest hit. Africa has lost 34{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of its agricultural productivity growth since 1961 due to climate change and faces shorter growing seasons and scarcer water in future. Coral reefs, the wellsprings of protein and income for billions living near the Earth’s equator are expected to all but disappear at 2°C. As are the many small islands swallowed by rising seas.

Harpreet Kaur Paul, a PhD candidate in global climate justice at the University of Warwick, writes that poverty is one of the most important determinants of someone’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. “Rising temperatures and humidity will allow mosquitoes and other disease carriers to conquer new territory, spreading diseases in people (for example dengue fever) and in crops, livestock and wildlife. This will mean more death and suffering in poorer countries which lack health infrastructure, data collection, early warning systems and vaccines.”

While inequality directs the fate of half the world’s people living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, modern and historic systems of exploitation – such as punitive trade conditions and colonialism – tie the hands of countries desperate to adapt to mounting weather extremes, Paul says. “Take the west African country of Senegal. Persistent droughts have left hundreds of thousands of people here with no reliable food supply. But the government spends over a quarter of its GDP servicing external debt, neglecting vital investment in food production and public services.”

The arithmetic of climate change offers little room for maneuver. Writing for The Conversation, three IPCC vice-chairs, Mark Howden, Joy Pereira and Roberto Sánchez said that: “Adaptation options … could include removing houses and other infrastructure from floodplains to slow river flows and increase water retention, or improving building standards so our homes are suited to warmer climates. But the more global warming that occurs, the fewer and less effective these options will likely be. Thus, as climate change proceeds, there will be ever-tightening limits on our capacity to adapt.”

Though the report stops short of allocating responsibility, it does note that the losses and damages caused by climate change are “strongly concentrated among the poorest vulnerable populations”. Paul predicts that the report’s findings will renew calls from low-income nations for compensation.

“Research published in The Lancet medical journal found that, as of 2015, the US, EU, UK, Russia, Japan and Canada were together responsible for 85{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of total emissions. “Low-income nations demanded financial contributions from richer nations for climate-related loss and damage at the COP26 climate conference in autumn 2021. Negotiations at the next UN climate summit in Egypt in November 2022 are likely to hinge on this point.”

Rich countries have failed to raise promised funding to help the poorest regions adapt. So, in light of the new report, what should poorer countries demand is prioritised to support their adaptation? “Where possible, adaptation actions should simultaneously reduce net emissions, and reduce climate risk,” say Howden, Pereira and Sánchez.

Edward R. Carr, a professor of international development at Clark University in the US, says that entails transformative changes to many of the ways in which society currently operates: “In Australia, farmers who adopted regenerative agriculture practices, which help to store more carbon in the soil, found that the health of their soil increased. This allowed the farmers to buffer their fields against drought and floods.”

Balsher Singh Sidhu is a postdoctoral research fellow in resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia in Canada, as well as a contributor to the recent IPCC report. Sidhu reviewed more than 1,800 strategies in national climate adaptation plans and found that over 80{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} were water-related. Of these, only 359 had been “analysed for effectiveness”, he said, “meaning that we do not know if most of these strategies actually reduce the impacts of climate change and improve health, wellbeing and livelihood”.

In the absence of such data, Sidhu argues that traditional forms of knowledge are often the best guide. “Farmers in Sri Lanka successfully adapted to the 2014 drought by practising bethma, a traditional technique where the community temporarily reallocated agricultural land among farmers so that each would have similar access to the limited water supply.

“Combining local, traditional and Indigenous knowledge with a technical understanding of climate change can lead to the development and implementation of more acceptable and successful climate change adaptation strategies. This not only ensures equitable and inclusive adaptation actions, but also increases the proposed solutions’ effectiveness at minimizing climate change impacts.”

Original source: https://theconversation.com