Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a report warning of the horrors of climate change and urging us to act quickly.

The U.N. climate panel’s latest major report, released on Monday, details how climate change is impacting nature, societies and economies, as well as what we can do to adapt in a warming world.
Here are some of the report’s main conclusions:

‘Widespread’ damage is already occurring

People and other animals are already dying in heatwaves, storms and other disasters fuelled by global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns. Hundreds of plant and animal species have disappeared from local areas, both on land and at sea.

Weather extremes have also pushed millions of people towards acute food or water insecurity, or have battered infrastructure or caused supply chain disruption.

Damage is being compounded when climate impacts coincide, such as heatwaves occurring in areas suffering drought. Some losses, for example those resulting from the death of coral reefs or the melting of glaciers, are irreversible in our lifetimes.

The report calls for a wholesale revision in how humanity lives alongside nature. Just tweaking our social and economic systems “is not going to get us to a climate resilient future”, said IPCC report co-author Ed Carr, a geographer and anthropologist at Clark University in Massachusetts. Instead we need “transformational changes… everything from our food to our energy to transportation, but also our politics and our society”.

We are breaching limits of adaptation

There is a limit to how much we can adapt; eventually, conditions become so extreme that the associated risks are “intolerable”, the IPCC says. In many cases, it’s still technically possible to adjust for climate-altered conditions, but barriers such as costs or policies stand in the way. The IPCC calls these “soft” limits to adaptation.

With “hard” limits, there are no clear solutions. Biologically, humans can cope with only so much heat. Low-lying islands will eventually be engulfed by sea level rise. Some plants and animals have already hit hard limits, such as coral reefs that have died in marine heatwaves.

Hard limits increase with each increment of warming, but see a big jump at warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. The planet, having already warmed 1.1C, is expected to hit that threshold within two decades. Above 1.5C warming, people relying on glaciers and snowmelt for fresh water will face acute shortages. At 2C, important food crops won’t grow in many places. And if we overshoot and spend a few decades above 1.5C warming, many impacts will be irreversible.

Nature is in big trouble

Every world region faces a high risk of more species losses and extinctions. At 1.5C warming, scientists expect 3-14{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the world’s species on land could vanish. Most at risk are coastal species that face future sea level rise, as well as those dependent on seasonal river flows that will be disrupted by drought or by earlier melting of glaciers upriver. Plants and animals that can’t easily move to more hospitable areas are also at high risk.

The report underlines the need to conserve 30{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} to 50{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas – echoing the 30{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} goal of the U.N.’s Convention on Biodiversity. Currently, we’re far from that goal. Less than 15{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the world’s land, 21{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of its freshwater and just 8{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of oceans are under some form of protection, often with “insufficient stewardship”, the report says.

Humans and society will struggle too

Aside from the public health risks from heatwaves and other weather extremes, there is also a rising risk of disease spread through spoiled food, tainted water, or pathogen-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

In some communities, particularly the poor and vulnerable, malnutrition is increasing. Food production could be compromised by rising seas and disruptive weather, along with poorer soil quality and reduced pollination. Fisheries will also take a hit, especially those that rely on coral reefs.

At the same time, climate-linked weather extremes are also disrupting health services and adding to mental health stress, the report says.

We’re running out of time

The report urges people to get ready now for a warmer world. The weather extremes and other climate impacts are happening faster than earlier reports had anticipated. “Any further delay… will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the IPCC concludes.

Communities need to be bolstering infrastructure and rethinking their cities to deal with issues such as heat, flood risk or water availability. Efforts that improve liveability while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions are “more urgent than previously thought”, the report says. Actions that prioritize equity and justice, including tackling gender or income inequalities, have better overall outcomes, it says.

While there has been limited progress – at least 170 countries now mention adaptation in their climate plans – most of the world is lagging. “Although adaptation is taking place, there is not enough funding and it is not a high priority,” said IPCC co-author Adelle Thomas, a human-environment geographer at Climate Analytics and the University of the Bahamas. “We need focused action and financial support for adaptation, particularly in the next decade.”

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