As temperatures accelerate towards 1.5˚C, near-term actions that limit global warming would reduce losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems, finds today’s report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looking at societal impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change.

Why adaptation?

The report finds 40% of global populations are “highly vulnerable” to climate change as it causes intolerable and irreversible damage to our planet, endangering mental and physical health, and costing governments, companies and society enormously. Impacts will be felt globally but will be most pronounced in marginalised communities and the global south.

No system or sector will be left unscathed from the impacts – energy, food, nature, healthcare, national economies, international trade – driven by extreme weather, rising sea levels or species extinction.

These systemic disruptions will increase large scale migration as resources are depleted and terrains become uninhabitable, whilst the increased chance of disease outbreaks will further add pressure to systems already under strain. The impacts of climate change and associated risks are only becoming more complex and increasingly challenging to manage.

Adaptation can’t do it alone

Today’s IPCC analysis highlights that adaptation is essential to limiting the impacts of climate change but cannot be used as an alternative to emission cuts. Without a combination of emission reductions and adaptation, temperatures will only continue to rise with social and economic tolls becoming more severe.

Faster and more significant emission reductions are the only way to limit temperature increases and stay within the limited carbon budget to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But time is running out

Figure 1: Carbon budget update 2022

The world is exhausting the carbon budget far too rapidly, and at Carbon Tracker, we see a key solution is reducing fossil fuel combustion – even if difficult to implement. Challenging the status quo and fossil fuel incumbent thinking is central to the reallocation of capital into meaningful climate solutions to bring down emissions and avoid stranded assets.

A managed energy transition, that acts earlier to mitigate emissions and puts into place adaption measures, will stem stranded assets and protect livelihoods. To put this in perspective, our recent analysis, Managing Peak Oil, finds a managed approach under the Inevitable Policy Response scenario could avoid wasting $500 billion.

Likewise, there are many opportunities available to adapt energy systems to be more resilient Wind and solar PV is cheaper in 90% of markets compared to their fossil fuel counterparts (see Put Gas on Standby and Do Not Revive Coal), and frontier technologies – hydrogen, battery storage, fusion – are all making headline breakthroughs.

Today’s report highlights that there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity for global action. Any further delay to mitigation and adaptation will compromise a liveable and sustainable future for all.

Adaptation strategies come in many forms…

… but are underfunded and so far have been fragmented and small-scale. Common examples are those which are tangible and can be ‘seen’. Examples such as future-proofing buildings to extreme heat, preparing coastal communities for increased flooding, and modifying crops to be drought resistant come to mind.

However, as is so often with climate, it’s hard to perceive some of the changes that quietly make the most substantial difference. More intangible examples are those revisions to building codes, disclosure regulations and financial reporting criteria that incorporate climate risks and push organisations to do better.

By adapting our systems and practises with future climates in mind, and at the same time building in climate-related indicators into our decision-making and standard-setting, we will support in future-proofing our societies and economies to climate disasters and avoid a ‘green swan’ event.

Synonymous strategies for the climate

Rapid and thoughtful adaptation and preparedness to a changing climate, together with drastic emissions reductions from the highest carbon and highest cost sectors, will be a central part of the puzzle to avoiding climatic disasters, protecting nature and human health, and meeting the global climate targets.

The pressure is on, how will decision-makers respond?