Climate Crisis Has Caused Increasingly Irreversible Losses, Says UN Report

AR6 Synthesis Report

“Urgent” actions are needed to counter human-caused climate change, says a new report released Monday by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report said:

Climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater, cryospheric, and coastal and open ocean ecosystems.

Temperatures have already increased by more than 1.1 C since pre-industrial times, putting human lives in danger and costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Without urgent, effective, and equitable mitigation and adaptation actions, climate change increasingly threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of current and future generations,” said the report (AR6 Synthesis Report (SYR),, and, released Monday in Interlaken, Switzerland.

The report said:

Between 2010 and 2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability.

Approximately 3.3–3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Reports by the IPCC are considered the planet’s most authoritative assessments of the state of global warming, its consequences and the measures being taken to tackle it.

“Humanity is on thin ice, and that ice is melting fast,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

This report is not all doom and gloom: It also said there are many feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, and they are available now.

IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said “if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential adaptation and mitigation strategies. It provides periodic assessments to the leaders of its 195 member states.

This report is the culmination of an eight-year long series of climate science papers, the sixth assessment since the IPCC was established in 1988. Over the past six years, hundreds of authors in three working groups reviewed thousands of academic papers with the latest science.

Key Findings

  • Human activities, principally through greenhouse emissions, have unequivocally caused global warming, driving widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere.
  • Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a more livable and sustainable future for all.
  • Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and faster movement toward adaptation in this decade would reduce losses and damages and deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health.
  • Vulnerable communities that have contributed the least to current climate change are being disproportionately affected.
  • Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades.
  • Current investment and funding for adaptation is insufficient, especially in developing countries.

The AR6 SYR is based on the content of the three Working Groups Assessment Reports: WGI – The Physical Science BasisWGII – Impacts, Adaptation and VulnerabilityWGIII – Mitigation of Climate Change, and the three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°CClimate Change and LandThe Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

The report said:

Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals.

Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period 10 over at least the last 2000 years.

Historical cumulative net CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2019 were 2400±240 GtCO2 of which more than half (58%) occurred between 1850 and 1989, and about 42% occurred between 1990 and 2019. In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations (410 parts per 22 million) were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of methane (1866 parts per billion) and nitrous oxide (332 parts per billion) were higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.

Average annual GHG emissions during 2010-2019 were higher than in any previous decade on record, while the rate of growth between 2010 and 2019 (1.3% year-1) was lower than that between 2000 and 2009 (2.1% year-1). In 2019, approximately 79% of global GHG emissions came from the sectors of energy, industry, transport and buildings together and 22% from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU).

Least developed countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have much lower per capita emissions (1.7 tCO2-eq and 4.6 tCO2-eq, respectively) than the global average (6.9 tCO2-eq), excluding CO2-LULUCF. The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34–45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contributes 13–15%.

Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.

It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

Human influence was very likely the main driver of these increases since at least 1971. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has further strengthened.

Human influence has likely increased the chance of compound extreme events since the 1950s, including increases in the frequency of concurrent heatwaves and droughts.

Regions and people with considerable development constraints have high vulnerability to climatic hazards. Increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest adverse impacts observed in many locations and/or communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, LDCs, Small Islands and the Arctic, and globally for Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers and low-income households.

The report said:

Hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes with mass mortality events recorded on land and in the ocean. Impacts on some ecosystems are approaching irreversibility such as the impacts of hydrological changes resulting from the retreat of glaciers, or the changes in some mountain and Arctic ecosystems driven by permafrost thaw.

Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals. Although overall agricultural productivity has increased, climate change has slowed this growth over the past 50 years globally, with related negative impacts mainly in mid- and low latitude regions but positive impacts in some high latitude regions.

Ocean warming and ocean acidification have adversely affected food production from Territorial emissions.

Acute food insecurity can occur at any time with a severity that threatens lives, livelihoods or both, regardless of the causes, context or duration, as a result of shocks risking determinants of food security and nutrition, and is used to assess the need for humanitarian action.

Roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year due to a combination of climatic and non-climatic drivers.

In all regions increases in extreme heat events have resulted in human mortality and morbidity.

The occurrence of climate-related food-borne and water-borne diseases and the incidence of vector-borne diseases have increased.

In assessed regions, some mental health challenges are associated with increasing temperatures, trauma from extreme events, and loss of livelihoods and culture.

Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement in Africa, Asia, North America, and Central and South America, with small island states in the Caribbean and South Pacific being disproportionately affected relative to their small population size.

Climate change has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people that are unequally distributed across systems, regions and sectors.

Economic damages from climate change have been detected in climate-exposed sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, and tourism.

Individual livelihoods have been affected through, for example, destruction of homes and infrastructure, and loss of property and income, human health and food security, with adverse effects on gender and social equity.

In urban areas, observed climate change has caused adverse impacts on human health, livelihoods and key infrastructure. Hot extremes have intensified in cities. Urban infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems have been compromised by extreme and slow-onset events, with resulting economic losses, disruptions of services and negative impacts to well-being. Observed adverse impacts are concentrated amongst economically and socially marginalized urban residents.

The report said:

There is increased evidence of maladaptation in various sectors and regions.  Maladaptation especially affects marginalized and vulnerable groups adversely.

Soft limits to adaptation are currently being experienced by small-scale farmers and households along some low-lying coastal areas resulting from financial, governance, institutional and policy constraints.

Key barriers to adaptation are limited resources, lack of private sector and citizen engagement, insufficient mobilization of finance (including for research), low climate literacy, lack of political commitment, limited research and/or slow and low uptake of adaptation science, and low sense of urgency.

There are widening disparities between the estimated costs of adaptation and the finance allocated to adaptation. Adaptation finance has come predominantly from public sources, and a small proportion of global tracked climate finance was targeted to adaptation and an overwhelming majority to mitigation.

Several mitigation options, notably solar energy, wind energy, electrification of urban systems, urban green infrastructure, energy efficiency, demand-side management, improved forest- and crop/grassland management, and reduced food waste and loss, are technically viable, are becoming increasingly cost effective and are generally supported by the public. From 2010– 2019 there have been sustained decreases in the unit costs of solar energy (85%), wind energy (55%), and lithium ion batteries (85%), and large increases in their deployment, e.g., >10x for solar and >100x for electric vehicles (EVs), varying widely across regions.

The adoption of low-emission technologies lags in most developing countries, particularly least developed ones, due in part to limited finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity. The magnitude of climate finance flows has increased over the last decade and financing channels have broadened but growth has slowed since 2018.

Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.

It said:

The overwhelming majority of tracked climate finance is directed towards mitigation, but nevertheless falls short of the levels needed to limit warming to below 2°C or to 1.5°C across all sectors and regions. In 2018, public and publicly mobilized private climate finance flows from developed to developing countries were below the collective goal under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement to mobilize USD100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation action and transparency on implementation.

The report said:

The economic benefits for human health from air quality improvement arising from mitigation action can be of the same order of magnitude as mitigation costs, and potentially even larger.

More rapid climate change mitigation, with emissions peaking earlier, increases co-benefits and reduces feasibility risks and costs in the long-term, but requires higher up-front investments.

Rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are necessary to achieve deep and sustained emissions reductions and secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

Energy generation diversification (e.g., via wind, solar, small scale hydropower) and demand side management (e.g., storage and energy efficiency improvements) can increase energy reliability and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change. Climate responsive energy markets, updated design standards on energy assets according to current and projected climate change, smart-grid technologies, robust transmission systems and improved capacity to respond to supply deficits have high feasibility in the medium to long-term, with mitigation co-benefits.

In transport, sustainable biofuels, low-emissions hydrogen, and derivatives (including ammonia and synthetic fuels) can support mitigation of CO2 emissions from shipping, aviation, and heavy-duty land transport but require production process improvements and cost reductions.

Electric vehicles powered by low-GHG emissions electricity have large potential to reduce land-based transport GHG emissions, on a life cycle basis. Advances in battery technologies could facilitate the electrification of heavy-duty trucks and compliment conventional electric rail systems.

The environmental footprint of battery production and growing concerns about critical minerals can be addressed by material and supply diversification strategies, energy and material efficiency improvements, and circular material flows.

A set of measures and daily practices that avoid demand for energy, materials, land, and water while delivering human well-being for all within planetary boundaries ‘Sustainable healthy diets’ promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and well-being; have low environmental pressure and impact; are accessible, affordable, safe and equitable; and are culturally acceptable, as described in FAO and WHO.

The report said:

Effective adaptation options exist to help protect human health and wellbeing, including: strengthening public health programs related to climate-sensitive diseases, increasing health systems resilience, improving ecosystem health, improving access to potable water, reducing exposure of water and sanitation systems to flooding, improving surveillance and early warning systems, vaccine development, improving access to mental healthcare, and Heat Health Action Plans that include early warning and response systems.

Adaptation strategies which reduce food loss and waste or support balanced, sustainable healthy diets contribute to nutrition, health, biodiversity and other environmental benefits.

The report said:

Effective climate action is enabled by political commitment, well-aligned multilevel governance, institutional frameworks, laws, policies and strategies and enhanced access to finance and technology.

Effective multilevel governance for mitigation, adaptation, risk management, and climate resilient development is enabled by inclusive decision processes that prioritize equity and justice in planning and implementation, allocation of appropriate resources, institutional review, and monitoring and evaluation.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would reduce emissions and yield benefits such as improved public revenue, macroeconomic and sustainability performance; subsidy removal can have adverse distributional impacts, especially on the most economically vulnerable groups which, in some cases can be mitigated by measures such as redistributing revenue saved, all of which depend on national circumstances.

There is sufficient global capital to close the global investment gaps but there are barriers to redirect capital to climate action.

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