Lasting and devastating impacts on our society. Massive human losses and economic damage. We are not talking about the war in Ukraine, but the long escalation of humanity against itself linked to climate change. Extended to the point of not being able to keep up with adaptation.
Today, February 28, the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, is out. The central theme is how and how much climate change will affect us. From impact on vegetation and animals (with mass mortality expected among some species of trees and corals) to damage from extreme weather and rising seas, to loss of life related to record temperatures, the report offers a disturbing glimpse into the scale and intensity of the damage humankind will face.
Thanks to new predictive models correlated with currently adopted policies, the report is able to evaluate the human adaptation response to these phenomena. Unfortunately, the vote is negative, as more and more extreme weather events are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. "Extreme events have exposed millions of people to severe food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic," the report says. And almost nothing has been done to counter these phenomena.
The interdependence between climate and society
"This report is a dire warning of the consequences of inaction," stated Hoesung Lee, president of the IPCC. "It shows that climate change is a serious and growing threat to our well-being and healthy planet. Our actions today determine how people adapt and how nature responds to the growing risks associated with climate change."
These are risks that touch us closely, such as food and water insecurity that will affect Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Mediterranean area, which are destined to become truly severe. Even in a world with low greenhouse gas emissions, 8% of today's agricultural land will become climatically unsuitable by 2100. Under the same conditions, fishermen in the tropical regions of Africa are expected to lose up to 41% of their fishing yield by the end of the century due to local extinctions of marine fish. Health risks: if temperatures rise by 3°C and not just 1.5°C, the number of deaths and people at risk of heat stress will double or triple. The data are increasingly irrefutable.
"This report underlines the interdependence between climate and society, tying with double knot the climate sciences, to the social and economic ones", launches the alarm Serena Giacomin, president of Italian Climate Network, who gives a clear interpretation of the report. "It highlights how much the risks for society are already difficult to manage and that by continuing on the path of climate-changing gas emissions, we will experience harshly what the word renunciation means. We need political support, urgent action, effective decision-making, adequate funding, technology transfer, reducing and managing climate risk now. We are all exposed, directly and indirectly."
In short, the report is a slap in the face to those who are still demanding gas and coal, perhaps justifying the situation in Ukraine, not understanding that once again we are condemned to situations of serious instability and risk.
Water, the heart of the climate crisis
In the section dedicated to Europe and the Mediterranean, it immediately emerges that the most serious impact will come above all from water scarcity. The risks for agricultural production are very high. Due to a combination of heat and drought, substantial losses in terms of agricultural production are expected in the 21st century for most areas of Europe, which will not be compensated by the gains expected for northern Europe.
In southern Europe, the number of days with insufficient water resources (availability below demand) and droughts increases under all global warming scenarios. Even with an increase of only 1.5°C, water scarcity will affect 18% of the population. This figure rises to 54% in the 2°C scenario. In the 3°C scenario, soil dryness will be 40% higher than in the reduced warming scenario.
In the Mediterranean area the demand for water resources already exceeds the availability. This gap is increasing due to climate change and socio-economic developments. In case of a 3°C temperature rise the risk of water scarcity will become high also in Central and Western Europe.
"In Italy we have ignored the water issue for too long, with often outdated solutions and emergency interventions", comments Marirosa Iannelli, president of the Water Grabbing Observatory. "Today we need to stop, above all, all processes that require an increase in water supply, from intensive livestock farming to water-intensive crops, and even thermal power plants that require water for cooling. How can you think about nuclear power when water for hydro and agriculture is already starting to become scarce?"
Also confirmed are the risks resulting from devastating rainfall, with a significant increase by the end of the century of coastal, river and rain floods, as well as the confirmed sea level rise in the Mediterranean is predicted to increase up to one meter in the worst case scenario. But the worrying thing is that public administrations do not take absolutely into account this information in urban and infrastructural planning.
According to Professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography Piero Lionello, in a statement of the EuroMediterranean Center for Climate Change, "adaptation can be based on the management of water resource demand with monitoring mechanisms, restrictions, tariffs, savings and efficiency measures, land management. Increased irrigation efficiency has already reduced water scarcity, particularly in southern regions. However, with high levels of global warming, water conservation and efficiency measures may not be sufficient to counteract the reduced availability of the resource."
The Report informs about adaptation and mitigation efforts put in place to reduce climate-associated risks along with options for creating a sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all. "We need to invest half of climate finance in adaptation," reiterated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during the press conference launching the document. But action must be swift and urgent. The authors say that the world's ability to adapt to impacts will decline rapidly as temperatures rise further, quickly reaching limits beyond which adaptation would be impossible.
The report emphasizes how the protection of biodiversity is central to climate change mitigation. The increase in heat waves, droughts and floods is already exceeding the tolerance thresholds of plants and animals, causing mass mortality in some species including trees and corals.
"Healthy ecosystems are more resilient in the face of climate change and provide essential services for life, such as food and water," said IPCC Working Group II co-chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. "By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30-50% of terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats, human societies can benefit from nature's ability to absorb and store carbon. In this way, we can accelerate progress toward sustainable development, but adequate funding and political support are essential." That's why the biodiversity negotiations in Kunming in July will be crucial. Without an ambitious agreement, the risk is to see the most impacting scenarios contained in the IPCC report take place. A catastrophe for all humanity.