Climate Change

Climate Crisis: IPCC Synthesis Report says the vulnerable are suffering the maximum losses and damages

Global temperature rise may touch 1.5 degree by 2030 and India is experiencing high loss and damage; say experts

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Monday 20 March 2023
Photo: @IISD_ENB / Twitter

A United Nations report on global climate change released on March 20, 2023, has accepted that the current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change and trains a sharp focus on loss and damage (L&D), which refers to the climate change consequences that go beyond what people can manage.

L&D came into the prominence during the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

There, an L&D finance facility was agreed upon by close to 200 countries after a prolonged and bitter negotiation. Incidentally, the agenda of L&D as a negotiating item, was also included at the beginning of COP27.

The report has pointed out that most vulnerable populations are greatly affected by L&D linked to burgeoning climatic impacts; and experts contended that almost the whole of India, particularly its coastal and mountain regions, qualify under the category.

“Mainstreaming effective and equitable climate action will not only reduce losses and damages for nature and people, it will also provide wider benefits,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.

The IPCC Synthesis Report, published in Interlaken, Switzerland reminds that “in 2018, IPCC highlighted the unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C”.

It observes that “five years later, that challenge has become even greater due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions”.

The report warns that a sharp cut in emission within all sectors is required urgently and unless almost half of global emission gets cut by 2030, it will be difficult to limit global warming rise within 1.5°C, compared to the pre-industrialisation period.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, and subsequent COP decisions, vouched to keep the global temperature rise around 1.5°C. The present report too refers to widespread climate change triggered damages that have already taken place even with a 1.1 degree rise recorded till now.

“IPCC’s sixth assessment report is the final warning from scientists to governments that they have less than 10 years to act on climate change,” Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said.

Earlier the Working Group I, II and II reports under IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR 6) were published separately; and the current report is an overall compilation meant for the policy makers across the world.

“The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change,” further states the report, a copy of which is with the reporter.

Loss and damage under sharp focus

“The report, approved during a week-long session in Interlaken, brings in to sharp focus the losses and damages we are already experiencing and will continue into the future, hitting the most vulnerable people and ecosystems especially hard,” admits an IPCC communication about the report; which expresses hope that “taking the right action now could result in the transformational change essential for a sustainable, equitable world.”

IPCC authors acknowledged the trend.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” accepted Aditi Mukherji, one of the authors of the Synthesis Report.

She added that “almost half of the world’s population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change (and) in the last decade, deaths from floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions”.

“The IPCC report stresses on the adverse impacts due to climate and weather extremes especially in developing countries, including South Asia, where the most vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected and facing displacement,” pointed out Harjeet Singh, head of Global Political Strategy, Climate Action Network International to this reporter on March 20 evening.

“It (the report) also warns that sea-level rise is unavoidable and this is a deep cause of concern for the coastal communities in India, particularly Sundarbans, and calls for appropriate policies and financial resources to help tackle devastating climate impacts,” added Singh.

Joyashree Roy, another author of the report, said:

L&D impact is going to increase sharply with every additional warming, both on public infrastructures and individuals in vulnerable areas, in coasts and areas like the Sundarbans which are already under climate change hammer and beyond coping capacity with approximately 1.1-degree rise over pre-industrial level.

“The impact will increase exponentially if in any year the temperature increases 1.5-degree over pre-industrial level, and may go beyond adaptation limits for many; and hence the governments should aim and set target for higher cut in emissions by deploying all affordable and available technological options and policies which are not in conflict with development and economic growth, and take more adaptive and mitigation actions to combat the situation,” added Roy.

The scientist reminded that though India’s per capita emission is less, its gross emission load is quite high.

The Sundarbans in West Bengal is a major candidate on L&D parameters with one of the highest global sea levels rises and significant frequency of high intensity cyclones coupled with low socio-economic resilience of dense local population. The area, despite receiving high and frequent climatic impacts, hardly contributes any significant carbon emission in the atmosphere.

Gap in climate action

The report has pointed out that during the ongoing decade, accelerated action to adapt to climate change is essential to close the gap between existing adaptation and what is needed.

“Keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors (and) emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C,” the report states.

In reality, after a brief lull during the COVID-19 pandemic period, the emission was actually found to rise slightly in 2022, as reported during COP27.

“Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards ... in every region, people are dying from extreme heat. Climate-driven food and water insecurity is expected to increase with increased warming. When the risks combine with other adverse events, such as pandemics or conflicts, they become even more difficult to manage,” warns the report referring to COVID-19 and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

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