Time for action on climate is quickly fading. We must choose to respond.

“Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) lays bare how climate change has already caused “substantial damages and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems.

IPCC’s Working Group 2 report by 270 authors drew from the science found in some 34,000 studies to detail the ways in which people and ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change as well as how they are adapting to the changes it causes. The report’s authors addressed more than 16,000  comments provided by expert reviewers of the report’s First Draft, and over 40,000 comments from expert reviewers and governments on the Second Draft.

What is AR6 Working Group II’s report:

The IPCC released AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability — IPCC, the second of three (plus a synthesis report) reports that make up the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)[1]. The first report was AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis in August 2021. The third (and final) report AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change is expected in April 2022.

These reports are the foundational basis for much of the work that influences the actions of our governments, civil society, and corporate organisations. They provide a detailed analysis of climate change’s physical and transitional risks, the current and future impacts of climate change, and how different stakeholders need to prepare for and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change in the years ahead.

Why it matters

The overnight release focuses on the global and regional impacts of climate change on nature, human societies and settlements, and biodiversity. It looks at the capacities and limits of natural and human systems to adapt to climate change and how we must reduce climate-associated risks together with options for creating a sustainable future. The report projects climate risks to increase for a wide range of systems, sectors, and communities, exacerbated by underlying vulnerabilities and exposures (high confidence).

2021 was another “hottest year on record” for Australia, and included extreme weather events that impacted Australia, from devastating floods to catastrophic bushfires. The challenge of climate change increases with every year we fail to act.

How does it impact Australasia

Nine key risks in Australasia were identified with high or very high levels of predictability:

  • Loss and degradation of coral reefs and associated biodiversity due to ocean warming and marine heatwaves (very high confidence)
  • Loss of alpine biodiversity due to less snow (high confidence)
  • Transition or collapse of key alpine ecosystems due to hotter and drier conditions with more bush fires (high confidence)
  • Loss of kelp forests in southern Australia and southeast New Zealand due to ocean warming and, marine heatwaves (high confidence)
  • Loss of natural and human systems in low-lying coastal areas due to sea-level rise (high confidence)
  • Disruption and decline in agricultural production and increased stress in rural communities due to hotter and drier conditions (high confidence)
  • Increase in heat-related mortality and morbidity for people and wildlife in Australia due to heatwaves (high confidence)
  • Cascading, compounding and aggregate impacts on cities, infrastructure, supply-chains and services due to wildfires, floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms and sea-level rise (high confidence)
  • Inability of institutions and governance systems to manage climate risks (high confidence).

Ultimately, climate trends and extreme events have combined with exposure and vulnerabilities to cause major impacts for many natural systems, with some experiencing or at risk of irreversible change.

What’s next?

In August, in response to AR6 Working Group I’s report we noted:

AR6 does tell us (with greater certainty than ever before) what happens under certain conditions, but AR6 does not predict our future. This report does not tell us which scenario is most likely. Our decisions as individuals, companies and governments will decide the outcome.

And while the second report from AR6 continues to challenge us, our actions are currently not sufficient and, this failure is resulting in impacts becoming closer to irreversible.

This report tells us we are positioned at a rapidly closing crossroad; where we need to find a way to live in a manner that is harmonious with nature and the environment. The alternative is that with each temperature increase, there are correlative consequences that some ecosystem damage beyond repair will occur.

The conclusion of the IPCC summary report for policymakers succinctly summarises what all of this means:

Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

We must make a conscious decision to act through deep emission reduction targets, decarbonisation of the economy, and restoration of damaged ecosystems. This, however, needs to be a choice we all make and one that can no longer be deferred. All the continued indifference this deferral achieves is irrevocably locking in climate impacts for future generations.

Additional editorial contribution. Cameron Reid, Associate Director, Climate Change and Sustainability

[1] The Sixth Assessment cycle also includes special reports Global Warming of 1.5°C, Climate Change and Land and The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate

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