IPCC: Cutting pollution isn't enough - we need smart adaptation, too
Rebecca Shaw is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a lead author on Chapter 16, “Adaptation, Opportunities, Constraints and Limits,” of Working Group 2, Fifth Assessment Report. She is also a contributing author for the chapter, “Terrestrial Ecosystems and Inland Waters Systems,” and an author on the technical summary.
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2014 report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.
There are three top take-a-ways from the report:
- The documented impacts of climate change are widespread, unequivocal and consequential across the planet for both people and nature
- Confronting climate change is now an issue of managing risks, and those risks are greater if we continue to pollute the atmosphere.
- To protect ourselves from the impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided, we must make smart adaptation investments in our cities, working lands and ecosystems now. These investments will increase resilience in the face of climate change and lead to a more vibrant and secure world.
The report contains extensive documentation on the impacts the warming atmosphere is already having on agriculture, coastal communities, terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and fresh water availability. Impacts from recent extreme climatic events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires demonstrate the significant vulnerability of some ecosystems and humans systems. Poor and impoverished communities will be most vulnerable, as will species lacking the robust ability to adapt to climate change.
And the science clearly shows that rates of annual crop yield increases are slowing. Climate change acts as an anchor on production – a heavy weight that will grow heavier each year climate change proceeds unchecked and unmitigated.
As climate change impacts increase, so does the need for getting smart about cutting carbon pollution. It is equally urgent that we super charge efforts to manage the risks associated with the impacts we cannot avoid. It’s not a choice between mitigation and adaptation anymore – we need both, fast. Without action, the magnitude and rates of climate change will lead to high risk of abrupt and irreversible change in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. And it will pose major challenges to cities, farms and infrastructure.
Yet, there is some hope. And this is where the new report departs from the 2007 IPCC report. We found that individuals, communities, businesses and governments around the world are innovating adaptation actions, plans and policies.
Here at EDF, we’re investing in transformational adaptation projects that will ensure that people and nature will be more resilient in the face of climate change:
- In the Mississippi River Delta we are harnessing the river’s natural processes to rebuild coastal wetlands to protect coastal communities from sea level rise and extreme weather.
- In the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin, we’ve helped to develop water-sharing agreements that can be replicated in other water-stressed regions.
- Across the Western U.S., we are implementing habitat-exchange programs that will dynamically protect threatened wildlife populations for the long-term, even as their ranges shift.
- And in the Midwest, we’re working with farmers to decrease greenhouse gas pollution caused by overuse of fertilizer on crops.
These examples are demonstrating that as long as smart investments in adaptation measures are taken in concert with substantial cuts in carbon pollution, we have an opportunity to decrease our vulnerability to climate change and to build a more vibrant and secure world for all