Those At Risk Have Made The Smallest Contributions To Climate Change: IPCC Report 

By Shailaja Tripathi March 20, 2023

Though a recap of main findings from previous IPCC reports, the latest Synthesis Report also looks ahead, outlines policies and measures to curtail GHG emissions 

Those At Risk Have Made The Smallest Contributions To Climate Change: IPCC Report 
Losses and damages will continue to climb, particularly in Asia, Africa, LDCs, SIDs (Small Island Developing States), Central and South America, and the Arctic. DepositPhotos

“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. “This Synthesis Report underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all.”

Currently in its Sixth Assessment cycle, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is out with the Synthesis Report (AR6), the last of the Sixth Assessment Report products. The IPCC Synthesis Report AR6 gives a summary of the conclusions drawn from each of the three Working Groups' assessment reports - WGI: The Physical Science Basis; WGII: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and WGIII: Mitigation of Climate Change. 

The Synthesis Report warns that losses and damages will continue to rise, especially in Africa, LDCs (Least Developed Country), SIDs (small island developing states) Central and South America, Asia, and the Arctic, and will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations if urgent, significant mitigation steps and rapid adaptation actions are not taken. 

“If we delay action, losses and damages will rise, and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits. Challenges from delayed adaptation and mitigation actions include the risk of cost escalation, lock-in of infrastructure, stranded assets, and reduced feasibility and effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation options,” notes the latest report. 

The report provides a top line overview of findings from the assessment reports produced by each of the three Working Groups: WGI: The Physical Science Basis; WGII: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and WGIII: Mitigation of Climate Change and also incorporates significant information from the three Special Reports created during this cycle - The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Climate Change and Land, and Global Warming of 1.5°C.

Highlighting that human-caused emissions, fueled by our reliance on fossil fuels are devastating the environment, the report underlines that the 10% of households with the highest emissions per person contribute 34–45% of all household emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13 - 15%. “There is no doubt that human activity is contributing to global warming, as seen by the 1.1°C increase in global surface temperature from 2011-2020.”

The IPCC issued a warning in 2018 that emissions must be cut in half from 2010 levels by 2030 if we want to have a decent chance of limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C. Yet, emissions are still rising. They increased slightly less than 1% last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

Since 1970, global surface temperature has risen more quickly than it has in any preceding 50-year period within the previous 2000 years. The year 2019 saw the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide concentrations in at least 2 million years.

While 79% of worldwide GHG emissions, came from energy, industry, transportation, and buildings were the main sources of worldwide GHG emissions, 22% came from land use such as agriculture and forestry. Reductions in CO2 emissions from efficiency improvements pale in comparison to increased emissions across numerous sectors.

The report says that the losses and harms are particularly dangerous for the most vulnerable individuals and ecosystems. 

Those at risk have historically made the smallest contributions to climate change are being disproportionately impacted. Over 3.3–3.6 billion people reside in climate change-prone environments. Between 2010 and 2020, the risk of death from floods, droughts, and storms was 15 times higher in these areas than it was in areas with very low sensitivity. As temperatures rise, ecosystems are harmed, leading to widespread extinctions of species on land and in the ocean. Due to factors including glacier retreat and polar permafrost thaw, some ecosystems are approaching a point of no return.

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” said Aditi Mukherji, one of the 93 authors of this Synthesis Report, the closing chapter of the Panel’s sixth assessment. 

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

Extreme heat events are increasing disease and death rates, while climate change has decreased food security and impacted water security. Mental health issues are being exacerbated by rising temperatures, trauma from catastrophic events, and losses to culture and way of life. Extremes are causing displacement in Africa, Asia, North America, Central America, and South America; the Caribbean and South Pacific's small island republics are disproportionately impacted. 

The report notes that the predicted costs of adaptation, particularly for developing nations, far exceed the existing funding given for it. Even though the vast majority of tracked climate financing is going towards mitigation, it is still insufficient to keep temperature to below 2°C or to 1.5°C. To meet the world's climate targets, more money must be allocated to climate investments. In a media briefing with three IPCC authors held earlier in the day, Professor Joyashree Roy, Energy Economic programme, Asian Institute of Technology, said that public finance plays the primary role, but there can be various other ways of obtaining this finance. “It need not be only from developed nations to developing countries. It can be at the local, national and international level as grants, loans etc.” 

Apart from finance, accelerated climate change adaptation, substantial, quick, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors are necessary to keep global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels. If warming is to be kept to 1.5°C, emissions should already be declining and will need to be lowered by roughly half by 2030, says the report. 

Climate resilient development can lead us to the goal. It entails combining strategies to combat climate change with those that lessen or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in ways that have broader positive effects. There are many examples like access to clean energy and technologies enhances health, particularly for women and children; low-carbon electrification, walking, cycling, and public transportation improve air quality, health, and employment opportunities; and equity is delivered by walking, cycling, and public transportation. 

"Low lying coastal regions, including the Bengal delta (Sunderbans included) are at risk of sea level rise and increased extreme events like cyclones. Maintaining natural systems, eg mangrove forests in Sundarbans and wetlands in an around the city of Kolkata will go a long way in increasing climate resilience. Electric buses in Kolkata are also a move in the right direction," stresses Mukherji. 

Emissions of greenhouse gases can be decreased by changes in the food industry, electricity, transportation, industry, construction, land use and low-carbon lifestyles, 

The widespread use of renewable energy offers a silver lining. The unit costs of solar, wind, and lithium ion batteries have considerably fallen between 2010 and 2019 by 85%, 55%, and 85% respectively. Although this varies among locations, there were significant gains in their deployment over the same time period. According to Invest India, over the last 8.5 years, India's installed renewable energy capacity has grown by 396%, reaching more than 174.53 Giga Watts (including big Hydro), or around 42.5% of the nation's overall capacity (as of February 2023). In 2022, India experienced the biggest YoY growth in the addition of renewable energy, at 9.83%.

The EV segment in India continues to be buoyant. The Economic Survey 2023, has predicted a 49% compound annual growth rate between 2022 and 2030 for the domestic electric car market in India, with 10 million sales per year by that time.

Dipak Dasgupta, Distinguished Fellow, The Energy Resources Institute, says, "The first important message of this report is that we are not doing enough to keep global warming limited to safe levels. The second message is how critical it is that we think about multiple opportunities of taking necessary actions to get there. This is what differentiates this report from any of the previous IPCC reports because the focus is on what you can do in terms of transitions in energy, in transport, in the way we live in the cities, and our consumption. So effective transition is possible and underlying all of this is the element of cooperation."