University of York: Window of opportunity to avoid the worst ravages of climate change is closing, new report warns

University of York academics have contributed to a major report which warns that human-induced climate change is causing dangerous disruption around the world and the narrow window left to secure a liveable future for all is closing.

Professor Lindsay Stringer and Professor Rob Marchant from the University’s Department of Environment and Geography provided expert analysis for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC Working Group II report, which draws on the peer-reviewed work of thousands of scientists, states that the world faces unavoidable multiple climate impacts over the next two decades, with the people and ecosystems least able to cope being hardest hit.

Poverty

Professor Stringer was nominated by the UK Government to be a lead author of chapter eight of the report, which focuses on poverty, livelihoods and sustainable development, as well as coordinating lead author for cross-chapter paper three, on deserts, semi-arid areas and desertification. She was also part of the team that developed the Technical Summary and the Summary for Policymakers, which was approved by 195 member governments of the IPCC.

Professor Marchant was a contributing author on cross-chapter paper two on climate change across the world’s mountain areas and particularly how mountain communities are responding to and being impacted by climate change.

Extreme

Professor Stringer said: “We looked at the impact of increases in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms and found that over the last ten years, people living in more vulnerable parts of the world such as Somalia, Hati and Mozambique are 15 times more likely to die than people living in countries like the UK and Japan where there is better infrastructure, access to basic services and early warning systems. Marginalised groups such as women, refugees and ethnic minorities are also more likely to suffer the worst effects from climate change.

“The evidence in our report is unequivocal, the world needs to act within the next decade or we will be powerless to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change”.

Key findings of the report include:

Everywhere is affected, with no inhabited region escaping the impacts from rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather.
About half the global population – between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people – live in areas “highly vulnerable” or “very highly vulnerable” to climate change.
Mass die-offs of species, from trees to corals, are already under way in some places.
1.5C above pre-industrial levels constitutes a “critical level” beyond which the impacts of the climate crisis accelerate strongly and some become irreversible.
Coastal areas around the globe, and small, low-lying islands, face inundation at temperature rises of more than 1.5C.
Some of the world’s key ecosystems are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, turning them from carbon sinks to carbon sources.
The longer we leave it to move onto development pathways that balance mitigation (reducing our emissions) and adaptation (changing the ways we live), the more expensive and the harder it will be to achieve sustainable development.
Forefront

Professor Marchant said: “Mountains are highly significant regions in the context of climate change and sustainable development: they are at the forefront of the impacts of accelerated warming and changing precipitation patterns. In addition to their climate sensitivity, mountains support large populations, are regions of high biological and cultural diversity and provide vital goods and services to people living in and around mountain regions and in downstream areas.

“We assessed new evidence on observed and projected climate change impacts in mountain regions, their associated key risks and how communities are trying to adapt to the climate change challenge.”

Despite the bleak warning issued by the report, it also provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

Adapt

Professor Stringer added: “Ecosystem-based solutions do offer a chance for humans to adapt and manage some of the impacts of climate change. For example, in the right areas, programmes to plant fruit trees can provide shade, food and income while also absorbing carbon. It’s important we look across different sectors and take a joined up view in order to harness multiple benefits from our adaptations but also to make sure we aren’t increasing risks.

“There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions though- planting trees in drained peatland areas for example compromises the carbon store of the peat soil. We need to target resources and tailor solutions and technology to meet the specific needs of local people and ecosystems and this means making sure everyone has the chance to have a say.”

“I still have hope that the international community can use the small, narrowing window of time we have left to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. Our report sets out what needs to be done to move onto a climate resilient pathway. Recent events like the COVID-19 Pandemic have shown that the international community is capable of responding quickly.”

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