Joseph Lewis
March 2022

Headlines & deadlines: the latest IPCC report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the report of its Working Group 2, focussed on the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change. Following on from the Working Group 1 report published last year on the scientific basis of climate change, this report goes further, outlining the extent to which climate change is putting the global community at risk, and exploring options to adapt.

What does the latest IPCC report say?

Presenting a formidable collection of evidence, the report confirms a familiar story: climate change is creating serious and significant vulnerabilities for human society and the natural world, with consequences already being felt across the globe at a greater scale than previously anticipated, and which will only get more severe in the future if we continue with business as usual. The report sets out crucial evidence of the role of climate change in:

  • Increasingly irreversible losses in terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems;
  • Growing challenges for energy security, food security, human health, livelihoods, and infrastructure;
  • Economic damage, especially in climate-exposed sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, and tourism;
  • Humanitarian crises and displacement;
  • Myriad further widespread impacts on social, economic, and natural systems.

Read more about the concepts underpinning the IPCC's report:

How can we respond?

While adaptation gained some recognition at COP26, the IPCC report makes it clear that much more is needed before we can moderate the significant risks posed by climate change. The report notes that “most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current impacts or near-term risks, and focused more on planning rather than implementation”.

Adaptation in line with the IPCC report will be crucial to addressing the significant risks it identifies and moderating the potential for compound vulnerabilities and cascading failures. Ecosystem-based adaptation will play a critical role in addressing the interlinking climate crisis and ecological emergency, while widespread adaptation (and climate resilient development) will also need to address risks associated with water, energy, food, health, and infrastructure.

What are the next steps for climate action?

The IPCC report also identified that adaptation has its limits. While the IPCC’s 3rd Working Group will be releasing its own report in the coming months, there are already significant steps we can be taking to pursue mitigation efforts alongside adaptation, ensuring that the challenges and risks ahead do not become any worse.

Our Manifesto for Transformative Change, released during COP26, sets out 54 recommendations as a starting point to accelerate the growing ambition in response to climate change. Setting out the basic level of what should have been agreed at COP26, the Manifesto provides a point of comparison against the commitments made so far.

In the coming weeks, the IES will release a 'Gap Analysis' on the Manifesto, challenging the UK’s approach and implementation so far and outlining what action is still urgently needed.

Overall, there are both simple and complex lessons to take from the IPCC Working Group 2’s report. The simple headline is that climate change has already created significant and pressing risks for humanity and the natural world. The more complex lesson is that the deadline to act on the IPCC’s warning has already reached us, requiring intricate implementation of transformative change and widespread adaptation, which is now more urgent than ever.