What impacts will climate change have on the future? What do they mean for higher education?
Today we continue our group reading of the new IPCC report, focusing on the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability document produced by Working Group II. We’ll dive into the “Technical Summary.”
We’ll begin with a summary of the high points, then shift to questions.
This report is broken into five sections.
Section A: Introduction
This offers some parameters and formal explanations. For example, there’s a handy vocabulary list, along with an explanation of how the text qualifies many assertions by variable confidence levels.
- It also notes some changes since the last report, AR5, such as:
- Risks and solutions
- Emphases on social justice, equity and different forms of expertise have emerged.
- A call for social transformation: “The current coupled human and natural system is insufficiently resilient and does not meet societal goals of equity, well-being, and ecosystem health. Meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals, and other policy statements requires society and the biosphere to move to a new and more resilient state”
Section B: Observed impacts and adaptation
This part begins by outlining the many ways the climate crisis is already impacting humanity. These include: changes to ecosystems; extreme weather damage to humans, plants, and animals; harm to food and forest systems; problems of too little water (aridity, water insecurity) and too much (excessive and/or unpredictable precipitation); harm to human physical and mental health; involuntary migration.
Next appear a list of vulnerabilities, including estimates of the populations at high risk (3.3 billion) and low (1.8). Among the former indigenous people are especially at risk. The report goes on to map out risks by intersecting identities:
The intersection of gender with race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, Indigenous identity, age, disability, income, migrant status, and geographical location often compound vulnerability to climate change impacts (very high confidence), exacerbate inequity and create further injustice (high confidence).
Coastal population clusters are especially threatened by sea level changes. Economies are at risk of disruption and damage, yet “[c]limate impacts and projected risks have been insufficiently internalized into private and public sector planning and budgeting practices and adaptation finance (medium confidence).”
Section C: Projected impacts and risks
This is the core of the report, in my estimation. It expands on section B’s threats and vulnerabilities in much more detail. Here I want to identify some of the leading ones, but invite readers to explore on their own:
- species extinction
- damages to natural CO2 sinks
- rising food insecurity
- increasing human problems from changes to water systems
- ” number and scope of diseases
- more details on migration: “Under all global warming levels, some regions that are presently densely populated will become unsafe or uninhabitable with movement from these regions occurring autonomously or through planned relocation (high confidence).”
- rising numbers of people living in poverty
- growing chances for civil war and interstate fighting
- economic damages increase in a nonlinear way with temperature increases
- some developments collide and produce new risks
Some areas appear for special attention:
Asian and African urban areas are considered high risk locations from projected climate, extreme events, unplanned urbanisation, and rapid land use change (high confidence)” and “Arctic communities and Indigenous Peoples face risks to economic activities (very high confidence) as direct and cascading impacts of climate change continue to occur at a magnitude and pace unprecedented in recent history, and much faster than projected for other regions (very high confidence)
-unequal damage: “Non-market, non-economic damages and adverse impacts on livelihoods will be concentrated in regions and populations that are already more vulnerable (high confidence).”
This section of the report touched on geoengineering, raising it as a possible but challenging option.
Section D: Contribution of adaptation to solutions
How can humans respond to the crisis? This section begins by looking into our first responses:
- some animal, plant, and human adaptation is under way, but many are hitting limits
- human *maladaptation* is occurring. To explain: “inappropriate responses to climate change create long-term lock-in of vulnerability, exposure, and risks that are difficult and costly to change (very high confidence) and exacerbate existing inequalities for Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable groups, impeding achievement of SDGs, increasing adaptation needs, and shrinking the solution space (high confidence).”
- human responses are starting to happen, but are too incremental and poorly funded
- “Decision-support tools and decision-analytic methods are available and are being applied for climate adaptation and climate risk management in different contexts (high confidence).”
- conservation planning needs to be scaled up and integrated into everything else.
-mitigation and adaptation are both essential. One shouldn’t substitute for the other. Doing both won’t be easy – “Competition, trade-offs and conflict between mitigation and adaptation priorities will increase with climate change impacts (high confidence).”
- nature based responses can be good, but require a lot of supporting work to succeed.
- solutions need to address inequalities. “Integrated multisectoral strategies that address social inequities (e.g., gender, ethnicity) and social protection of low-income groups will increase effectiveness of adaptation responses for water and food security (high confidence)”
- solutions should also be diverse and varied, depending on local circumstances: “Adaptation pathways break adaptation planning into manageable steps based on near-term, low-regret actions and aligning adaptation choices with societal goals that account for changing risk, interests and values, uncertain futures and the long-term adaptation commitment to sea-level rise (high confidence). In charting adaptation pathways, reconciling divergent interests and values is a priority (high confidence).
- changing societies to meet the crisis may generate additional ways to respond:”Deep-rooted transformational adaptation opens new options for adapting to the impacts and risks of climate change (high confidence) by changing the fundamental attributes of a system including altered goals or values and addressing root causes of vulnerability.”
Section E: Climate Resilient Development
Right now, humanity isn’t trending in the right direction. Instead,the IPCC sees
[g]lobal trends including rising income inequality, urbanisation, migration, continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, human displacement, and reversals of long-term trends toward increased life expectancy run counter to the SDGs as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.
Major areas to focus on: “energy, industry, urban and infrastructure, land and ecosystems, and societal” systems. This means not just working with science, but also “the role of non-climate policies, social norms, lifestyles, power relationships and worldviews in
enabling climate action and sustainable development.”
These are not only steps which avert catastrophe, but are also good for humanity:
Climate action and sustainable development are interdependent. Pursued in an inclusive and integrated manner, they enhance human and ecological well-being. Sustainable development is fundamental to capacity for climate action, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as enhancing social and ecological resilience to climate change. Increasing social and gender equity is an integral part of the technological and social transitions and transformation toward climate resilient development. Such transitions in societal systems reduce poverty and enable greater equity and agency in decision-making. They often require rights-based approaches to protect the livelihoods, priorities and survival of marginalised groups including Indigenous peoples, women, ethnic minorities and children. (high confidence)
What does this mean for higher education?
This document seems to call academia to act, as we noted last week. There are several points which hail education directly, such as TS.D.6.5, which urges us to pursue “[s]ocial policy innovations include social safety nets,inclusive approaches to disaster risk reduction and the integration of climate adaptation into education.” (emphases added) I read that as a full spectrum integration, including teaching, research, and institutional operations.
TS.D.10.6 develops the curricular aspect a bit further, advocating for “climate change literacy.” Listen to how that’s outlined:
Ways to enhance climate literacy and foster behavioural change include access to education and information, programmes using the performing and visual arts, storytelling, training workshops, participatory 3-dimensional modelling, climate services, and community-based monitoring.
On the one hand we could see this as a series of teaching methods available to a range of actors, such as governments and nonprofits. On the other, we can read this as not only a call for a curriculum, but for certain pedagogies.
Education can also play a role in mobilizing people to act. From TS.E.2.1: “Conditions enabling rapid increases and innovative climate responses include experience of
extreme events or climate education influencing perceptions of urgency…”
- Do people see climate action in such a positive light? Or do we see it as something painful, like medicine for an illness?
- What would a climate literacy effort look like? That is, would it be something infused through a curriculum, or based in certain classes, or housed in an interdisciplinary center?
- What is maladaptation in higher education?
- And what else do you think about this document?
Next week: on to Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change.