Reading the new IPCC report: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

What impacts will climate change have on the future?  What do they mean for higher education?

IPCC report 2022 coverToday 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 “Summary for Policymakers.” Next week we’ll following up with the “Technical Summary.”

We’ll begin with a summary of the high points, then shift to questions.

(For more info on this reading, click here.)

The “Summary” is divided into three parts: risk, adaptation, and resilience development.


The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

This section details the many risks humanity and the rest of the world run from global warming.  And there are a *lot*.  I won’t repeat them all here, but will just hit some of the highlights, like “increases to the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes, including hot extremes on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation events,
drought and fire weather.”  There is damage to species and ecosystems, “reduc[ing] food and water security,” threats to physical and mental health, and economic impact.  The report also identifies human and other populations most at risk, due to location, the inheritance of colonialism, and governance.

Risks can also interact with each other in mutual reinforcement and/or creating additional risks. Human actions can also make things worse – for example:

deployment of afforestation of naturally unforested land, or poorly implemented bioenergy, with or without carbon capture and storage, can compound climate-related risks to biodiversity, water and food security, and livelihoods, especially if implemented at large scales, especially in regions with insecure land tenure

These are broken down by horizons: “the near-term (2021–2040), the mid (2041–2060) and long term (2081–2100).”


This section begins by explaining: “Adaptation, in response to current climate change, is reducing climate risks and vulnerability mostly via adjustment of existing systems.” Then it reveals many nations are starting to work on adapting to global warming, especially for water risks, but at too basic a level and in a fragmentary way.

The report outlines a series of adaptation measures broken down by categories: food systems, forestry, conserving water ecosystems, energy systems, addressing climate migration, and redesigning urban and rural “settlements,” as well as “Effective Ecosystem-based Adaptation.”  One key point is a call for public economic restructuring:

…integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs, including cash transfers and public works programmes, is highly feasible and increases resilience to climate change, especially when supported by basic services and infrastructure. Social safety nets are increasingly being reconfigured to build adaptive capacities of the most vulnerable in rural and also urban communities. Social safety
nets that support climate change adaptation have strong co-benefits with development goals such as education, poverty alleviation, gender inclusion and food security.

One problem: most of climate funding goes to mitigation (reducing global warming), while not enough is aimed at adaptation.


Another definition: ” Climate resilient development (CRD) is the process of implementing greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation measures to support sustainable
development.” This document concludes by arguing for the urgency of resilience work. Yet a given community’s ability to plan and act for resilience differs from others based on location, financing, historical constraints, and other factors.  For example, “Climate impacts and risks exacerbate vulnerability and social and economic inequities and consequently increase persistent and acute development challenges…”

Inclusivity is key.  Urban areas should be leading targets for planning.

IPCC 2022 future wheel

What does this mean for higher education?

If we think of colleges and universities as parts of the communities described above, then we need to engage in adaptation and resilience work *now*.  We are clearly at risk.

We can also play a role in research, according to this document.  For example, section 2 advises us that “[c]onsidering climate change impacts and risks in the design and planning of urban and rural settlements and infrastructure is critical for resilience and enhancing human well-being (high confidence).”  This is something academics who work in multiple fields can work on: urban studies, agriculture and food systems, political science, government, etc.

Similarly, other sections (C.5.2, C.5.3) call on humanity to create new models in order to improve governance, to “[e]nhanc[e] knowledge on risks, impacts, and their consequences,” to produce “[a]wide range of top-down, bottom-up and co-produced processes and sources [to] deepen climate knowledge and sharing…” C.5.5 urges us to create new tools for monitoring and evaluating adaptation.  Again, academia is a fine source for this kind of work.  Sharing such knowledge is part of the sector’s pedagogical function.

The report actually addresses academia fairly directly at a few points.  For example, it wants humanity to address “including capacity building at all scales, educational and information programmes, using the arts, participatory modelling and climate services, Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge and citizen science.”  That hails colleges and universities directly.  Similarly, D.2 invokes a series of institutions: “Climate resilient development is facilitated by international cooperation and by governments at all levels working with communities, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media, investors and businesses…” [emphases added]

Note the positioning of education.  This is not a call for retreating into the ivory tower, but a summons for academics to work with the world.


  • Does this call for adaptation and resilience match your understanding of the climate crisis?
  • Thinking of that timeline for the rest of this century, how can humanity plan and act on such a temporal scale?
  • If the world is biased towards mitigation over adaptation, is the same true for higher ed?
  • One final note: you can’t miss the IPCC’s urgency even through bureaucratic language.  This document is a fierce call for action *right now*. Will academia respond?

The comment box stands ready for your thoughts.


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2 Responses to Reading the new IPCC report: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

  1. Vanessa Vaile says:

    What about the role of / impact on higher education in addressing climate globally? This really is the ultimate no man is an island situation.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      It is.
      So far I’m struck by Trent Batson’s Last Humans idea, where academics (students, staff, faculty) from universities work together.

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