This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the findings of the Working Group II contributions to the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report on climate change. It sheds light on how societal choices over the next few years will be decisive for climate mitigation and adaptation. Some of the report’s main messages touches upon the topics of cascading and transboundary impacts caused by climate change, which are at the heart of the research carried out within RECEIPT.  

What is new?  

Building on the Working Group I’s report that was released in August 2021, the latest report shows that climate risks and impacts are rapidly growing and that action on adaptation needs to happen at a faster pace. Adaptation measures currently implemented across the world are not sufficient and their limits will be reached eventually. 

Reinhard Mechler of IIASA, who works on the ‘International Cooperation and Development Storyline’ in RECEIPT has acted as a lead author on Chapter 17, which focuses on decision-making options for managing risk. Mechler, who also contributed to the summary for policymakers says:  

IPCC’s Working Group II new report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” clearly shows that the cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is already today a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. The report shows where further risk management and adaptation is necessary and how it can be deployed. At higher levels of warming, adaptation, will however, become ineffective and face limits. 

The new report strongly focusses on managing risks and limits, feasibility and justice. This is in line with RECEIPT’s objectives of exploring complex climate risks pathways with multiple perspectives on vulnerabilities and adaptation. RECEIPT creates storylines to increase the understanding of the complex and systemic risks in our globalised world.  

The five socio-economic sectors addressed in the development of RECEIPT’s counterfactual climate storylines resonate with some of the key takeaways of the IPCC report:   

  • Extreme weather events will take place concurrently in different parts of the world and their impacts cascade across national borders and even continents. The economic and societal impact of those simultaneous climate hazards can affect international trade, supply-chains and market prices. As the report highlights ¨Weather and climate extremes are causing economic and societal impacts across national boundaries through supply-chains, markets, and natural resource flows, with increasing transboundary risks projected across the water, energy and food sectors. Supply chains that rely on specialized commodities and key infrastructure can be disrupted by weather and climate extreme events.¨ (SPM.B.5.3) 

This is borne out by our agriculture storyline, which illustrates Europe’s dependence on remote territories for key agricultural products. Extreme weather impacts or a changing climate in those areas can create shortages that pose serious threats to Europe’s economy and its food security policies.  

  • Adaptation is crucial to face simultaneous climate events. Depending on the speed at which global warming occurs, different degrees of adaptation measures will be needed. However, beyond a certain temperature increase, adaptation might not be a solution anymore. ¨The report is a warning about the consequences of inaction¨, stated Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, ¨Our action today will shape how people will be able to adapt to climate change and how nature will respond to increasing climate risks¨.   

RECEIPT’s storylines are aimed at exploring multiple adaptation scenarios in the most relevant sectors for Europe, for instance for coastal infrastructures. Flood hazards will become more persistent and will present serious risks for critical coastal infrastructures and international shipping routes. Hence, the storyline on coastal infrastructures explores the available adaptative options in the multiple sea-level rise projections.

  • Adaptation should address long-term goals and efforts should be coordinated globally. Although public authorities have implemented risk management strategies, they mostly focus on the short-term horizon, with a local or regional approach. “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts. 

The impact of climate change is unequal and affects the most vulnerable ones leading to overlapping challenges, for example in the case of droughts taking place in regions where there is already limited access to water. This cannot be solved solely by the local authorities directly affected, it demands a global answer. International development is key to overcome humanitarian crises caused by climate disasters and fight climate inequality. One of RECEIPT’s storylines analyses how global solutions help vulnerable regions, like the EU Overseas Countries and Territories and Africa, in order to make those countries more resilient to potential climate threats.  

  • Climate change can impact financial resources and trade patterns. Natural disasters such as hurricanes will not only shake the economy in the regions that are hit, but it will also indirectly affect overseas investors and insurance companies, ultimately having consequences for the global market. Likewise, manufacturing chains can also be disrupted by a flood which creates a shortage of essential products overseas.  

RECEIPT’s storylines are studying the impact of climate change on finance, looking at high-risk climate scenarios for the EU’s financial sector and businesses and on manufacturing chains. The report proposes: ¨European countries can address interregional risks at the place of origin or destination, e.g., by developing local adaptation capacity in trading partner countries and in European territories outside Europe (Petit and Prudent, 2008; Benzie et al., 2019; Adams et al., 2020; Terorotua et al., 2020), by providing international adaptation finance (Dzebo and Stripple, 2015; BMUB, 2017), by developing insurance mechanisms suitable for adaptation, or European climate services to support global adaptation (Linnerooth-Bayer and Mechler, 2015; Brasseur and Gallardo, 2016; Street, 2016; Cavelier et al., 2017) (Cross-Chapter Box INTEREG in Chapter 16)¨.  

To conclude, Bart van den Hurk, Project Leader of RECEIPT and contributor to the WGI report series said about this last report:

The WG2 report underlines the sheer complexity of climate change impacts and risks. It’s not a slow trend in risks, it’s an uncoordinated gallery of extreme events and slow onset risks with impacts cascading across the entire planet. The report shows how risks are becoming more complex, compound and systemic –now and in a further heating world-. We need new tools and concepts to make sense of all this.

RECEIPT is working on the development of these new tools that contribute to present the ¨uncoordinated gallery of extreme events¨ in an actionable way for decision-makers and help raise awareness to the wider public.  

Published on : 01 March 2022