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Let’s act now: IPCC report finds time is running out for 1 billion people in coastal areas

Released on 28th February 2022, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that any further delay on climate action will mean missing ‘a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all’. 

The first part of the report assesses the impacts of climate change upon people, animals and plants. While this makes for a devastating read, the second half of the report offers more hope. Focusing upon adaptation, the authors outline the many ways we can positively change our behaviours to protect those most at risk. Today, Planet Patrol takes a closer look at the report to find out what’s at stake and how we can come to together to help.

Planet Patrol’s key thoughts

One of the report’s findings stood out especially strongly to us. Nearly 1 billion people from low lying settlements are already at risk of sea level rise, sinking, or flooding1. With this in mind, it’s important to question whether the report’s ‘window of opportunity’ is open to an equal extent across the world. As it stands, wealthier countries and inland populations have more time to find solutions than island nations. These coastal communities are already seeing the impacts of climate change. 

Our work to promote community and collective action aligns strongly with the report’s findings on adaptation. The IPCC suggests that adaptation techniques are far more effective if underpinned by inclusive community engagement. Protective infrastructure and planned relocation have the potential to help people living in low lying regions, but only if they are actively involved throughout the processes. 

At the same time, the IPCC reported that a lack of data on a location can be a significant barrier to adaptation. At Planet Patrol, we know the importance of collecting reliable, quantitative data to inform policy decisions and inspire change. Our work serves to expand knowledge of local areas and aid future adaptation efforts.

What’s at stake for coastal communities?

It is widely agreed that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. At the same time, scientists warn that we are likely to overshoot a 1.5°C increase if we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate2. A period of overshoot would be catastrophic for the vulnerable island communities highlighted in the report. Speaking to Reuters, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda declared,

“Small island developing states have suffered and will continue to suffer unprecedented damage if global temperatures continue to rise, particularly if they rise above 1.5°C3.”

While temperature rise will affect us all to varying degrees, people living in low lying, coastal communities are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and the risks of biodiversity loss. Many will even be forced to move as a result.

1 – Sea level rise and water

Sea level rise, extreme weather events and flooding are not minority issues. The IPCC confirms that almost 11% of the world’s population live in coastal areas less than 10 metres above sea level. With so many vulnerable communities, a rise in sea level will lead to many interconnected environmental and human impacts. One risk is that saltwater will flood into freshwater sources, leaving many island nations without enough to drink. 

2 – Biodiversity and natural defences

The report predicts that a warming of 1.5°C will cause loss and damage to coral reefs, marine ecosystems and low-lying wetlands. This risk will only increase with every fraction of a degree that we overstep this target. This isn’t just devastating for biodiversity, it also puts coastal communities at greater risk. Wetlands and coral reefs safeguard against erosion, flooding and storm surges. With the increasing frequency and severity of these hazards, maintaining natural defences is essential.

3 – Climate migration

Migration from low-lying areas will not be a choice, it is already predetermined by geography. If sea levels continue to rise, coastal people will be forced to leave their homes. The human costs of these moves are insurmountable. Leaving behind livelihoods and culture puts people in far more precarious positions. Going forward, it will be the role of wealthier, less vulnerable countries to open their borders to those who, through no fault of their own, have fallen victim to sea level rise. 

What can be done to adapt?

We have seen that the risks of climate change are greatest for coastal and low-lying nations. These places are also the ones with the shortest window of opportunity to find solutions. Because of this Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking in the same interview with Reuters, calls for geographically privileged countries to step up,

“Adaptation is critical to our survival in the face of climate change, but current financing schemes are inaccessible to the majority of small islands. Now more than ever, it is paramount that developed nations fulfil their commitments and increase funding to climate-vulnerable regions4.”

Funding from wealthier nations is needed to help finance adaptation strategies globally. The IPCC mention coastal protection infrastructure and nature-based solutions as preventative measures. Rehabilitating mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs will, not only boost biodiversity but also help to defend against storm surges and other extreme weather events. Only if other strategies fail, does the report suggest careful relocation for coastal communities. For any of these strategies to be effective, they must be planned well in advance, remain culturally sensitive and be continually underpinned by community engagement.  

What can we do to help?

The latest IPCC report may seem overwhelming and large scale but there are many ways that we, as individuals, can help with adaptation efforts. Whether we reduce our plastic waste or avoid flights, our actions will collectively work to limit carbon emissions. The first step to reduction is an awareness of your impact. To get started, we recommend calculating your carbon footprint online to work out where you can improve.   

Our individual actions all add up, but we can be even more powerful when we work together. At Planet Patrol, our global community is constantly collecting evidence to hold the biggest plastic polluters to account. Every single piece of litter recorded on our app adds to our larger mission for change. Let’s not forget how effective collective action can be. Let’s view the latest IPCC report as a call to action; a chance to step up and tackle the challenges we all face. If we act now, there is hope that the window of opportunity can be left open, not just for those inland, but for coastal communities too. 

References

  1. https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_SummaryForPolicymakers.pdf 
  2. https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/climate-overshoot-the-important-conversation-we-re-not-having 
  3. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/expert-views-ipcc-climate-report-adapt-now-liveable-future-hotter-planet-2022-02-28/
  4. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/expert-views-ipcc-climate-report-adapt-now-liveable-future-hotter-planet-2022-02-28/
  5. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-report-highlights-cautionary-tales-climate-finance-that-backfires-2022-03-01/ 

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