A comprehensive new report about the global impacts of climate change provides a sobering look at the potential consequences of inaction.
But just as importantly, it lays out a pathway to preventing the worst of these outcomes — the tangible steps people, policy-makers, politicians, businesses and nations can take to help make things better.
The comprehensive report was released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is part of the United Nations Environment Program. Coming in at more than 3,600 pages, it sugarcoats nothing.
Hoesung Lee, chair of the panel, called the report a "dire warning" of what could happen if we do nothing, while a press release noted the world "faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades" if global warming increases by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
So how do we make sure that doesn't happen?
Key to everything, the report's 270 authors argue, is nature. Working group Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner says 30-50% of the Earth's land, freshwater and ocean habitats must be protected.
By "restoring degraded ecosystems" and conserving what we can, "society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development," he said in a statement.
The report breaks these solutions out into three different categories:
Water management, which includes new farming practices around irrigation, water-saving measures and moisture conservation. It also calls for efforts to secure drinking water, working with nature in land-use planning, and effective flood and drought risk management. (The report notes, however, that these things can become less effective the warmer the globe is allowed to get.)
Improving food security, with a focus on improving cultivars (selectively bred plat species), agroforestry, more diverse farms and landscapes, and strengthening biodiversity.
Lastly, transforming cities. Because of the climate crisis, population centers could grow significantly, with urban areas holding two-thirds of the world's population by 2050. This means cities need to have a nature-based and engineering approach to development, while establishing green and blue spaces, providing urban agriculture opportunities and implementing social safety nets for disaster management.
The benefits of these adaptive measures will ripple outward, helping to reduce poverty through better food and energy systems, improve health by relying on renewables, lessen inequality via ample agri-business opportunities, and protect vulnerable species thanks to restored, connected natural habitat.
"Urgent action" is needed, however.
"Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals," the panel explains in a release.
"These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. ... To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions."
Said Lee: "Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”