Latest UN climate report depicts ‘atlas of human suffering’

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Judah Duke

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

In light of the report’s focus on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability surrounding climate change, Guterres lambasted the world’s biggest polluters, decrying “criminal abdication of leadership” as the culprit of worldwide ecosystem disruption and deadly natural disasters.

The second of three reports U.N. climate scientists plan to release in phases, the assessment outlines strikingly complex risks to future livability on Earth and pressures world governments to prioritize protection of nature more than ever before.

Emissions of dangerous levels of greenhouse gasses such as CO2 and methane from human activity over the past two centuries have hurt the overall balance of the earth-atmosphere system.

Historic droughts, floods and heatwaves are getting stronger and are occurring more frequently, events the IPCC reports “are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals.”

International observation of these impacts already disrupting ecosystems has seen a revelatory shift in the language and strategies of climate scientists in these reports. The latest report reflects a rapid transition from verbiage about preventative measures, to “adaptability,” a transformational choice in the face of successive changes to the world’s climate.

The report presents a myriad of risks, with human society and nature interacting with the impacts of climate change. Adaptable, biodiverse ecosystems occupy the space that directly relieves the harsh impacts of climate change as well as supplying critical provision to human society.

Climate change’s damage to the ecology of the planet was one key finding in the report that is riddled with dire warnings.

The interdependent nature of both environmental and manmade networks projects a cascade of devastation to humanity’s global infrastructure, economy and security.

And the countries that are least equipped to handle it are the ones directly in the line of fire.

“They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic,” said the IPCC’s Feb. 28 press release on the report.

Amid an exacerbation of climate catastrophes in Earth’s global south and coastal cities, the impacts reveal gaps in the adaptability of human structures.

“Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now,” Guterres said with the report’s release. “Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now.”

Guterres specifically called out nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Though OECD member countries only contribute to about 35% of global CO2 emissions, these nations and their partners altogether comprise 80% of global trade and are well positioned to directly influence critical global consumption and exchange trends.

The “atlas of human suffering” spans across both developed and under-developed regions, and the report revealed it doesn’t discriminate against rural communities or highly urbanized cities.

New York City was specifically cited as one such region where “differences in vulnerability” are varied through “social and economic processes” including but not limited to wealth, gender, education, health, political power, social capital and social and ethnic marginalization.

New York City is one example of how the report highlights the responsibility of the developed world to reconcile with vulnerabilities not just limited to coping with heat waves and floods, but also vulnerabilities in social structures.

Stratification of human beings has increased vulnerability to people already at risk, as slums and informal settlements are becoming more common around the world. Urban development “outside formal parameters” makes it harder to protect people and their homes from climate-related risks, according to the report.

The trend of vulnerability continues as the report examines key infrastructure around the world. Electricity, gas lines and water networks heavily damaged from climate events threaten the stability of tertiary tools, such as information and communication technology. These tools make servicing, delivery and access to resources impossible without them.

For all the somberness, U.N. scientists and advisors continue to elaborate on ways decisive resilient choices can create opportunities for climate relief.

“Cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society,” Debra Roberts, a co-chair for an IPCC working group, said.