This story includes details on the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.
While the impacts of climate change fall first and worst on developing nations, the climate adaptation report released this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that the world’s richest countries won’t escape the unavoidable impacts of the emergency their greenhouse gas emissions have produced.
Already, “accelerating climate change hazards have adversely affected the well-being of North American populations and pose substantial risks to the natural, managed, and human systems on which they depend,” states [pdf] the IPCC’s two-page fact sheet on climate impacts and risks in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. “Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, human life, safety, and livelihoods across North America, especially in coastal areas, will be placed at risk from sea level rise (SLR), severe storms, and hurricanes.”
In the United Kingdom and Europe, “our current 1.1°C warmer world is already affecting natural and human systems,” with compound heat waves and droughts become more frequent, the panel’s European fact sheet says [pdf]. The analysis for Europe points to four key risks that get steadily worse as projected warming increases from 1.5 to 2.0 to 3.0°C:
• Death from heat stress, with an increase in hot, fire-prone areas reducing habitable space and biodiversity while threatening the continent’s carbon storage capacity;
• “Substantive agricultural production losses” due to heat and drought;
• Water scarcity, particularly if a continuing failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drives warming above 3.0°C;
• Flooding and sea level rise, with coastal flood damage set to increase tenfold by the end of this century at 3.0°C average warming.
“Closing the adaptation gap requires moving beyond short-term planning and ensuring timely and adequate implementation,” the fact sheet adds, and “inclusive, equitable, and just adaptation pathways are critical for climate resilient development.
The Canadian Press reports on a briefing document that distilled the major impacts and costs facing Canada, including:
• Overall adaptation costs that have risen from C$400 million to $1.9 billion per year since 1983;
• Wildfire costs—and the attendant human and community impacts—that could hit a combined $459 billion by 2080;
• Above-average sea level rise in Atlantic Canada, with one Mi’kmaq community already looking into its options for relocation;
• Damage to fisheries, including squid, cod, halibut, and kelp beds off the Nova Scotia coast;
• Water scarcity from Ontario through British Columbia, and north to Yukon and the Northwest Territories, that could offset the advantage of longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures by the 2050s;
• Damage to northern transportation and infrastructure due to permafrost melt, beginning with the rail line to Churchill, Manitoba;
• Disruptions to international supply chains, markets, finance, and trade.
Across North America, the fact sheet says higher temperatures have already shifted wildlife habitats, particularly in the Arctic, with escalating climate impacts on land, in the oceans, and in freshwater systems compounding other threats to species and their habitats. Climate change has driven an increase in disease and death, “with the severity of impacts influenced by age, gender, location, and socio-economic conditions,” and those risks are on track to increase—that much more so with higher levels of warming.
Water security issues are becoming more prominent, particularly in northern Mexico and the western United States. Cities are seeing “cascading effects of infrastructure damage, loss of services and economic activity, damage to heritage resources, safety concerns, and disrupted livelihoods,” the fact sheet states. “Impacts are particularly apparent for Indigenous Peoples for whom culture, identity, commerce, health, and well-being are closely connected to a resilient environment.”
For North America, the IPCC says a focus on Indigenous rights and knowledge is “critical to reducing climate change risks to achieve adaptation success,” along with other “equitable, inclusive, and participatory approaches” to adaptation. The European fact sheet calls for behaviour change and building retrofits to combat heat stress, changes in farming practices to address crop loss, water efficiency measures and land use changes to deal with drought, and a combination of early warning systems, adaptation options, and managed retreat to reduce the impact of flooding.