Policymakers on notice to address human-induced climate change, ‘half-measures’ no longer an option

By Melissa Coade

March 2, 2022

The difference between adapting to climate change and suffering is a choice. (parabolstudio/Adobe)

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sent a clear warning to policymakers: the difference between adapting and suffering is a choice. 

Some of the world’s most vulnerable people and ecosystems are being disproportionately affected by human-induced climate change, the new IPCC report says, and Australia is in the climate cross-hairs.

The report, which summarises thousands of research papers on the latest climate science knowledge, offers an assessment of the serious impacts caused by climate change and the vulnerability of people and the planet. It also shares adaptation options for governments and individuals to respond to the crisis. 

It paints a picture of simultaneous heatwaves, extreme drought and flood events that are causing what the authors call ‘cascading impacts’. These impacts are leading to mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals and food and water insecurity for millions of people.

IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said the ‘grave and mounting’ climate change threat posed risks to the health of the planet and would have major implications on infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements – a pointed warning for populations in Australia who live by the water.

“This report emphasises the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option,” Lee said. 

Climate-resilient development is a major focus of the report, and the 270 expert IPCC authors say adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership are needed to boost effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions action. 

A former IPCC author and climate change expert Professor Will Steffen said the horrible toll of extreme floods in Queensland and NSW this week was an example of the horrors of the IPCC report playing out in realtime. 

“These events will only get worse if we don’t act now to reduce emissions,” Steffen said.

“We are being harmed by climate change now, and the future is potentially terrifying.”

The specific local threats to Australia outlined in the report also include loss of coral reefs, loss of alpine species, collapse of forests in southern Australia, loss of kelp forests, sea-level rise, an increase in severe fire weather days and a dramatic increase in fatal heatwaves. 

Climate Council director of research Dr Simon Bradshaw said Australia was one of the most vulnerable developed nations to the impact of climate change.

“Right now, communities in Southeast Queensland and Northern NSW are being pummelled by extraordinarily intense rainfall and flooding,” Bradshaw said. 

“These communities have hardly had time to recover from past disasters and again they’re facing profound heartbreak and loss.”

Gavan McFadzean, Australian Conservation Foundation climate program manager, said the report was a direct challenge to the leaders of Australia’s major political parties. He said Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese were on notice to set a national target to slash climate pollution by at least half this decade and develop the policies to get there.

“Without faster emission cuts, more and more Australians will face worsening extreme weather events, like devastating floods, longer droughts and more ferocious bushfires,” McFadzean said.  

In a statement on Monday evening, Patrica Espinosa, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said nations were still trailing ‘far behind’ the COP26 target of cutting 45% of emissions by 2030. 

Progress was also slow on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 to curb a temperature rise to 1.5-degrees, she added. 

“Humanity’s responsibility — through governments and in our personal lives — is to act upon this unassailable body of evidence,” Espinosa said.

“Climate change is already destroying lives, dismantling biodiversity and is detrimental to the future of humanity on this planet,” she said. 

Espinosa also warned those who wanted to dilute or contort the message of the scientific evidence would be equivalent to ‘deluding’ themselves.

“We can discuss what actions are appropriate in the face of climate change, but not what facts are acceptable,” she said. 

“Climate action is achievable, and ambitions can be reached as we continue based on the best available science. But there is a significant amount of work [to do],” Espinosa added.


Three ways public servants responded to the 2021 IPCC report

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