New Climate Report – Adaptation More Urgent Than Ever

A new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard of climate science, outlines in frightfully stark terms what it would take to keep the earth’s temperature below 1.5 C of warming, which is the threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change like the collapse of rainforests and coral reefs, rapid melting of the ice sheets that would swamp coastal cities around the world and heat extremes that could lead to millions of climate refugees.

Here’s what this new IPCC report says, in a nutshell: To avoid blowing through the 1.5 C target, nations of the world need to cut carbon pollution as fast as humanly possible. To be more precise, nations of the world need to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Let’s underscore this: It’s not enough that New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and Norway get to zero carbon emissions by 2050.. The entire world must eliminate (or offset)carbon pollution by 2050.

I have been banging the drum that we need to pay as much attention to adaptation as to mitigation. For me this is the biggest takeaway from this report  – it’s time to get serious about adapting to a rapidly changing world. If we don’t, a good percentage of New Zealand’s coastal settlements and civilization as we know it today won’t survive.

Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone puts it this way –

“Until recently, adaptation has been a dirty word for many climate and clean energy activists. If you talk about adaptation, the argument goes, it undercuts the urgency to cut carbon pollution. That’s always been a slippery argument, but, given the predicament we’re in, now it’s downright self-destructive.

As this new IPCC report makes clear, it’s too late to stop climate change. Our world is changing fast, and those changes are only going to accelerate — no matter how rapidly we cut carbon pollution (although cutting carbon pollution can have a big impact on the pace and trajectory of those changes).

From a purely economic point of view, the cost of climate denial is already enormous. Last year, damages from extreme weather hit $306 billion in the U.S. alone, the costliest ever. If we don’t rethink how and where we build homes and infrastructure, those costs will only grow.

What does adaptation mean? In the broadest sense, it means thinking differently about where we live, how we live, what we eat, how we travel. More specifically, it means things like adapting coastal cities to rising seas by rethinking the boundary between land and sea and enacting policies that encourage retreat from low-lying areas, raising taxes to fund infrastructure improvements, reforming flood insurance, changing zoning laws to prevent building in wildfire zones, and perhaps most important, fighting to be sure that the billions of dollars that are sure to flow into climate adaptation projects aren’t focused on protecting the rich. Climate adaptation is already a profound social justice issue, and the division between the saved and the doomed is likely to grow as climate impacts increase.”