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The IPCC “pounds the alarm” on climate change.

The IPCC “pounds the alarm” on climate change. On Monday 28 February, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II released its report on Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability. It is the work of 270 scientists who are trying to answer what effect climate change will have on people and nature across the globe. This report updated the last report released in 2014. Their blunt message was we have a only have a narrow window in which to avoid the most catastrophic of these local impacts.

The IPCC report can make depressing reading that the consequences of climate are already grim and as the decades role on it will only get worse. However, this report also offers much hope of a different future in which the damage to people’s lives, livelihoods, or the nature we love can be greatly reduced if we reduce emissions of global warming gases while also undertaking the necessary adaptation measures. This is not simply a glass half full or half empty situation. The report presents us with a clear choice of what future we want. The report tells us that even though we can adapt and avoid the climate impacts, if the temperature increases beyond 1.5 degrees adaptation measures become less and less effective and the damage bill higher and higher. Some people are more vulnerable than others. This is especially true for marginalised people such as indigenous people and people whose main challenge is that they poor which includes billions of people in the developing world. These are people who cannot afford the costs of adaptation Many people are being forced by extreme weather events to move, annually, 20 million people are internally displaced, they have been forced to move because of climate related disasters. Past reports focused on the average climate trends, but it is the extreme events like the current floods which can really upend people’s lives.

Of course, the natural wonders for which far North Queensland is famous and which also sustain our tourist industry are under threat. Both our world heritage areas are at risk from climate change. The Great Barrier reef is under the threat of being listed as in danger by the World Heritage Commission. Nonetheless, the IPCC report also talks about “mountain tops” being under threat. This is particularly relevant to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Scores of unique animal and plant species that only live in our region are mostly confined to high altitudes. Previous modelling has shown that an increase of two degrees will see almost the entire habitat of these mountain species disappear. This report says the decline in the Wet Tropics is currently happening more quickly than predicted. The IPCC assessment reports are monumental scientific evaluations undertaken by volunteer experts to enable ordinary people in FNQ to raise public awareness of climate change. It is left to average to ensure governments take the necessary actions to preserve our future because of their failure to act in the past.

Climate change is already with us. To avoid the worst consequences, we must put more resources into adaptation. However, in Australia adaptation seems to be reactive. The new sea wall is put in after the storm. Also, a certain level of increasing temperatures is already locked in from previous emissions. Adaptation is currently the only way to reduce the impacts. If we allow an overshoot of the 1.5 degree warming target set in the Paris Agreement there will be irreversible consequences that cannot be alleviated by reducing temperature below this level by the end of the century. That is strongest message people should take from this report.

One problem can pile onto another or as the IPCC section on Australia and New Zealand puts it: “Cascading, compounding and aggregate impacts on cities, settlements, infrastructure, supply-chains and services due to wildfires, floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms and sea-level rise” In Cairns we are used to empty shelves in the supermarket when a cyclone is approaching or when the Bruce Highway is cut. In these pandemic times empty supermarket shelves have been seen right around the country. Globally food security has been identified as a real consequence of climate change. This has led to the term supply-chain becoming the latest buzzword.

The report says that only prompt and effective government action can effectively deal with the problem of climate change. Australia has achieved global infamy in taking very little action reducing emissions. The report also says one of the key issues is that our governments have not been effective in deal with the issues of either reducing emissions or planning for adaptation to the level climate change that is already locked in by our past actions.

Fiona Ryan

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