The Urgent need for urgent climate action

November 20, 2023

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this year shares that the planet is likely to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial temperatures by the early 2030s. This will in turn create adverse impacts such as the inability to adapt to climate impacts, exacerbation of disasters, and changes to the our environment and the living conditions  in an irrevocable manner. 

However, global emissions continue to rise, and it is important to find solutions that are urgent to address these adverse impacts. And this requires science-based approaches, building on evidence which are generated through inclusive and participatory processes. 

Impacting the planet

The IPCC report provides that humans have contributed to the warming of the atmosphere, ocean and land. This includes increase in Global mean sea level by 0.20 [0.15–0.25] m between 1901 and 2018. And the Report finds human influence to be very likely the main cause for this. 

Additionally, since the 5th Assessment Report the IPCC, the human influence on changes in extremes, among others heavy precipitation, droughts, heatwaves have been strengthened in their attribution to human behaviour and partitivities. 

These impacts have resulted in leaving close to 3.3–3.6 billion people to live in highly vulnerable areas and contexts to climate change. And those that are already impacted by development constraints and impacted by climate hazards continue to be more vulnerable and faced with food insecurity, water scarcity, high mortality impacts due to lack of resources and climate impacts. 

Losses and damages

The latest report also considers the losses and damages caused by climate change. It refers to the “widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people,”. 

Further, these losses and damages remain not equally distributed across the planet. The unequal distribution across systems, sectors and regions also could be contributing to exacerbating the existing vulnerabilities of communities and ecosystems. 

According to the IPCC report, economic damages due to climate impacts can be identified in sectors such as “agriculture, forestry, fishery, energy, and tourism.” And it is also important to consider the impacts on people’s livelihoods, impacts on their homes and public and private infrastructure, and loss of income. 

Additionally, it is also vital that we consider the non-economic losses and damages that are endured, as well as social impacts resulting from climate impacts such as aspects related to gendered implications and social equity.  

Human migration

Impacts and vulnerabilities listed above could also result in human migration which in turn could create different impacts on people and the ecosystems. The IPCC report states that in the future, exposure to climate impacts will increase at a global level caused by socio-economic development trends. This would consist of migration, as well as vulnerabilities and growing inequality. 

Additionally, urbanization will also play a key role in how we face climate change. The IPCC report provides that vulnerability will be higher in areas such as informal settlements, as well as smaller settlements that are indicating rapid growth. 

It is also indicated that the rural areas will also face vulnerabilities due to their nature-based livelihoods and climate impacts on resources. This includes potential food insecurity, depleted resources as well as adverse impacts on income generating activities. 

Sustainable pathways

Despite the negative impacts discussed, the IPCC report provides also that it is possible create change through coordinated efforts which could focus on the scaling up of renewable energy; changes in the transportation systems; improved agriculture practices; restructuring of cities; as well as carbon extraction from air could guide the planet on a healthy trajectory. 

However, for these efforts accessing means of implementation such as climate finance, technology and capacity building would be important. The investments for climate action remain scarce, and it is vital to identify avenues to support scaling up of climate action. To this end, it is important to ensure that sufficient climate finance is accessible for those most vulnerable to climate impacts, and create avenues for collaboration at international level for global action which facilitate equitable climate action to address the needs of the most vulnerable to build long term climate resilience. 

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍