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IPCC’s AR6 report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: Asia’s cities in the spotlight

Photo by Simon Nham on Unsplash

July 2022

Will Bugler: The latest IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, approved in February 2022, provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of climate change risks globally. The report provides a stark warning about the scale of climate impacts faced by Asia’s cities from “unavoidable, multiple climate hazards over the next two decades”.

The report emphasizes the importance of cutting Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, however, it indicates that the world is highly likely to surpass 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average, at least temporarily, in the coming decade. Exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Asia’s cities are particularly at risk, with climate change likely to increase risks for society, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

Cities: concentrated risk and hubs for innovation

The report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities. It shows that people’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, are impacted by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea-level rise (see Figure 1).

“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially true for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services.” Said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.

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Figure 1: Risks and key adaptation options in select cities across Asia. Cities were chosen to ensure coverage of different sub-regions of Asia, represent different risk profiles, different city sizes (based on current population and projected growth) and reported progress on different adaptation strategies (infrastructural, institutional, ecosystem based and behavioural). {Figure 10.8, full line of sight in SM10.4}

For Asia’s cities the report indicates that over the past decades, rising average temperatures have increased the likelihood of the threat of heat waves across Asia, droughts in arid and semiarid areas of West, Central and South Asia, floods in monsoon regions in South, Southeast and East Asia, and glacier melting in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region.[1]

It highlights several areas where climate change will impact Asia’s cities in the coming years:

  • Ecosystems: Habitat and biodiversity loss is linked to climate change in some parts of Asia,[2] and climate change will continue to do so, reducing the suitable habitat for plants, and animals. The report also indicates that there is a “risk of irreversible loss of coral reefs, tidal marshes, seagrass meadows, plankton community and other marine and coastal ecosystems” especially at 2°C temperature rise or more.[3]

  • Food: Increased floods and droughts, together with heat stress, will have an adverse impact on food availability and prices, resulting in increased undernourishment in South and Southeast Asia.[4]

  • Health: Climate change is increasing vector-borne and water-borne diseases, undernutrition, mental disorders and allergy-related illnesses in Asia driven by hazards such as heatwaves,  flooding and drought, and air pollutants.[5] Deaths related to circulatory, respiratory, diabetic and infectious diseases, as well as infant mortality, increase with high temperature.[6] The report also found that increases in heavy rain and temperature will raise the risk of diarrheal diseases, dengue fever and malaria and that more frequent hot days and intense heatwaves will increase heat-related deaths in the region.

  • Energy: Asian countries are experiencing a hotter summer climate, resulting in increased energy demand for cooling.[7] A decrease in precipitation also influences energy demand, as desalination, underground water pumping and other energy-intensive methods, are increasingly used for water supply. [8]

The report stressed that as well as being concentrated centres of risk, cities are also hubs for innovation, with many of the solutions to climate change likely to be developed in urban centres. They also offer the opportunity for adaptation measures to increase the resilience of large numbers of people. “Cities provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society,” explained Debra Roberts, talking at the reports’ launch.

Nature at the heart of the solution
 

The Working Group II report also put a considerable emphasis on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and supporting healthy ecosystems as effective ways of building resilience to climate change impacts in cities. The report found there to be “increasing evidence” that adaptation has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Strengthening natural ecosystems, and ensuring that adaptation planning is participatory, considers equity and justice, and draws on Indigenous and local knowledge, were cited as the best ways to avoid maladaptation.

“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

A narrowing window for action

Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.

The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, 

technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner.

[1] High confidence {ES-Ch10}

[2] High confidence {10.4.7.1}

[3] High confidence

[4] High confidence

[5] High confidence {ES-Ch10}

[6] High confidence {10.4.7.1}

[7] High confidence

[8] High confidence

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CONTACT

“ Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially true for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services. 

Debra Roberts 
IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair

“ Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water.

Hans-Otto Pörtner 
IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair