Many of the challenges we face today overlap. As global temperatures increase even by fractions of a degree – say, from today 1.1°C to 1.5°C by 2030, risks will increase, and important species and ecosystems are very likely to disappear. If, we do not succeed in accelerating mitigation and adaption, our current path will lead to temperatures about 3°C above pre-industrial levels.. In such a case, impacts are expected to be ten times, worse.
“Science tells us that we will require the world to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But according to current commitments, global emissions are set to increase almost 14 per cent over the current decade. That spells catastrophe. It will destroy any chance of keeping 1.5 alive.” – these remarks from the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, at the press conference on the launch of the report by Working Group II, on Impacts. Adaptation and Vulnerability, as part of the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday, 28 February 2022.
Mr Guterres describes the newly released IPCC report as an “atlas of human suffering.” Why? Because according to the report, half of the world’s population already live in hotspots of high vulnerability to climate change. The well-being of these people is already being severely affected. – The report lays out how this will increase under various temperature scenarios and regions of the world – including the Caribbean.
Mr Guterres continues: “The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.”
Scientists from 67 countries, 270 authors (five of whom are from The University of the West Indies), have reviewed more than 34,000 scientific papers, and resolved 62,418 review comments from experts and governments, before collectively signing off on the findings that were released on Monday. In August of 2021, the science panel published the first part of the series, which with these findings will constitute the Sixth Assessment Report. That report was on the latest climate science and projections for future warming, branded “code red” by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.
At first sight, the size of the report is as overwhelming as the findings! Over 3675 pages, a clear and stark message: climate change is already impacting human well-being and the health of the planet at 1.1°C warming – and this will escalate exponentially when we reach 1.5°C and then a lot more when we reach 3°C, based on our current trajectory. The time window available to secure a liveable future is brief and closing rapidly.
Figure: The Risk Propeller – interconnection between climate change, human society, and ecosystems, including biodiversity (Source: IPCC WGII Report 2022).
Small Island States
Currently available evidence enables scientists to detect increases in temperature with very high confidence levels, a larger proportion of intense tropical cyclones, storm surges, droughts, changing rain patterns, sea-level rise, coral bleaching, and a rise in invasive species.
In the next 30 years, sea-levels are projected to rise by 15-40cm. “Above 1.5°C, globally inclusive of small islands, it is projected there will be further loss of 70–90% of reef-building corals, with 99% of corals being lost under warming of 2°C or more above the pre-industrial period.”
While the need for investment in capacity building and adaptation strategies is most urgent in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), barriers and constraints faced include governance arrangements, financial resources, human resource capacities, and the lack of baseline climate modelling data.
We have reached the stage where it is not enough to focus on mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is still necessary, but not sufficient. We need to spend at least as much on adaption – particularly in small island developing states. Effective adaptation contributes to economic and ecological values, and it improves well-being.
The report offers a solutions framework that enables us to make decisions towards a climate-resilient form of development. Climate resilience is characterized by high resilience and low risk because it consists of:
- Adaptation to reduce climate risks
- Mitigation to reduce greenhouse gases
- Enhancement of biodiversity
- Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
What should organizations do?
All actors – individuals, organizations, cities, municipalities, countries – are change agents for better or for worse. Climate resilience depends on equitable and sustainable growth and a new social compact with the planet.
To that end, here is an outline for the governing bodies of organizations to consider:
- The time for action is now – the window is limited. Boards need to overcome their inertia and support those they depend on to overcome theirs.
- Climate, adaption, ESG, sustainable development should be an agenda item at every board meeting. The topics should be discussed with the help of experts, just like boards did for COVID-19. Boards need to develop their competencies and close their information gap:
- How does life function on our planet?
- What are the laws of nature?
- How is the organization, its services and products connected with nature (from input to impact)?
- Boards should:
- define and review the purpose and values of the organization.
- define how the organization generates value in an integrated and sustainable manner, with associated parameters that need to be adhered to and strategic outcomes to be achieved within specific time frames.
- establish the current baseline for the organization and then how much the organization itself has to change and by when to achieve the required impacts within the required timelines to contribute to sustainable development?
- Based on this assessment, the organization can develop strategic ESG approaches to lead. The IPCC report provides an overview of relevant data, risks, options, and further references concerning climate, vulnerabilities and adaptation options.
- engage with management to develop strategies and steer the organization:
- What problems are the organization solving? Which SDGs is the organization impacting, and what ambitious targets are the organization setting?
- Develop partnerships with government, civil society, citizens, media, communities, academia, investors, and other businesses.
- Develop the organization’s decision-making competence for:
- Contributing effectively to conservation and ecosystem restoration.
- Ensuring processes and outcomes are equitable and just.
- Reconciling different interests, values, and world views.
- To increase competitiveness through better business models and better solutions, focusing on the areas with the highest returns – protecting nature, transforming those most vulnerable and exposed population groups and places.
- oversee and account for not only finance but all the dependencies and impacts of the organization.
The IPCC report leaves no doubt that immediate and urgent action is needed now. “Starting today, every action, every decision matters.” Are our decisions today moving us closer to or further away from a climate-resilient world
This article is part of the "Purpose with Profit" Column and an earlier version was published in the business section of the Newsday (Trinidad & Tobago), Business Authority (Barbados). our.today (Jamaica), and The Voice Newspaper (Saint Lucia) in February 2022.