In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report titled Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. This was released as part of the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) which assesses the impacts of climate change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change.
Under AR6, the IPCC has included a dedicated cross-chapter (CCP5) that assesses new evidence on observed and projected climate change impacts and risks, vulnerability as well as barriers and options for adaptation and climate-resilient development in mountain regions. This summary article has been directly sourced from the cross-chapter (CCP5).
With high confidence, the report notes that "climate change impacts on mountains and their attribution to human influence have increased in recent decades with observable and serious consequences for people and ecosystems in many mountain regions." This builds on the previous research that suggested ice sheets across the Himalayas have shrunk 10 times faster in the past four decades than during the previous seven centuries.
In addition, the "spatial distributions of many plant species have shifted to higher elevations in recent decades, the water cycle in the mountains has been negatively affected, and observed changes in seasonality (timing and extent) are negatively affecting mountain winter tourism and recreation. Climate change is projected to lead to profound changes and irreversible losses in mountain regions with negative consequences for ways of life and cultural identity. However, there is limited evidence on the magnitude of the consequences."
With regards to future projections, the report notes that "increasing temperatures will continue to induce changes in mountain regions throughout the 21st century, with expected negative consequences for mountain cryosphere, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human wellbeing. The risk of local and global species extinctions is increasing along with severe consequences for people, infrastructure, and the economy in many mountain regions."
Despite the growing risks of climate science, the current adaptation actions are not enough. The report suggests that while contributing to poverty reduction in some mountain regions, there is "limited evidence of adaptations effectively contributing to remediating the underlying social determinants of vulnerability such as gender and ethnicity." In addition, it notes that the "current pace, depth and scope of adaptation are insufficient to address future risks in mountain regions, particularly at higher warming levels."
The dedicated focus on climate science in mountain communities, along with the regional and sectoral focus, is a good step to build on global projections as it enables science and evidence-based policy making. Although the AR6 points to a very grim future for regions around the world, particularly with losses being not just irreversible but also severe, it is important to pay an increasingly strong focus on climate adaptation.
The recent momentum on global climate action has been much-needed welcome news around the world. However, the focus on climate mitigation largely overwhelms, both in terms of research and funding, climate adaptation.
Along with the need to secure financing for loss and damage, it is anticipated that COP27, taking place in Egypt in November 2022, will make progress toward the Global Goal on Adaptation. At COP26 in Glasgow, the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation had been established to assess progress toward the adaptation goal and enable its implementation.
With climate science in mountain communities being grimmer with the release of every new report, it is high time that climate adaptation becomes a major agenda for not just the local and national governments but also regional and global communities.