IPCC Sixth Assessment Report
IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was formed by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to be a data distribution centre for information about the climate.
Their sixth assessment report, which reflects the work of each working group, shows the effects of climate change on the world.
We’ve been waiting eight years
The first assessment report came out in 1990. Since then, a report has come out periodically, providing a scientific understanding of climate change. It is also a guide for policy, with its Summary for Policymakers providing key findings for political leaders to further fight climate change and greenhouse gases.
The report, like many assessment reports before it, warns of global temperature rise and the effect of global climate change on everything from rural developments to cities to our oceans.
We know it’s a lot
The IPCC report, like many scientific papers, can be overwhelming to read, since it is full of IPCC guidelines, likelihood statements, and deep analyses. It is created out of a physical scientific basis, which can be hard to grasp.
That’s why Trakref delved into the summary for policymakers by IPCC working group II (essentially a handy synthesis report), mitigating climate change efforts from working group III, each working group report and working group contributions, and other parts of the report to bring you what you need to know as a HVAC/R pro.
Climate Change Risk
One of the main focuses for each working group is risk. Risk is the main way that IPCC understands what is happening to our planet in the many different areas they assess, including ecosystems, biodiversity, and human systems.
The way that each working group breaks down risk, including current risks and future risks, includes vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience.
Vulnerability is a fluid definition in IPCC reports. It has evolved since previous IPCC assessments. It is now widely understood to differ within communities and across societies, regions, and countries, also changing through time. It addresses what climate scientists think is at risk due to global temperatures rising.
Adaptation includes “autonomous adjustments through ecological and evolutionary processes. In human systems, adaptation can be anticipatory or reactive, as well as incremental and/ or transformational.” It is ultimately a measure of how we are able to work through climate change, sea level rise, and the scientific and technical aspects of climate change mitigation.
Like vulnerability, resilience has a wide range of definitions in climate change and global warming research. What most of these definitions have in common, though, is that resilience is about bounding back from disturbances that climate change and global warming cause. However, as the IPCC report states, it is “not just the ability to maintain essential function, identity, and structure, but also the capacity for transformation.”
Working through greenhouse gas emissions risk
IPCC works through what risk, including vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience, means for a variety of aspects related to climate change. They know that it is difficult to limit global temperature rise, even with many governments working towards fighting climate change and working toward a better climate system.
IPCC working groups
Each IPCC working group focuses on a different element of human-induced climate change, such as biodiversity and urban environments. From there, each IPCC working group focuses on how the climate will affect them in different ways. They provide an in-depth view of how natural and human systems interact with increasing climate change.
We’ll go through each of these to give you a full view of their understanding of sustainable development and climate change. It will also show what further research is needed.
Global warming is pushing us beyond our ability to adapt
Adapting to climate change is important. However, the IPCC report shows that there is only so much we can do to adapt to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. We must ultimately limit global warming through climate talks, scientific research, and institutions such as the UN environment programme.
An increase in climate events
In recent years, with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and deep emissions reductions not being met, we have seen an increase in disastrous climate events which are becoming more intense. These have led to an increase in mortality, both to people and species in our environment.
We’ve seen this through extreme tropical weather in areas with sea level rise, wildfires burning, and flooding. These can all be attributed to our inability in limiting global warming.
Loss of biodiversity
Our inability to adapt to rising temperatures has also led to substantial damages and irreversible impacts to ecosystems, especially marine-based ones. Heat extremes are leading to changes in species. These can range from increased loss of life to extinction. In the case of loss of life where extinction hasn’t happened yet, we only have so much time before rising temperatures and glacial melting irreversibly impact these natural systems.
Lack of food and water
Climate impacts and increases in carbon emissions are also affecting our ability to produce food for the world. The IPCC bureau reports that “increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity30 and reduced water security.” In addition, roughly half of the world currently experiences water scarcity for some part of the year due to the impact on climate and ocean ecosystems. This is only becoming worse as time goes on, with more carbon emissions and methane emissions in the air, and we are less able to adapt to them.
Decrease in health
Our inability to adapt to observed warming and emissions scenarios is also being seen in a decrease in the people of affected regions’ physical and mental health. New diseases are emerging because of the human influence on the climate. As far as mental health, we are seeing trauma affecting people who are dealing with weather events and are personally unable to adapt to global temperatures rising. Not only are we seeing an increase in poor health due to climate, but climate change is making it difficult for people to access aid and other services.
Effect on urban living
IPCC makes it clear that these effects are not just happening to people living in coastal cities or communities that sea level rise would typically impact. Urban centers are also experiencing the effects of climate change and are unable to adapt. We are seeing rising temperatures lead to unprecedented heatwaves. Increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are also leading to air pollution, affecting people’s ability to breathe. Climate change is also disrupting infrastructures such as transportation, water, and sanitation.
Economic and social dimensions
While we sometimes think of the economy and climate change as different and even opposing forces, the IPCC report explains that climate change is having an impact on the economy. Evidence suggests that this is especially true in places where the economy relies on tourism, because they have been most impacted by climate change, sea level rise, and intense weather events. Outside of tourism, individual livelihoods are being affected mainly by climate impacts on agriculture.
With all of these inabilities to adapt, the IPCC report ultimately shows that climate impacts are leading to humanitarian crises.
Weather extremes are leading to displacement. In Central and South America and Africa, we are seeing droughts leading to food insecurity, and the report warns that it is only a matter of time before we see these climate impacts lead to the same in other regions. The report even has medium confidence that there is some link between increased violence in certain regions and climate change.
If we don’t meet the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, we will probably only see the expansion of these crises that the United Nations environment programme is identifying.
Vulnerability changes by region
The inability to adapt that the IPCC report identifies is more complex than just being relevant to the whole world. IPCC specifies that vulnerability is extremely dependent on region. The amount that a region has been subjected to forces such as colonialism, inequity, and poor governance will affect how vulnerable it is.
Humans and ecosystems are linked
Unsurprisingly, the IPCC methodology reports that the degradation and destruction of ecosystems by humans increases the vulnerability of humans in those ecosystems. When an environment is not taken care of, it leads to the problems that we’ve already outlined. This is especially true for the people and local communities who are dependent on the land for their survival.
We are not protecting our resources
Even with the UN environment programme and other similar programs, we are still not protecting our natural resources enough. Less than 15% of the land, 21% of the freshwater and 8% of the ocean in the world are protected areas. Even in areas where there are technical support units and other resources to help, protected areas are still not being protected as much as is needed.
We are not going where we need to
Programs and legislation are popping up to limit national greenhouse gas emissions, but IPCC still believes that our climate system will continue to be harmed due to unsustainable consumption and production. If we continue going in the direction we are going, we will continue to see sea level rise and the destruction of ecosystems.
Mortality is increasing
All of these factors are leading to increased mortality for some of the most vulnerable areas of the world, including in West, Central, and East Africa, Central and South America, and Small Island Developing States. Between 2010-2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability. This is only exacerbated by increased inequality in these areas. Global average warming will continue to affect them the most.
Issues will increase outside of urban areas
We are globally trending toward urbanization – but according to IPCC, that means that rural areas will be left behind when it comes to climate change. This is because key infrastructure that helps us deal with global warming will be less accessible to these places. Even though we are trying to limit warming for the whole planet, most infrastructure is based in urban areas. If this continues, rural and developing areas will be left behind as our climate system changes.
1.5 degrees Celsius would cause more damage
All of the mentioned aspects are just issues that are happening right now with current temperatures. Reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels due to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere – where we’re currently going – will continue to wreak havoc on our atmosphere, ecosystems, and overall human health. We will need deep reductions in global warming and climate change if we are going to avoid the future that IPCC identifies.
Ecosystems and people will continue to suffer
IPCC states that continued global warming will lead to a continuation in extreme weather events. This will ultimately cause a loss of biodiversity in the ocean and in forests. Socio-economic conditions will decrease in human settlements, including in urban areas with the infrastructure to weather some impacts of climate change. This will be especially true for places where people are along coastlines or places with ice that will continue to melt. IPCC believes that many of these risks are unavoidable.
Exacerbation in Reasons for Concern
As part of IPCC’s framework, they identify five Reasons for Concerns (or RFCs) related to climate change and our climate system. These include threats to endangered species and unique systems; damages from extreme climate events; effects that fall most heavily on developing countries and the poor within countries; global aggregate impacts; and large-scale high-impact events. If we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will see the RFCs become high or very high.
Beyond 2040, climate change will lead to risk
In the IPCC report, IPCC looks to future, or at least beyond 2040. While that may seem far away, it is less than 20 years – not a lot of time to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. The impacts of climate change, if it continues at its current rate, will continue to escalate. The magnitude and rat will depend mainly on immediate global warming mitigation and how seriously we take those efforts.
Very high extinction rates
One factor we can expect if we continue in our current direction is high extinction rates. In terrestrial ecosystems, 3 to 14% of species will likely face very high risk of extinction. In ocean and coastal ecosystems, risk of biodiversity loss ranges between moderate and very high, and there is a very high extinction risk for endemic species in biodiversity hotspots, projected to at least double from 2%
Lack of water
Water availability will be another factor that will be affected by continued climate change, according to the IPCC report. Snowmelt water for irrigation will decline, and groundwater availability on small islands will be impacted. There will be effects on watersheds, and challenges for water management will be exacerbated.
Decrease in food security
IPCC believes that continued global warming and climate change will lead to more extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods. This will lead to depletion in food supply because of an effect on growing regions’ soil. Especially in vulnerable regions, we’ll see malnutrition and hunger increase.
Increase in mortality
Climate change will ultimately lead to more deaths for a variety of reasons. We will see deaths from extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and droughts. We will also see an increase in food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne illnesses. Again, while these effects will be felt everywhere, it will be most acute in more vulnerable regions of the world.
Damage to urban settlements
Further global warming will impact urban settlements, especially those along coastlines. IPCC estimates that approximately a billion people are projected to be at risk from coastal-specific climate hazards. Additionally, the population potentially exposed to a 100-year coastal flood is projected to increase by about 20%. The cost for maintenance and reconstruction of infrastructure will be costly and lead to disruptions.
IPCC believes that the economic impacts that will occur if we don’t curb climate change will be bigger than previously expected. This will happen because of many of the aforementioned issues, including a need to replace and maintain infrastructure. As temperatures rise, the economic impact will become greater: as IPCC states, “Economic damages, including both those represented and those not represented in economic markets, are projected to be lower at 1.5°C than at 3°C or higher global warming levels.”
IPCC predicts that all of these aspects will lead to more displacement, especially in areas that see an increase in extreme weather events. We will see more people involuntarily migrating from their places of residence, especially if they are along coastlines.
Climate change is becoming more difficult to manage
IPCC has been putting reports out about the climate for more than 30 years, and during that time, they have reported on the many ways that climate change is increasingly making us more vulnerable. In this report, though, they mention that these risks are becoming harder to manage.
It’s no longer as simple as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, analyzing assessment reports, and looking toward future risks. We are seeing issues compound on each other, and this is making the crisis harder to tackle.
Issues are compounding
Before, we were able to isolate climate change issues and look at them individually. We could address weather changes, or analyze rising sea levels.
Now, though, these issues are becoming multifaceted and leading to more problems. For example, heat and drought are compounding together with poorer soil to create a decrease in crop production. Conditions are also leading to issues in food safety. Combined, these are causing an increase in food prices, leading to economic problems.
Everything is now coming together, making issues even more problematic than before.
Not only are issues compounding to create more complex issues, but they are also affecting multiple regions. In polar regions, we see a change in the ecosystem from ice melt. In desert environments, we’re seeing wildfires. In urban settlements, we see issues with infrastructure. We can no longer isolate climate change impacts to one part of the world. The issues are expanding their geographic reach and affecting many people and places at once.
International Economy Issues
Coupled with climate change impacting multiple regions at once is the reality that the entire international economy is affected. Weather events are leading to issues in the supply chain, causing issues with distribution. It also affects planned infrastructure projects that may involve parties from different countries.
Failed attempts at climate action
Even some attempts at working to end climate change can backfire if they are not executed properly, ultimately creating more risk. For example, deployment of afforestation to naturally unforested land, or poorly implemented bioenergy cause more issues. These attempts ultimately don’t help the environment – they just end up creating more risk and leading to more climate change.
One of the most egregious that IPCC mentions is solar radiation. Solar radiation can potentially offset warming, but substantial residual climate change or overcompensating change would occur regionally. It would not stop atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from increasing, either.
In short, not every climate action is good. We need to understand the benefits and risks of each before deciding that we’re doing the right thing to fight climate change.
Adaptation is unevenly distributed
IPCC acknowledges that strides have been made to adapt across regions. However, what we’re doing is still not enough. Many initiatives prioritize the immediate and short-term rather than looking at long-term outcomes. This leads to unevenly distributed adaptations, causing more risk.
We’ve made some progress
IPCC outlines the good strides that we’ve made. This includes at least 170 countries and many cities including adaptations in their climate change planning. There have been improvements in agriculture, innovation, health and well-being, food security, livelihood, and biodiversity conservation. We are no longer ignoring the need to adapt to climate change – everyone from governments to corporations are listening to entities such as IPCC about what they need to do about climate change.
But we still need to improve
Despite this progress, IPCC notes that we still have a far way to go to properly adopt adaptations to climate change. Current adaptations are too small in scale and are fragmented. They are often looking at the short-term and have a lot of gaps, especially when it comes to addressing the effect climate change will have on low-income populations. There is also a lot of planning, but not a lot of action. Many efforts at adaptation stay in the theoretical stage, but don’t actually make it to implementation.
There are feasible adaptation options
Despite these challenges, IPCC does identify feasible adaptation options. We have to focus on specific regions and sectors, and become more flexible in our approach. These adaptations need to not only address climate change, but address social inequality as a whole to make sure that we are avoiding gaps.
Looking at water-related risks
IPCC suggests that water-related risks are the most important to examine to avoid gaps. This includes looking at early warning signs for inland flooding – levees and similar systems have helped communities avoid excessive flooding and save lives. Water management on farms helps keep soil fertile and helps with avoiding food production issues. Large-scale irrigation efforts can also help with alleviating temperature extremes.
Pivoting to conservation
Another adaptation option is conservation. We must continue to protect ecosystems from the affects of climate change, and we still have time to mitigate some of the worst effects.
In forests, this means working on reforestation efforts. In ocean ecosystems, we must adapt to changes in species and help current species live in affected environments. For people living in affected areas, we need to do the same – find new solutions to help people live in areas affected and preserve what we can in the time that we have.
There are soft and hard limits to adaptation
Adaptation is not one-size-fits-all. There are soft and hard limits to it, and how people and ecosystems are able to adapt will depend on these limits. Some of them can be overcome, while others are here to stay.
Soft limits are already being reached. For example, individuals and households in low-lying coastal areas in Australia and Small Islands and smallholder farmers in Central and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia have reached soft limits to what can be done. Sea levels are already rising, and there is only so much that can be done to restore land.
Lack of climate literacy is also considered a soft limit. There is only so much that people can do if they don’t know about climate change. This is why education on the climate and what can be expected in the coming years is so imperative.
Hard limits are also being reached, but they are more detrimental. They include things such as total loss of environments and ecosystems. There is nothing we can do to come back from them, and adaptation is not effective. IPCC believes that we will continue to see these hard limits reached if we get above the 1.5 degree Celsius global warming limit.
Maladaptive responses are becoming a problem
When we talk about climate change, governments and organizations often look for quick solutions and ways to prevent further harm. IPCC notes that this isn’t always good, though. In fact, it leads to maladaptive changes that are expensive and inconvenient to later fix. Staying flexible to avoid lock-ins is ultimately what we need.
Enabling conditions is key for adaptation
Instead of jumping to the easiest solutions, IPCC pushes us to enable conditions that lead us to better adaptive solutions. We need clear goals and priorities to follow through on so that we can do our best to adapt to climate change.
IPCC points toward the need for political commitment to further adapt to climate change. It is one of the most important ways to accelerate adaptation and make sure we have what we need for the future. Political entities need to raise awareness as well as use their power to influence businesses and create social movements.
In addition to political commitment, we need clear frameworks to work towards. Adaptation needs to be worked into budgets and policy going forward to make sure that it is a priority. It must be strengthened by public and private initiatives.
Worldwide climate action is imperative
These political commitments and frameworks can’t just be enacted by a few governments, though. We must all come together in worldwide action. While we have been hearing this for awhile, IPCC notes that this is more urgent than ever.
Time is not on our side
IPCC states that there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to enable climate-resistant development and put proper adaptations in place. With each degree of warming, more issues arise. Governments and businesses must quickly come together and put the right policies in place, not just on their own, but as a worldwide movement.
Action must be equitable
Another issue is that our action must be equitable. As mentioned previously, there are some regions of the world that will be more impacted by climate change than others. As we’re putting together solutions, we can’t leave them behind. We must unite everyone to push back on the worst effects of climate change and adapt to the changes that are inevitable.
Governments and individual entities must work together
As part of this worldwide cooperation that we need, IPCC specifically calls out that we must see governments and individual entities, such as businesses, work together. Policies must inform what businesses are doing and how they are moving through climate change.
Outside of businesses, governments must also work with individual groups and communities affected. This includes Indigenous people and ethnic minorities who will be most affected by climate change. Adapting to climate change and stopping further harm will truly be a group effort, and no one can be left out.
Building climate-resistant developments
IPCC notes that one of the elements that entities must work toward is climate-resistant developments. While this includes elements such as physical developments and adapting our physical world to meet climate change issues, it also means putting the right legislation and policies in place to adapt and stop further harm. These developments must be focused on overcoming barriers, both from climate change and the political system. We must identify what IPCC calls “low-regret options” – or options that enable mitigation and adaptation in the face of change, complexity, deep uncertainty, and divergent views.
Urbanization offers opportunities
As we work together to adapt to climate change and stop additional issues, increasing urbanization offers opportunities to work toward climate-resistant developments and better policies between governments and businesses.
One opportunity that urbanization offers is new infrastructure. This infrastructure can be created with adaptation and fighting climate change in mind. It can focus on ecological and social approaches, use finances well, and make sure we are not locking into maladaptation. As long as the governments, businesses, and organizations align with similar goals, we can make sure that our society is working to address climate change, both in terms of what we need to do to adapt to inevitable changes and make sure that we push back against worse effects.
Specific attention to coastal cities
Urban areas along the coast will be the areas that lead this change. According to IPCC, almost 11% of the global population – 896 million people – lived within the Low Elevation Coastal Zone in 2020. This will increase to beyond 1 billion people by 2050. With so many people concentrated in these areas, new infrastructure that adapts to and addresses climate change will be crucial.
Safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems is crucial
In addition to making sure new infrastructure is created with climate change in mind, we must also safeguard existing biodiversity and ecosystems. IPCC notes that maintaining the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services at a global scale depends on effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas, including currently near-natural ecosystems. This will be quite an undertaking, but it is crucial to making sure we don’t see further harm from climate change.
Safeguarding helps the future
Saving biodiversity and ecosystems isn’t just about protecting what we currently have – it’s also about making sure that we don’t further harm our planet. Degradation of ecosystems actually leads to more greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore, more climate change.
Ecosystems have low adaptability
When we decide to help ecosystems with their adaptability, we have to keep in mind that they have low adaptability. This makes it even more crucial to aid them. Their ability to be resilient decreases as we get closer to surpassing 1.5 degree Celsius in global warming, so we must pay special attention to them to avoid further degradation, and by extension, warming.
New GWP Values
As part of the new report, new GWP values were also released. This is important for the HVAC/R industry – after all, we use high-GWP chemicals and it is critical to know about the harm they are doing to the atmosphere. This also affects how we report fugitive emissions and the harm we are doing when it comes to ESG reporting and other similar documents.
Most notably, with these new AR6 factors, future emissions in the US will more than double. This shows that the way we were counting our emissions before wasn’t as accurate as it could have been. We are actually doing more damage to the environment than we thought, and that means there is more work to do in order to curb climate change. IPCC factors are already embedded in Trakref, and these updated with the newest factors.
What can the HVAC/R industry do
We know reading the IPCC report can be overwhelming. It may sound like the issue of adapting to climate change and continuing to fight it is too much to tackle. That’s not necessarily true, though.
Refrigerant management can help
According to Project Drawdown, one of the top ways to fight climate change is through refrigerant management. This means that HVAC/R pros can play a small part in fighting climate change just by doing what you do every day.
Proper tracking is imperative
Properly tracking refrigerants and making sure that you are following compliance regulations is imperative to have an impact. This means stepping away from business-as-usual paper logs and spreadsheets. You must digitally track your work to make sure you have proper data and that you’re doing what it is required at the state and federal levels.
Compliance is necessary
Compliance can sound scary, but it is important to stay on top of the latest in compliance requirements. They aren’t just there to create more things to stay on top of – they’re there to help the environment. Not only will you be avoiding fines, but you’ll know that you’re fighting climate change.
Make sure you have auditable data
Through proper tracking, you’ll be able to create auditable ESG data. Not only is this data becoming necessary to provide to investors – and possibly soon in California, the government – but it is also essential to provide your own benchmarking. By having data to track yourself against, you can see how you are progressing in your sustainability goals and make sure that you are on track to limit your emissions.
Turn to Trakref
If you’re new to digital tracking and working toward sustainability goals, turn to trakref. We’re a software corporation that has been in the regulatory compliance software and environmental compliance calendar software space for years. As an environmental software provider, we make sure our refrigerant capabilities will keep you in compliance and help fight climate change. Our software will also help you with ESG reports and answering sustainability audit questions. Get in touch with a Refrigerant Geek today.Contact Us
Download our handout
Looking to share information about IPCC with other people you work with, or just want a quick reference guide for yourself? Download our IPCC handout.
Join us for a conversation
If you want to learn more IPCC’s report and what HVAC/R pros can do to fight climate change, join us for a conversation on June 23 at 12pm ET. We’ll go in-depth about the report and talk further about what our industry can do to continue to fight climate change, adapt to the changes that are inevitable, and be more sustainable.
Gavin is the Lead Writer at Trakref.