Emphasizing the importance of adaptation in the latest IPCC Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) through a virtual conference which was held on February 28, 2022, presented the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Working Group (WG) II contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The WG II, majors on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and its latest contribution report to the AR6 is titled, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. The WG III contribution to the AR6, based solely on the mitigation of climate change, is expected to be finalised in April 2022. Consequently, the concluding Synthesis Report integrates the contributions of all the WGs, and will be available to the public later in 2022.

The IPCC, established in 1988 by both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), is a body that assesses the science of climate change and provides political leaders and governments at all levels with periodic scientific information and assessment of the climate system which can then be used in formulating climate policies.

The IPCC is the most credible source for information on world climate because of the extensive manner in which its reports are reviewed and complied. That’s expected, knowing full well that it takes a minimum of 6 years before the panel publishes its reports. These reports are not infallible to a fault. Two errors were detected in the WG II (AR4). One of it was that by 2035, which is hundreds of years earlier than the accepted figure, the Himalayan glaciers would be gone. The other error was that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level, while in the actual fact it is 25%.

The ARs are usually filled with confidence level statements. These are probabilistic statements, or at best educated guesses. A very high confidence statement means that there are at least 9 out of 10 chances of the statement being correct, while a very low confidence level statement signifies the correctness of less than 1 out of 10 chances. In comparison to the AR5, low confidence statements in the AR6 fell from 20% to 6%, while high confidence statement rose from 36% to 56%. Another area in climate science where scientists make educated guesses is in climate sensitivity; which is the global temperature rise expected from the doubling of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Scientists, who belong to the climate alarmism bandwagon, have predicted as high as a temperature rise of 4.5℃ for a carbon dioxide doubling, while those deposed to the contrarian groups believe in less than 1.5℃ temperature rise.

The latest Physical Science Basis (AR6) stated unequivocally that human influence had warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land through observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations since around 1750. The term ‘unequivocal’ isn’t probabilistic, it means absolute certainty. Understanding that shouldn’t make one marvel when the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gueterres, called climate change a code-red for humanity. The latest WGII AR6 tells us that adaptation is reducing climate risks and vulnerability, but decision-making processes and effectiveness of governance are a function of implementation in a bid to support climate resilience. Public and political awareness of climate impact and risk, according to the report, has continued to grow across all regions, thereby enabling adaptation planning and implementation. This assertion correlates strongly with the observed 96% global reduction in climate-related deaths within a century.

Having highlighted the importance and growing level of adaptation, the report still states with high confidence, the existence of high adaptation gaps between current levels and the one needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks. Sadly, the largest adaptation gaps are found among lower income population groups. Before humans exerted a warming influence on climate and the science of climate change was understood, humans have been unknowingly and successfully adapting for millennia to climatic changes. Therefore, the need for adaptation is of great importance because a reduction in GHGs will not eliminate extreme weather events; it will at best reduce their frequency. That is why the continuous need for adaptation will be inescapable even in the event that the world becomes carbon neutral.

A friend who lived for over twenty years in Southern California, an area known for frequency of earthquakes, succinctly shared with me how he adapted to the natural disaster. Apart from the first-responder preparation, warning systems and building codes that the larger Southern California provided, he took certain precautions such as bolting his house to its foundation, drilling his children in earthquake safety, storing water and food for a few days in the event of an occurrence and cautiously formulating his travel plans and emergency contacts.

Remembering the North Sea Flood of January 31, 1953 in the Netherlands will also help to understand the effectiveness of adaptation. The disaster eventually killed about 1,835 people, forced the emergency evacuation of more than 70,000 people, and flooded about 9% of farmland, leading to the drowning of 30,000 animals. The country, acting on the advice of the ‘Delta Commission’ set up to proffer ways of preventing future flooding, built a global unmatchable network of dams, dykes, sluices and storm barriers for more than 40 years. The result of these adaptation measures has been unprecedented as the number of people killed after the 1953 flooding till now is zero.

The above-cited countries have effective adaptation strategies because they are wealthy societies equipped with the economic and institutional resources required. Therefore the best bet at closing the huge adaptation gap is to make less developed countries economically developed; that won’t happen if poverty alleviation takes the back seat while climate change mitigation-in the manner of emissions reduction- take the centre stage. Prosperity of a society is proportional to effective adaptation measures that help in reducing net impacts from what would be cataclysmic.

Nigeria in 2012 recorded its worst flood in 50 years which resulted in the death and displacement of 363 people and 2.1 million people respectively. The floods damaged over 1.9 million hectares of lands, reduced rice production in the affected areas by 22.4% according to an empirical analysis done by Dr E.T. Ajibade. The combined value of damages and losses was estimated at $16.9 billion. If Nigeria’s adaptation measures had earlier included structural flood protection measures, early warning systems, risk-informed land planning, the losses incurred would have been minimized. Nevertheless, Rice farmers in Kwara State, one of the states most impacted negatively by the flood, devised new adaptation strategies, some of which included change of crop and adoption of upland cropping, change of planting date and rice varieties.

I’m of the belief that Nigeria’s next revised Nationally Determined Contribution should contain adaptation measures that will lay out methods, costs and efficacies and must overshadow mitigation pathways. The country’s agricultural system which is mostly-rain fed can improve its productivity, food security and bio-diversity conservation by spending to contain the current pressing problems of flood, erosion; this will be way more logical and economical than countering a vague and uncertain climate threats in the later future.

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