From biodiversity to mental health – climate change’s wide-ranging impacts

The starkness of the warnings and the confidence with which the authors make their assertions, marks a step change since the last report says Matthew Hunt, Leading Professional Enhancing Society Together, UK.

“The report also focuses on the interdependence of climate, ecosystems, biodiversity and human societies far more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments. This interdependency is key to understanding and therefore finding solutions for climate change.

“Biodiversity is recognised as both a major risk of the negative impact of climate change but also for its value in supporting solutions to mitigate those impacts. Investment in natural solutions not only protects biodiversity and natural systems but the report also makes an explicit business case for this sort of investment.

“Also, we should welcome the recognition of the effects of climate change on mental health. The report’s authors note with “very high confidence” that climate change has adversely affected people’s mental health. Exposure to extreme weather events, such as floods and hurricanes, can lead to mental health problems, including depression and PTSD. Recognising this and including provision for psychological first aid as part of resilience planning is an essential next step.

“As my colleagues will discuss below, the report’s value comes from its spotlight on central themes such as a greater emphasis on the economic argument, the inequities of climate change and the need for continued focus on the just transition to a resilient and sustainable future, and better collaboration – areas that have previously received less attention.”

The content of the report is familiar, but the tone is louder, more urgent, and more impassioned. It’s time to listen and act

Matthew Hunt

Leading Professional Enhancing Society

Positive economic case will drive progress

Martine Leman, Environmental, Social and Governance Lead, NL, welcomes the report’s focus on the positive economic case for adaptation – and hopes it will reinforce the trend towards better investigation of climate risk.

“Nations of the Global North have a moral responsibility not only to reduce their emissions but also to invest in adaptation to the climate change impacts both at home and in the Global South. So far much of the funding has been public. The report’s positive economic case for adaptation should bring financial and risk managers into the conversation and encourage private investment. This will drive innovation – essential for future climate adaptions. Given that the report also highlights a shortening and more urgent timeline to achieve change, the agility of private business is needed for rapid progress.

“We’re seeing an increasing appetite from investors and insurance companies to understand their climate risk exposure. This is part of their due diligence - understanding the physical risk to an asset or to ensure they don’t end up with stranded investments. But increasingly companies are using climate risk assessment to assert their environmental credentials, manage reputational risk and bolster their licence to operate. The IPCC’s strong case for the economic benefits of adaptation will serve to further increase this appetite.

“The report is also strong in emphasising interrelatedness of causes and impacts. This integration must be reflected in the solutions. Digital tools are a game changer at a portfolio level, but we also need the nuance of a consultant-led assessment to complete the picture and create a solution which makes economic, social and practical sense.”

Greater understanding of the positive business case for climate adaptation might help us to avoid the worst-case scenario, but we must recognise that the point of no return is approaching faster than expected.

Martine Leman

Environmental, Social and Governance Lead

Context is key to finding correct approach to adaptation

As Kotter’s change model has it, the first step in delivering change is “To create a sense of urgency”. Keketso Motjuwadi Sustainability Lead, Southern Africa feels this latest contribution from the IPCC certainly does that.

“There is no let-up in the report’s assertions that we have no choice but to seize this moment to turn talk into action on climate change.

“In Southern Africa, the communication around climate change can focus too heavily on the global picture and an outdated assumption that a high capital investment is required. The report’s stark summary might not include many surprises for either professionals involved in climate adaptation projects or those directly impacted such as farmers, but it’s an essential tool in helping to explain, educate and drive forward progress in this region.

“The report also highlights the inequalities of climate change. Identifying Africa as the continent that has contributed least to emissions, but which will suffer most from the effects. While the economic benefits of mitigation and adaption are naturally important, it is the contribution to social upliftment in its many forms that carry the largest weight in our context for any climate adaptation work. Local knowledge and partnership are of paramount importance both in the design and delivery of a project but also to its long-term success – as we saw recently in an integrated urban development project we studied in Madagascar.

“Human society has proved time and time again that we will only take decisive action at the very last minute. I am optimistic that we will do it again, but that last minute has arrived.”

Every resilience project must be delivered in collaboration with and for the benefit of the local population.

Keketso Motjuwadi

Sustainability Lead

Cities under threat but can also be leaders in adaptation

That multiple climate hazards present multiple risks and require multi-functional adaptation solutions might already be acknowledged but, Amy Savage, Principal Consultant, Water management and Resilience, welcomes the report’s focus on this as a welcome change of emphasis.

“The need for a multi-risk, multi-solution approach is exemplified by the role of cities and urban development – something the report also pulled out for special mention. Whilst cities are at risk of the greatest impact from climate change, they also have an opportunity to forge new paths and deliver climate-adapted places. Adaptations are difficult to retro fit so early integration of measures such as sustainable drainage and water storage are essential. Projects in the developing world should also be equipped to build on the developed world’s progress – and learn from its mistakes. Sharing lessons learnt and technical developments will support efforts to even out the geographical and social inequalities of climate change that the report highlights.

“The report also makes clear that we cannot rely on mitigation. The reality of climate change and the speed with which it is progressing is such that adaptation must be given greater prominence. All future infrastructure development must include climate change adaptation if we are to build a more resilient future.

“Improving collaboration is an essential element in approaching these multiple risks and multi-functional solutions. Different sectors have different needs and pressures, but multi-functional solutions are possible. In the UK, adaptation planning is making solid progress but siloed government decision making creates barriers. This is changing thanks to bottom-up approaches that we’ve seen on projects such as the Future Fens Integrated Adaptation where stakeholders including water authorities, farmers, environmental bodies and councils – all with a slightly different agenda and approach – are working for a common goal.”

All future development in the built environment must include climate change adaptation.

Amy Savage

Principal Consultant, Water management and Resilience