Feb. 28, 2022
For Immediate Release
WATERLOO – The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” the Sixth Assessment Report of Working Group II, a comprehensive and far-reaching look at the impacts of climate change on the natural world and human societies, as well as vulnerabilities and potential adaptations.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Robert McLeman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, was the coordinating lead author of Chapter 7 of the report, which focused on the impacts of climate change on human health, well-being, migration and conflict. McLeman was formally nominated to the lead author position by the federal government in 2018.
McLeman and a team of 12 international scholars assessed more than 1,600 peer-reviewed reports on the current impacts and future risks of climate change on climate-sensitive human diseases and health conditions; heat-related health risks; mental health; involuntarily displacement of communities; and conflicts within countries. The chapter also identifies ways communities can avoid or reduce health impacts and the risk of displacement, with many potential solutions helping to reduce greenhouse gas while building communities’ adaptive capacity and improving well-being.
“The impacts of climate change are already being felt at local, national and global scales, and will have growing implications for Canadians in coming years,” said McLeman. “In 2021, Canadians experienced first-hand the physical and mental health impacts of extreme heat events, wildfires and floods that displaced entire communities in British Columbia. In addition to documenting the impacts and risks of climate change, our chapter also focuses on identifying opportunities to make communities and health systems more resilient as part of wider efforts to build adaptive capacity and meet the long-term aims of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
In the chapter, researchers note that climate change will have direct and indirect impacts on human health and wellbeing, from the frequency and severity of events such as storms, floods and wildfires to changes to ecosystems, water resources and food systems.
Besides injuries and deaths from storms, floods and fires, a growing number of extreme heat events will exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, for instance, and higher temperatures and changing precipitation patterns could increase the population of mosquitoes and ticks that spread illnesses such as malaria and Lyme disease.
Extreme weather events are already displacing tens of millions of people worldwide every year and scientists project that number will continue to rise. The World Bank is predicting that, by mid-century, more than 140 million people could be displaced for climate-related reasons, primarily from low-income countries. However, if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, the number of displaced people could be kept at current levels.
The chapter’s author team found that there is no evidence that climate-related events will lead to violent conflicts between countries, though climate change can and has exacerbated pre-existing political tensions within countries.
“Engaging competing groups in a cooperative management of resources – sometimes described as environmental peace-building – may help reduce tensions in conflict-prone areas,” said McLeman.
The three IPCC working groups publish a new assessment report every seven years. Working Group III will publish their Sixth Assessment Report on climate change mitigation on April 4 and a report summarizing the findings of all three working groups will be published September 2022.
Each working group report is the combined effort of hundreds of international scientists who assess thousands of scientific papers each year to provide a comprehensive understanding of climate change, its causes, impacts and potential strategies to mitigate and adapt to its impacts. The reports are used by governments of all levels to inform policies.
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