10 Science Insights for COP27

As nations convene in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, leading climate scientists share a new report to support more effective policy.

This story was originally published by Eos and is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Women take part in a discussion during Africa Human Rights Day in Abu Shouk, a camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur, Sudan. Credit: UNAMID, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A new report aims to add further scientific backing to the vast academic literature supporting policy discussion at this year’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). The report, “10 New Insights in Climate Science,” was released by Future Earth, The Earth League, and the World Climate Research Programme. It complements the scientific reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to Mercedes Bustamante, an editorial board member of the report.

“Unlike the IPCC reports, which are not policy prescriptive, the Insights report is openly aimed at policymakers—not just in national governments but also in the local and regional spheres, as well as to those in the private and financial sectors,” said Bustamante, an IPCC coauthor and systems ecology researcher at the University of Brasília in Brazil.

“The report is based on new knowledge that emerged in the past 12 months … We start after the COP each year, and the process goes up to the following COP,” explained Wendy Broadgate, a global hub director at Future Earth and editorial board member of the report.

This year’s report includes the expertise of more than 60 researchers from across the globe, as well as of another 15 on the editorial board. “And we pay very close attention to the balances of expertise, gender, and geography among authors,” added Broadgate.

From adaptation to finance, here are this year’s takeaways:

1. The idea of “endless adaptation” is a myth. In many parts of the world, societies and ecosystems are already facing limits to climate change adaptation. “As global temperatures rise, adaptive responses become less effective,” the authors write, and even effective adaptation measures will not be able to stave off all loss and damage. Mitigation efforts, the authors say, are “critical to avoid widespread breaching of adaptation limits,” and ambitious adaptation plans are urgent.

2. Vulnerability hot spots abound in regions at risk. Countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change have a climate-driven hazard mortality rate 15 times higher than the least vulnerable countries, the authors note. Today about 1.6 billion people live in highly vulnerable areas across Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Middle East—and the number is expected to double by 2050. “These regions are subject to multiple sources of stress and have less capacity of response as environmental frailty merges with social vulnerability,” Bustamante said. Prioritizing international agreements that protect carbon sinks and biodiversity hot spots is one of the ways to deal with the problem, the authors write.

3. The climate-health nexus will face new threats. Climate change is already affecting human, animal, and environmental health across the globe and is responsible for almost 40% of the world’s heat-related deaths. It will continue to drive an increase in wildfires and outbreaks of waterborne and vector-borne diseases. Countries should consider the cost of inaction and readjust their budgets to make sure they can tackle climate-health vulnerabilities and invest in adequate prevention, the authors suggest.

4. Climate-induced migration will increase. Extreme weather events are already forcing vulnerable groups to move across the globe, and migration will increase as communities lose their capacity to adapt. The authors suggest that policymakers shift from a reactive response (dealing with emergencies once they have taken place) to an anticipatory approach, which involves long-term planning and management.

5. Human security requires climate security. Climate change can trigger violence by deepening already existing conflicts and vulnerabilities. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the authors write, has revealed food and energy vulnerabilities associated with a dependency on fossil fuels. The authors suggest that scaled responses to conflict, involving regional, national, and international institutions, are required.

6. Sustainable land use is essential to meeting climate targets. Deforestation associated with agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, while at the same time, the effects of a changing climate are putting agricultural activity at risk. Effective national policies supporting the transition to more sustainable and resilient land management practices are among the key actions to smarter and better land use, the report suggest.

7. Financial institutions are falling short on sustainability goals. Most of today’s sustainable finance practices, the authors pointed out, are all too familiar: Capital is used within existing business models instead of being used in new and effective ways to tackle climate change. The financial sector is simply not moving at the speed the world needs to have real action on climate change. One way decisionmakers can address the issue, the report suggests, is by developing strong policies and regulations that demand “high levels of transparency and accuracy in the reporting of the emissions associated with investments, savings and economic activity.”

8. The world needs to urgently address loss and damage. As infrastructure is threatened by extreme events and regions cede territory to rising sea levels, losses and damages associated with climate change are already a reality in many parts of the world. Some losses, the authors point out, can be calculated in monetary terms, but “there are also non-economic losses and damages that need to be better understood and accounted for.” The report suggests that the world develop a coordinated global policy response to the challenge.

9. Inclusive decision-making is key for climate-resilient development. As climate change will affect all individuals one way or another, everyone should have a say in the choices that will affect their future. Inclusive decision-making, the authors write, “has been shown to lead to better and more just climate outcomes.” Policies supporting the development, assessment, and expansion of community-led initiatives are effective ways to address climate justice.

10. The world can break down structural barriers. The gap between national pledges and emissions reductions required by the Paris Agreement is widening, the report warns. The world is stuck on social norms that prioritize continuous consumption and on business models that privilege nonstop production. One of the ways to break away from these structural barriers, according to the report, is to create and implement legal instruments to address inequality and injustice.

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