Climate change impacts - from slow-moving crises such as drought and sea level rise to weather disasters - are increasingly displacing people from their homes and worsening conflict threats according to scientists at the COP27 UN Climate Talks.
According to a report by Thomson Reuters Foundation scientists have said that about 1.6bn people now live in climate change ‘vulnerability hotspots’, a number that could double by 2050 if fossil fuels continue being used at the rate they are today.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research director Johan Rockström said this puts a third of the world’s population at risk of weather disasters, water and food shortages, displacement and other threats that could spur social instability.
Professor Rockström said limiting global temperature rise as a result of climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius - the more ambitious target of the 2015 Paris Agreement - “is not a goal, it is a physical limit”.
He said, “Go beyond it and we are likely to trigger tipping points.” These could include irreversible melting of Greenland ice that could set in motion seven metres of sea level rise over time, enough to swamp major coastal cities.
With fossil fuel emissions still rising, despite a need for them to fall by 45% within eight years to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal alive, scientists are thinking about how to better grab attention to enact change.
The ability of people to adapt to coming climate impacts is limited - which means faster emissions cutting is crucial - and worrying new climate-related health threats are on the rise, including from heat extremes.
In addition, climate change impacts - from slow-moving crises such as drought and sea level rise to weather disasters - are increasingly displacing people from their homes and worsening conflict threats, the scientists said.
Reducing forest losses and other land degradation is also important, scientists say, as nature and soils currently soak up a quarter of the world’s emissions, effectively keeping planet-heating carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Ensuring local people have a major say in what climate-resilient development should look like in their communities is also crucial to ensuring that limited money is effectively spent, the scientists said.