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Working Group II of IPCC Report: Climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet
[28. February 2022] 

Today, the 6th Assessment Report (AR6) of Working Group II of IPCC was published, addressing climate-change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The report stresses the interdependence of climate, nature and people. Consequently, it integrates knowledge from the natural, environmental, social and economic sciences more strongly than previous IPCC reports. One of the two coordinators of the AR6 report is Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner from the Alfred Wegener Institute, and the two AWI biologists Prof. Dieter Piepenburg and Prof. Björn Rost were involved as lead authors of the chapters on Europe and Oceans, respectively, as well as on polar regions.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” says IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner in the IPCC press release. He emphasizes that climate protection and biodiversity conservation must be considered together: “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said Hans-Otto-Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential,” the AWI biologist emphasizes.


“The urgent need to opt out of the use of fossil fuels more quickly is already being shown to us today by the effects of climate change on people and nature: diseases, loss of life and habitat as well as displacement due to heat waves, flooding, sea level rise or environmental destruction are examples here,” says Prof. Antje Boetius, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). “For decades, science has been pushing for the necessary path change to renewable energies and sustainable action. Even though we could have been much further along, we still have the steering wheel in our own hands,” Antje Boetius continues. “The new report speaks even more clearly about the need to avoid the incredibly high costs of climate change.”

“The new Assessment Report has documented a number of climate change-related responses of organisms and ecosystems, also in the chapter on 'Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems' that I was involved in”, reports Prof. Björn Rost. “The ocean plays a crucial role in climate regulation, as it absorbs most of the anthropogenic warming, but also directly the greenhouse gas CO2,” says the marine biologist. “However, this 'service' to us and our planet comes at a cost though, as by taking up the extra heat and CO2, the ocean is warming, acidifying and losing oxygen, far beyond what has been seen for millions of years. Already today, with global warming of 1.1 °C, many species have migrated poleward and growth and reproductive cycles have shifted in time, with widespread impacts on food webs cascading up to fish stocks. In addition, marine heatwaves have become more frequent and intense, leading to severe loss of biodiversity and the collapse of regional fisheries in some regions,” Björn Rost explains the observed impacts of climate change on ocean life. “With global warming exceeding 1.5 °C, sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs, kelp forests, but also sea-ice habitats will be irreversibly damaged. The loss of multi-year sea-ice already predicted for the next decades, as well as an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer, may lead to the disappearance of several Arctic fish species, crabs, birds and mammals.” Björn Rost emphasises that the new report takes into account not only direct climate impacts but also their interactions with other human-made threats such as habitat destruction, eutrophication or overfishing. It also places a special focus on possible solutions for adaptations of various kinds, taking into account not only climate change itself, but also its close interconnection with nature and humans.


“To adequately address these close relationships between climate, nature and people, an intensive cooperation with colleagues from environmental, social and economic sciences was necessary, and this was particularly exciting for me as a natural scientist,” says Prof. Dieter Piepenburg, marine biologist and one of the lead authors of the regional chapters on Europe and Polar Regions. “A key finding of the report is that in all sectors and regions, the most vulnerable people and systems are disproportionately affected. The report also emphasises the different vulnerability of developing countries compared to Europe, for example. But even in Europe, where further warming will be stronger than the global average, vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the poor, are particularly affected by heatwaves, which can already have an impact on health even in our continent,” says Dieter Piepenburg. “Another feature of the current report that is new in comparison to previous ones is its strong regional focus, which deepens the global assessments. It can thus provide concrete options for decision-makers at regional and even municipal levels, which have been assessed for feasibility and effectiveness. Therefore, the ability of cities, rural areas and ecosystems to adapt to climate change in a targeted manner can be increased - to the benefit of all,” Dieter Piepenburg reports on the options for sustainable climate-resilient development. However, these options will become increasingly limited at a warming of more than 1.5 °C or even 2 °C, and more profound (and expensive) adaptations would become increasingly necessary.


Background information:

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change The Working Group II report can be downloaded here.

AR6 Working Group II in numbers

270 authors from 67 countries
▪ 47 – coordinating authors
▪ 184 – lead authors
▪ 39 – review editors
▪ 675 – contributing authors

Over 34,000 cited references

A total of 62,418 expert and government review comments
(First Order Draft 16,348; Second Order Draft 40,293; Final Government Distribution: 5,777)

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change The Working Group II report examines the impacts of climate change on nature and people around the globe. It explores future impacts at different levels of warming and the resulting risks and offers options to strengthen nature’s and society’s resilience to ongoing climate change, to fight hunger, poverty, and inequality and keep Earth a place worth living on – for current as well as for future generations.

Working Group II introduces several new components in its latest report: One is a special section on climate change impacts, risks and options to act for cities and settlements by the sea, tropical forests, mountains, biodiversity hotspots, dryland and deserts, the Mediterranean as well as the polar regions. Another is an atlas that will present data and findings on observed and projected climate change impacts and risks from global to regional scales, thus offering even more insights for decision makers.



Antje Boetius

Dieter Piepenburg

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