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Understanding the impact of climate change at the national level

A significant research project offers insights into how escalating global temperatures and climate change are intensifying risks to human and natural systems at a national level.

The initiative, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), encapsulates a series of eight studies centered around Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, and India, delves into the repercussions of climate change, such as heightened drought and flooding risks, diminishing crop yields, and the erosion of biodiversity and natural capital.

The culmination of this research is detailed in a synthesis paper published in the journal Climatic Change, which paints a comprehensive picture of the accruing climate risks as global warming escalates from 1.5°C to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

The mitigation game: Limiting warming to 1.5°C

The findings reveal a stark increase in the vulnerability of agricultural land to drought conditions under a 3°C warming scenario, projecting over half of the agricultural land in each country to face severe droughts lasting longer than a year within any given 30-year period.

However, there’s a silver lining. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C could significantly mitigate these risks, reducing the exposure of agricultural land to drought by 21% to 61% across the studied countries and curbing economic damages from fluvial flooding.

Similarly, human exposure to severe drought and economic damages from sea-level rise would also increase at a slower pace if global warming is capped at 1.5°C.

The urgency to combat global warming is underscored by the current trajectory of global policies, which, if unchanged, are poised to result in a 3°C rise in global temperatures.

Climate change: National impacts, global actions

This dire prediction accompanies the release of two additional papers: one exploring the impact of global warming on biodiversity across the six countries, and another developing a natural capital risk register that factors in projected demographic changes.

These findings indicate that many regions within the studied countries already face high natural capital risks at a 1.5°C warming level, especially when considering population growth.

With the increase in global temperatures, these risks are expected to escalate dramatically, emphasizing the need for an expansion of protected areas to ensure climate-resilient biodiversity conservation.

This body of research, part of the Topical Collection of studies published in Climatic Change over the last three years, addresses a critical gap in assessing future climate change risks across various global warming scenarios on a national scale.

Professor Rachel Warren, the program lead and lead author of the synthesis paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, highlights the importance of this initiative.

“Until now, people have used very different datasets and models to explore climate change risks in different countries, or have conducted global analyses that make it difficult to resolve the implications for individual countries,” she explains.

National policies needed to combat climate change

The national-scale outputs provided by this research are vital for informing policy decisions regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr. Jeff Price, a co-author and fellow researcher at the Tyndall Centre, emphasizes the broader applicability of their findings, suggesting that other nations are likely to face similar challenges.

He advocates for a dual approach of climate change mitigation and adaptation to prevent substantial increases in risk to both human and natural systems.

“Although these studies focus on the risks to six countries only, other nations are projected to experience similar issues. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on both climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation to avoid large increases in risk to both human and natural systems,” Dr. Price said.

Ecosystem restoration as a climate solution

One effective strategy he mentions is ecosystem restoration, which can both counteract climate change effects and replenish natural capital reserves, particularly if global warming is limited to 2°C or less.

“For example, a good way to combat the effects of climate change on natural systems and soak up carbon from the atmosphere is to restore ecosystems to their natural state, especially if warming can be held to 2 °C or less. This has the additional benefit of restoring the natural capital bank in these areas,” Dr. Price suggested.

In summary, this comprehensive research, spanning nine published studies, underscores the urgent need to limit global warming to 1.5°C to mitigate the severe impacts of climate change on agriculture, biodiversity, and natural capital at the national level. The team focused on the countries of Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, and India.

By presenting a clear correlation between rising temperatures and escalating climate risks, the studies advocate for immediate global action towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The findings serve as a crucial call to arms for policymakers, communities, and individuals worldwide to embrace and implement strategies aligned with the Paris Agreement, thereby safeguarding our planet for future generations.

The full study was published in the journal Climate Change.


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