As companies and countries strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an alarming report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability on Monday.
The report explored business as usual and other potential pathways forward with varying levels of climate action and concluded that climate change will continue to impact the freight and supply chain industry drastically.
“Weather-related extremes are creating shocks to global trade,” Debora Roberts, IPCC Working Group II co-chair, said during a press conference about the report, which focused on impacts of climate change in all industry sectors worldwide, as well as potential adaptation strategies.
Despite current efforts to curtail emissions, global emissions are expected to increase by 14% in the current decade, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said during the press conference. “That spells catastrophe.”
“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change,” Guterres said.
Freight, supply chain impacts
With extreme weather events predicted to increase in severity and frequency, the IPCC said all modes of transport and the global trade system as a whole will be impacted greatly.
“Relative sea-level rise and the increased frequency and severity of storms are already affecting port activity, infrastructure and supply chains, sometimes disrupting trade and transport,” the report said. “Surface and river flooding, which are projected to increase in a warmer climate, are the main hazards for road and railway infrastructure, increasingly disrupting international and domestic transportation of agricultural commodities.”
Aviation and road transport will be impacted by worsening hail, rain and snowstorms. Shipping will be affected by hurricanes and potentially changing shipping routes.
Extreme weather events impact onshore and offshore extraction and refining operations of oil, coal, gas and biofuels. “Disruption of road, rail and shipping routes interrupts fuel supply chains,” the report stated.
Guterres said “the present global energy mix is broken,” and reliance on fossil fuels not only worsens climate change but also makes countries more vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Switching to renewable energy is the “best way to energy security,” he noted. Petteri Taalas, secretary-general at the World Meteorological Organization, said, “Climate mitigation offers great business opportunities in many sectors like energy, transport and industry.”
Melting polar ice brings new potential shipping routes, environmental challenges
Rising temperatures are shortening the season for ice roads, which remote communities as well as industries such as forestry and mining rely on heavily. Climate change is also thawing permafrost and melting polar ice in the Arctic, which could open up new shipping lanes.
The report warned that if shipping companies take advantage of new routes through the Arctic, there will likely be negative impacts on marine life, such as increased noise pollution, potential for oil spills and emissions of carbon and air pollutants. Shipping through the Arctic could also impact subsistence hunting and food security for local communities and increase demand for search and rescue activities.
“Newly ice-free shipping routes are increasing regional and geopolitical tensions and may facilitate novel threats like the spread of invasive species and safety hazards to local hunters and fishers,” the report said.
It said the Arctic helps regulate the global climate and ecological processes through “large-scale patterns related to air and ocean circulation.”
Time to act and adapt is now
While shipping and its environmental impacts are predicted to grow, the IPCC said that efforts to adapt to climate change are only at the planning stage. If supply chains do not account for changing climate conditions, they will be “increasingly vulnerable.”
“Investments in adaptation work. Adaptation saves lives. As climate impacts worsen, and they will, scaling up investments will be essential for survival,” Guterres said.
This report is the second in a series of IPCC reports focused on the science, potential impacts and adaptation, and mitigation of climate change. From 67 countries, the IPCC Working Group II’s 270 authors cited more than 34,000 references in this report.
“Delay means death,” Guterres said, stressing that there is no time to lose. “Every fraction of a degree matters. Every voice can make a difference, and every second counts.”
With “very high confidence,” the report concluded that “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”