Latest IPCC Report: “Safeguarding and Strengthening Nature Is Key to Securing a Livable Future”

ASLA 2019 Professional Landmark Award. Crosswinds Marsh Wetland Interpretive Preserve. Sumpter Township, MI. SmithGroup / Aaron Kiley

ASLA is deeply concerned by the latest scientific findings outlined in Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, the second research assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and supports the increased global focus on restoring ecosystems and implementing “climate resilient development” practices to help more vulnerable communities stave off the worst impacts.

“This is the direst warning yet from the IPCC, and only reiterates to us the critical importance of our shared vision, which guides our work — to plan and design healthy and resilient communities for all,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “Working closely with other planning and design disciplines, we must accelerate our collective efforts to protect and restore natural systems and help communities get onto more resilient pathways. We must help communities around the world get ready for a much different world in 2100.”

“Landscape architects have been increasingly alarmed by the climate impacts they have heard from communities, researched, and witnessed themselves. The vast majority of practicing landscape architects surveyed last year have been actively educating their partners about the need to adopt climate resilient practices to address extreme heat, flooding, and other increasingly dangerous impacts immediately,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “We are committed to advancing resilience strategies that will help communities not only in the U.S. but also internationally.”

This latest IPCC review of climate science, which was approved by 195 countries, finds that approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people, or nearly half of the global population, now live in places highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 1.5 to 2 billion people live in areas facing water scarcity. Up to 1 billion people are now at risk from sea level rise. And as temperatures incrementally increase, climate change will put even greater numbers of people at risk.

Many expected climate impacts are now “increasingly irreversible” and worse than anticipated even a few years ago. All regions of the globe will be impacted by increasing temperatures and extreme weather events, with the highest impacts in regions that are already among the most vulnerable. For example, the report finds that between 2010 and 2020, 15 times more people died from floods, droughts, and storms in Africa, South Asia, and Central and South America than in other parts of the world.

In North America, the report outlines a range of expected climate impacts:

  • Increased deaths, illnesses, and mental health impacts from rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and climate change-induced hazards.
  • Increased degradation of land, coastal, and marine ecosystems, including loss of biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and their protective benefits.
  • Reduced availability of freshwater, which could not only impact communities but also ecosystems, and degraded water quality.
  • Increased risk of food and nutritional insecurity through changes to agriculture, livestock, hunting, fisheries, and aquaculture productivity and access.
  • Increased risks to well-being, livelihoods, and economic activities from cascading and compounding climate hazards, including risks to coastal cities, settlements, and infrastructure from sea level rise.

According to the report, a key solution to addressing all these challenges is increasing investment in vitally important ecosystems. “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life critical services such as food and clean water,” argues Hans-Otto Pörtner, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair, in a press release.

But given human health, well-being, and livelihoods depend on the services provided by ecosystems, there is also significant concern that natural systems themselves may fail to adapt to rising temperatures and other climate impacts, undermining all other efforts.

The report states: “Increased heatwaves, droughts, and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage.”

Up to 14 percent of all species, depending on degree of temperature rise, also now face “a very high risk of extinction.” ASLA believes these latest findings show the critical need to increase investment in protecting biodiversity through supporting ecosystems and their restoration, greater ecosystem connectivity, and species migration corridors.

While global campaigns to protect and enhance 30 percent of terrestrial and marine ecosystems have gained momentum, the IPCC instead calls for “restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving” 30 to 50 percent of “Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats.”

What the IPCC calls “climate resilient development,” which combines climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, can also help communities reduce their vulnerabilities to anticipated impacts. This would involve the rapid transformation of the global energy system to renewable sources, along with significant investments to help communities adapt to the challenges now faced.

ASLA 2021 Professional Research Award. Ecoregional Green Roofs: Theory and Application in the Western USA and Canada. Bruce Dvorak, ASLA

The report highlights cities, particularly inequitable ones, at high risk of climate impacts, but also notes that urban systems provide opportunities to dramatically increase resilience.

Green infrastructure and ecosystem services, sustainable land use and urban planning, sustainable urban water management, improved water efficiency, integrated coastal zone management and coastal defenses – all areas in which landscape architects plan and design solutions – are highlighted as key adaptation solutions in the report, and many also have high climate mitigation benefits.

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Orange Mall Green Infrastructure. Tempe, Arizona. COLWELL SHELOR LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE / Arizona State University
ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. From a Concrete Bulkhead Riverbank to a Vibrant Shoreline Park—Suining South Riverfront Park. Suining City, Sichuan Province, China. ECOLAND Planning and Design Corp. / Arch-Exist Photography

ASLA agrees with the IPCC’s assessment that global adaptation efforts to date have often been limited and short-sighted. The report’s authors write: “Most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current impacts or near-term risks, and focused more on planning rather than implementation.” Adaptation efforts are also highly inequitable, with far more investment in developed countries.

ASLA believes it’s important to partner with all communities to provide comprehensive, equitable, and long-range climate adaptation planning. Landscape architects understand the connections between climate, human health and well-being, ecosystems, and biodiversity, and can help communities better understand to reduce their risks. We must plan and design with nature to protect ourselves.

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