IPCC Adaptation Report: It’s Later Than You Think

Yves here. While the West is busy fixating on the war in Ukraine, and fossil fuel companies salivate over being allowed to ramp up greenhouse gas emissions, ever-grimmer warnings from the IPCC are being ignored. Babies in Ukraine are serving to justify even faster planetary degradation.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

What a killing heat wave looks like in the real world. 50°C = 123°F. From July 2020 (source).

By the time the next IPCC report on the pathways forward is published, 7-8 years from now, we will already know whether we secured a decent chance for a sustainable future — or if we face a devil’s bargain that offers only ruinous costs no matter which way we go from there.
—One savvy climate analyst (via email) on the just-released IPCC Working Group 3 report

If the wealthy had ever planned to save our species from the coming catastrophe, they’d be doing so now and we’d be watching them do it.
—Yours truly, here

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is almost complete. The products of Working Groups 1 and 2, the one dealing with the physical science (WG1) and the one dealing with impacts and vulnerabilities (WG2), are already out. The report of Working Group 3, dealing with adaptation, has just been released. All that remains is the Synthesis Report that summarizes all three. (For more on these reports, see our earlier comments here.)

Uncharacteristically, the WG3 report is dire. (All citations from this report of the IPCC will come from the Summary for Policymakers. For just the headline statements, go here.)

As usual the language is dense and obtuse, though accurate. For example:

SPM.C.3 Soft limits to some human adaptation have been reached, but can be overcome by addressing a range of constraints, primarily financial, governance, institutional and policy constraints (high confidence). Hard limits to adaptation have been reached in some ecosystems (high confidence). With increasing global warming, losses and damages will increase and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits (high confidence).

You have to think about that to get it. Paint a picture, it does not. “Hard adaptation limits” includes death.


SPM.C.4 There is increased evidence of maladaptation[15] across many sectors and regions since the AR5. Maladaptive responses to climate change can create lock-ins of vulnerability, exposure and risks that are difficult and expensive to change and exacerbate existing inequalities. Maladaptation can be avoided by flexible, multi-sectoral, inclusive and long-term planning and implementation of adaptation actions with benefits to many sectors and systems. (high confidence)

“Maladaption” means picking a solution that locks in the problem. Building out 30 years of methane (“America’s clean energy”), for example, as a solution to climate change is a “maladaptation” — like switching to a different poison as you lay dying.


SPM.C.5.1 Political commitment and follow-through across all levels of government accelerate the implementation of adaptation actions (high confidence). Implementing actions can require large upfront investments of human, financial and technological resources (high confidence), whilst some benefits could only become visible in the next decade or beyond (medium confidence). Accelerating commitment and follow-through is promoted by rising public awareness, building business cases for adaptation, accountability and transparency mechanisms, monitoring and evaluation of adaptation progress, social movements, and climate-related litigation in some regions (medium confidence).

Shorter version: “Politics and capital investment is needed to fix this, even if the return and results aren’t obvious for a decade or more.” (Duh.) Also, “it’s important to build a ‘business case’ for adapting to climate change.” (Now that’s just stupid, like requiring that a business case be made for a village hospital before one is built.)

The Summary for Policymakers is supposed to be the non-technical chapter for people like Joe Biden. It’s almost as though they didn’t want to be understood. (And they don’t. Again, see this analysis.)

In Plain English

But the following makes clear how dire the situation is. From the climate-savvy analyst quoted at the top:

2025 is now a make-or-break year. The IPCC finds that globally we must reach peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 in order to limit warming to 1.5°C, and that delaying a peak past 2025 means unavoidable and unnecessary economic losses.

And this is from the WG3 co-chair himself, in an interview with the Guardian via Brad Johnson’s excellent newsletter, Hill Heat:

It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,” IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea announced today, at the release of the group’s Mitigation of Climate Climate Change report. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

“Now or never,” said the co-author of the WG3 report. If they could only write like they talk.

Why None of This Hits Home

The problems, of course, are these, as anyone with eyes can see:

  • Complete political capture of the ruling class by the fossil fuel companies (our rulers are determined to keep us on carbon till they can’t)
  • The pathological greed and hubris of the very very rich, our rulers
  • The refusal of anyone with power, and certainly anyone with power in the U.S., to end fossil fuel subsidies
  • And the refusal, unmentioned by this report, by the wealth-controlled mainstream media to make this seem urgent

About the third point above, Thom Hartmann, in his daily newsletter, says this(emphasis mine; links at the source):

[I]t’s so much cheaper to drive an electric car regardless of where you live. And now many new EV prices ($27,400 for a Nissan Leaf, for example) are even below the US average ($38,700) for gas-powered cars.

Don’t bother using a search engine to try to find this information, though. Fossil fuels are a multi-trillion-dollar industry, and US taxpayers — you and me — subsidized that industry to the tune of over $600 billion last year.

The International Monetary Fund calculates worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels at $5.9 trillion in 2020: that’s $11 million a minute.

The rich who run the place, the very very wealthy, are subsidizing our (and their) certain end. How strange is that? How ironic this story will seem when it’s all played out, after no one is left to read it.

One could argue that the world has already passed its “make-or-break” year — passed it many decades ago. It will take significant action to keep us from devolving to a place with “ruinous costs no matter which way we go.” Yet our rulers refuse to take any “significant action” at all.

Instead, we’re offered the predictably limp-wristed promises of our current current president, who is breaking even those as fast as he can. The irony is world-historical.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    A friend asked me for my quick take on the IPCC report. I confess not to have read all of it – my increasingly dark mood can’t take it. But the only real response I could give her was: ‘I can sum it up in 2 words: ‘We’re f**cked’.

    I would though take a little issue with the conclusion that its all down to the power of the fossil fuel industry and its capture of politicians. I’m not sure its all that simple. Here in Ireland, the fossil fuel industry is relative weak in comparison to the wind industry. The real lobbying power comes from the agriculture sector, which is entirely hooked on turning natural gas and diesel into milk, as well as a very large rural electorate which is convinced the Greens are trying to make them give up their cars and cycle every day 30 miles to the shops.

    The Chinese term ‘Grey Rhino’ is I think the best explanation. Quite simply, everyone (including I think lots of billionaires and CEOs and Prime ministers) are fully aware of whats happening, and are privately horrified. But we are all caught in a system where nobody can or is willing to make the personal, professional or political decisions needed, because there is always institutional pressures to push off the decision into next year. There is simply too much momentum behind a world hooked on oil and coal and only a severe shock can change this. And sometimes (as with the Ukraine war) the shock actually pushes us into the opposite direction, where even some otherwise quite sensible people start talking about needing to produce more natural gas. We can all see the grey rhino lumbering towards us. But the ant stinging our foot is distracting our attention.

    So basically, we’re f**cked.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      “…my increasingly dark mood can’t take it….”
      amen to that,lol.
      far too much on my plate to dig into the nitty gritty of this, too.
      it was 95 degrees(F) here on tuesday…right now, it’s 35…i’ve got “cloches”(clear plastic dome-lids from croissants) over the tomatoes i set out last week.
      gotta remove those ere we run off to san antone here in a bit…likely too early to do so, but if i leave them on, the little tomato plants will wilt when it gets up in the 80’s, today.

      we’re encountering(IIRC) a 3rd Double Dip La Nina…every seven years or so…coupled with the effects of an arctic that’s warming faster than the mid lats and equator.
      the result of the latter phenomenon, in winter, at least, is a weakening of the circumpolar jet that used to keep the real cold walled up.
      part of the arm waving/drawing in dirt explanation i give to boys is that the arctic is shedding its cold…and that, counterintuitively, our recent bouts of extreme cold are the direct result of a warming planet.
      add double dip La Nina, and we’ve also got severe drought…i’m running the sprinklers much, much more than usual…and not just on the gardens…but to grow grass for sheep.
      in a “normal” year, the Texas Hill Country would be lush and covered over with flowers.
      instead, it still looks like january…all brown and dry…cresting the hills on the way to san antonio, with morning sun slanted, you can see all the dust in the air….

      as for my contribution to the ultimate problem: at 130 or so miles one way, i’ve gone to san antonio 3 times this week…and again, today.
      by this afternoon, i’ll have driven 1040 miles since monday morning.
      wife’s current clinical trial requires this excess…and the great distances are a result of living way out here in the middle of nowhere…as well as the ongoing concentration of medical services into supraregional hubs, rather than distributed like they used to be.
      that latter part is way out of my control, of course.

    2. Leftcoastindie

      It was 98 degrees yesterday at noon out here in Oceanside CA. Started cooling off a little bit today and should be back to normal (~ 73 degrees) tomorrow.
      This is twice in the last 3 weeks this has happened. It is usually September October where we have these kind of temps due to the Santa Ana winds. I have been in this house for 29 years and I don’t remember temps this high in March or April.

  2. MDA

    I agree we’re f**cked, that’s the executive summary. Too many climate stories are too depressing for me to even read. Two things need to happen in the US for us to have any hope.

    First, the economic system needs to reorient from universal employment, which depends on profit making business, to universal basic income and public provision of basic needs. Extractive industries with climate negative externalities need to be heavily regulated and wound down. We have to be willing to undermine and disrupt extractive and rentier business models, regardless of the impact on jobs and markets.

    Second, and pre-requisite for the first to have any chance, is we need a third political party and a new public conversation. Every time Bernie and the progressives get screwed by the party establishment, it drives me bananas that they don’t jump ship to the DSA, or start something new. I’m sure they think splitting the Democratic party would hand every election to the Republicans. What they don’t realize is they could split the Republican party at the same time.

    Everyone knows we need big changes. If well informed voters had the option to vote for an honest, MMT driven program of basic income, public health and other essentials, and the phase out of fossil fuels which is necessary to save the planet, I have faith the majority would.

    1. orlbucfan

      “If well informed voters……” Where, the States? Big Bizness and their FRightwingnut allies have systemically gone after public education. Charters, astronomical college debt, no national push/money to built Vocational Technological education. Big Biz wants serfs, and they’ve accomplished that here in the U.S. The last thing most greedy corporations want is well informed voters. Everyone I know except for a few delusional religious Fundies is very aware of climate chaos. But, a lot feel helpless and shrug their shoulders. I have dreaded violent worldwide bloody revolution my whole life. Many innocent people die, most quite horribly. I see it coming though and climate chaos is one of the lit matches.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Are we f**cked? Eight ways to Sunday. All business and governmental interest are locked into keep on doing what is driving us into a catastrophic future. And we have seen with the “official” BLM movement how a grass-root organization can be corrupted & neutralized. So as far as I can see, what we need is a mass movement based on a line from a movie – ‘If we burn, you burn with us!’ but a can’t see such a movement arriving until we have some spectacular climate disasters involving mass casualties and catastrophic damage.

  4. BeliTsari

    There’s only one real AGW story, now? US kleptocrats baiting Russia; to shut down Nord Stream II, just trying to bail-out their fracked LNG/ oil (and bitumen) export Ponzi scheme, which has probably already unleashed the run-away global warming Kraken (so tech oilgarchs can offer to “save” us, with insane geo-engineering, GE monoculture/ CAFO agribusiness, bailing out 94 ancient fission reactors, carbon sequestration, bio-fuel and carbon swap/ coal gasification, co-gen BS to monitize waiting until it was all simply too late) since their speciously oblivious petit bourgeois clientele can be made an offer, they can’t refuse? We’d LOTEd-away any say, vote or choice WE ever had in survivability, gleefully installing dead-eyed senile neocon kleptocrats & imbeciles?


  5. Peter Nightingale

    Corrupt metrics lead to corrupt results, but very few seem to notice. This issue probably goes back to the problems with the funding of the IPCC discussed recently on this web site: How Fossil Fuel Governments Control the IPCC. A case in in point is contained in a footnote on page SPM-4 of Assessment Report 6 of Working Group III:

    FOOTNOTE 7: GHG emission metrics are used to express emissions of different greenhouse gases in a common unit. Aggregated GHG emissions in this report are stated in CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq) using the Global Warming Potential with a time horizon of 100 years (GWP100) with values based on the contribution of Working Group I to the AR6. The choice of metric depends on the purpose of the analysis and all GHG emission metrics have limitations and uncertainties, given that they simplify the complexity of the physical climate system and its response to past and future GHG emissions. {Chapter 2 SM 2.3, Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 2, Box TS.2, WG I Chapter 7 Supplementary Material}

    The underlying problem is the 12 year decay time of methane in the atmosphere. This causes trouble for the conversion of greenhouse gases to a common denominator, aka the carbon dioxide equivalent. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the 100-year time horizon—fossil fuel governments? This conversion 100-year factor underestimates the greenhouse gas impact of methane by a factor of three or four. This is well-known among those who know it well. I have discussed this matter in great detail here.

    Among the first papers written about the global warming features of methane and the corrupt metric chosen to estimate its impact was this one by Cornell University’s Robert Howarth: A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. New York State has adopted the 20-year horizon in its legislation, not a coincidence.

    We are still traveling on this bridge to nowhere. In fact, we are accelerating, as is clear from this Joint Statement between the United States and the European Commission on European Energy Security:

    Natural gas remains an important part of the EU energy system in the green transition, including by ensuring its carbon intensity decreases over time.

    As this page mentions, my paper was not accepted for publication. The first reviewer set the tone and shot the paper down based on the title. The reviewer was Ken Caldeira (RC1) who wrote:

    ‘Users of flawed GWP metrics can be both honest and responsible. Scientific papers are about empirical facts, not value judgments.’

    That the IPCC mentioned that the choice of the time horizon is a value judgment apparently hadn’t dawned on Ken Caldeira:

    The choice of time horizon has a strong effect on the GWP [global warming po- tential] values—and thus also on the calculated contributions of CO2-equivalent emissions by component, sector or nation. There is no scientific argument for se- lecting100yearscomparedwithotherchoices ….Thechoiceoftimehorizon is a value judgement because it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.

    The references can be found in this link.

    Not that it proves anything, but I find it intriguing that Ken Caldeira has left academia and currently works for Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy. Coincidences!

    1. jabalarky

      Thanks for the contribution. A question: your paper’s been in preprint for four years and was ultimately not accepted. What’s going on there?

      1. Peter Nightingale

        No, the paper wasn’t accepted for publication, but the nice thing about Copernicus, the publisher, is that they have kept the discussion on their web page. There is an updated version which I have not located. It contains some clarifications in response to reactions of referees. I changed the title to something less provocative. That later version is here; it’s item #28 http://www.phys.uri.edu/~nigh/publications.html

        If you ask me, science is still erring on the side of least drama, something that this paper has not been able to fix since 2013.

    2. Herb

      Equally consequential and perhaps an equally egregious example of embedded value judgments masquerading as objectivity is the choice of discount rates in the integrated assessments that significantly influence policy decisions. My understanding is that many if not most of these models use discount rates of up to 5% which significantly devalues future benefits and leads to very different top line conclusions.
      Lord Stern in his UK climate review in 2006 used a 14% discount rate which should be close to what is universally used. But you almost never hear of the critical importance of this number and how it is almost totally a value judgment.

  6. voislav

    The bad part is that any policies enacted today would take 5 – 10 years to show any effect. Meaning that if US government decide to build 20 nuclear plants and signed the bill today, it would be at least 10 years before any of them become operational. Same for electric vehicles, windmills, solar panels, etc. It takes 5 years to put the supply chain in place for any kind of meaningful production.

    The sad part is that everyone seems to be betting on some sort of technological solution and yet there is very little investment into research. Research is even worse than production, it takes 20 years to educate a researcher, so even if we wanted to throw a lot of money into it, we just don’t have the people to do the research.

    China is in a somewhat different situation, they have been ramping up their R&D over the last 20 years. They have their guys poking into all sorts of obscure corners of science, but I am not sure that they are institutionally capable of major breakthroughs, most of what I’ve seen coming from China is derivative based on 10-15 year old research, very little original thought.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The Chinese have thrown a lot of money at a lot of different solutions, and really haven’t come up with anything viable thats new apart from massive scale, which has its own virtues. They’ve rolled out an enormous amount of off-shore wind recently – 17 GW capacity in 2021 alone (the equivalent of maybe 7 or 8 big coal or nuke plants), but thats typical of the scales they are capable of. They have put a massive amount of solar and wind capacity in the north-western desert, but thats too far from the main users to be much use at chipping away at coal. They are investing a lot in large scale DC lines which would help with renewables, but only up to a point.

      Nuclear is a case in point with the Chinese. They’ve bought up pretty much every type of reactor available to test, and have also tried a lot of fairly left field tech, like pebble bed designs. All seem to have been rejected as they now appear to be focusing on the Hualong One, which is basically an updated version of the French PWR designs which are nearly half a century old now. As you say, these are viable, but can’t be rolled out as speed, even in China. When it comes to nuclear, whatever the boosters say, we are stuck with PWR’s as the only viable option. All the other designs are unicorns.

      The worrying thing is that recent events seem to have encouraged them to have another look at coal derived liquid fuels, which are an environmental catastrophe in the waiting. They are also very keen on various forms of geo-engineering. If they decide on the latter, they are not going to ask anyones permission.

      1. .human

        I find geo-thermal energy to be the cat’s meow, except for entropy of course. As we cool the Earth from the inside out, it will eventually become Trantor.

        1. c_heale

          Geothermal releases large amounts of hydrogen sulphide, a potent greenhouse gas. I have a relative working in the industry.

  7. David B Harrison

    As has been said on this website numerous times electric cars are not going to save us.

  8. shinola

    “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,”

    I would bet on “never” (if I thought I could I could collect on that bet)

  9. George

    The amount of gas to date sequestered in Earth’s atmosphere makes this statement odd to me: “globally we must reach peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 in order to limit warming to 1.5°C”. So, my view is simple evidence of global ambient temperature rise is undisputable and was apparent long before the conversation of mandatory deep adaptation has come to light.

    A ‘full stop’ at that time and still we can’t know if the mitigated damage ended at 1.5°C. There is just way too much accumulation already heating us up.

    We are all culpable but for non-apparent reasons remember; to discuss the likelihood and nature of societal collapse due to climate change is irresponsible because it might trigger hopelessness amongst the general public. http://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

    1. Anthony G Stegman

      We’re going to blow past 2 degrees Centigrade warming. These scientists who still act like we still have a chance to avoid reaching 1.5 degrees are out of their minds. They are far too timid, and is one of the reasons we are all in trouble in the first place. Climate scientists should have been screaming loud and clear long ago. instead, we get this incrementalism and hesitancy to voice concerns loud and strong. The IPCC is not going to save us. They have been largely useless to-date.

  10. Anthony G Stegman

    I think it is simple minded and dangerous to think that converting all internal combustion engine vehicles to electric will magically solve the climate crisis. It won’t. We need to go far beyond that. We need to drastically cut the number of vehicles driven (and their miles) worldwide. Electric vehicles have many of the same problems as gasoline and diesel powered vehicles – the material inputs needed to manufacture them, the vast acreages of land covered in pavement that lead to loss of bio-diversity and increased pollution, the social costs of personal vehicle driven isolation (think suburbia and single occupancy vehicles), as well as the land use driven by motorized personal vehicles that also leads to loss of wild spaces and more bio-diversity. The personal motor vehicles is one of the absolute worst inventions of mankind. Can that very nasty genie ever be put back in the bottle?

    1. George

      Concur Anthony, I sometimes think of the Earth as this pale blue dot with an unacknowledged atmosphere the only thing that protects it from all burning up, only we have a devil may care attitude, so this thin protective blanket is in peril. Really not much different than sitting alone in a closed garage with the engine running.

  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    . . . ” If the wealthy had ever planned to save our species from the coming catastrophe, they’d be doing so now and we’d be watching them do it.” . . .

    I think the wealthy consider themselves the best of their species and they consider the rest of us to be the rest of our species. If they save themselves and eachother and no one else, then they consider themselves to have saved the best of their species.

    And we can see a little of what they are doing to save themselves and eachother. Thiel’s bunker in N Z and many other more silent secret unacknowledged bunkers for rich people. George W. Bush buying that 200,000 acre landholding in Paraguay over the largest single fresh water aquifer in the world. And other stuff like that which they don’t draw a lot of attention to, so that we won’t see most of it.

    And their decision to try killing most of us to save themselves exclusively is what we can see of what they are doing , if we are prepared to understand what we are seeing.

    Time to throw some rattlesnakes into some bars, metaphorically speaking. But we have to make sure to pick the right bars.

    ‘We’? No. Not ‘we’. Us. or us not. There is no ‘we’.

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