IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: A Message of Hope?

Posted by Liz Schlegel
on April 7, 2014
IPPC 5th Assessment Cover

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report on climate change released earlier this week was pretty dire. By now, many of you have probably read articles about it, and maybe even the whole report. The gist: climate change will result in increased famine, international conflict, drought, poverty, more extreme weather events, as well as severe economic shocks. However, something new struck me as I read and analyzed the report – it was more of a distinct call to prepare for what’s to come. It is clear that the UN is now focusing on how humans can and should adapt to a changing world.


A recent article in Atlantic Cities says it well: “the subtext [of the IPCC report] appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet  to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures  rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place.”


The future seems uncertain, and sometimes scary. Since becoming involved in climate issues, I have always looked for messages of hope and my tendency to gravitate toward optimism led me to work for ISC. For years, ISC has been working with people to transform their communities into strong, healthy places to live – these are the communities that we call sustainable and these are the communities that strive to be resilient and poised to adapt to climate change. We focus on how things can be, and how humans can survive – and importantly, thrive – in this new changing climate we face. The communities we work with show hope and positive transformation in the face of adversity, and to me, this was echoed when I read the IPCC report. A focus on adaptation implies that while climate change presents a huge hurdle, we are capable of transforming our communities and overcoming the odds.


But, does adaptation mean giving up? Have we succumbed to the idea that climate change will happen? Well, yes, climate change is already happening, and while we are figuring out ways to reduce our GHG emissions, it’s well past time to shift the current paradigm and adapt to a changing reality. Adaptation, though, is not about giving up, it’s about seeing the way things can be, and working together to find creative solutions to our problems. It’s about tapping into our innate creative and entrepreneurial spirit, and implementing innovative ideas. In short, it’s about using our survival instinct to the fullest potential to prepare for the future. Humans can thrive in an era of a changing climate, but this generation and generations after it are going to have to think outside the box to do so. I like what Chris Field, co-Chair of the IPCC working group, said about the Fifth Assessment report: “The focus is as much on identifying effective responses as on understanding challenges… we need to think about reducing risks and building more resilient societies” by drawing on ‘deep pools’ of creativity and innovation.


Like many of you, I found this report to be worrisome and the grim warnings to be a bit overwhelming – but I also found it to be a call for creative, innovative and collaborative action.