More dire warnings from the IPCC, so what do we do differently?

Climate change and disaster recovery expert, Phil Marker, outlines what needs to be done, and how development practitioners can support governments to help meet the climate challenges ahead.


The IPCC’s latest synthesis of eight years of science makes for grim reading. Climate impacts are happening now and will continue to get worse. And those suffering most tend to be the poorest and most vulnerable who have done the least to cause the problem. Moreover, the IPCC report shows that the better we understand science, the worse the impacts are predicted to be.

Hundreds of articles have been written explaining the IPCC report, almost all of which conclude that we need to do more and act faster before it is too late. But what does that really mean?

What do we do about it?

Addressing climate change requires action in every part of our economies and society. We need more of everything: more ambition, more money, more innovation and more political leadership.

But there are positives: our understanding of what needs to be done is better than ever. Much of the technology we need to achieve net zero and improve resilience to climate impacts already exists, and further innovations will reduce costs and speed progress.

So what do we, the development consulting sector, do to accelerate progress?

Think big

Low-and middle-income countries have plenty of ambition. They are taking action because they are vulnerable and are already seeing climate impacts on their people. But they need the finance, the tools, the capacity and the evidence to increase and deliver on that ambition. Nepal is a prime example. The Government has strengthened its climate policies and has a long-term strategy to reach net zero which includes reversing deforestation, but they need the resources and support to deliver that vision

Money money money

Tackling climate change goes beyond just finding a bit more money. The scale of change requires us to transform global financial flows so they are compatible with and help to address climate change. There are three types of flows that matter most:

Governments: Government investments continue to be critical to achieving net zero ambitions and most adaptation investment is public funds from government budgets. We can support governments with the capacity, skills and systems to shape their own finances to meet their climate goals. We also need to support governments on systemic challenges that climate change poses to government budgets, spending and tax policies. For example, how to manage climate investments at a time of rising debt levels and reducing reliance on fossil fuel taxes.

Private sector: Private investment is now the largest funder of renewable energy, with solar and wind power much cheaper than coal. We need to align global financial flow and shape regulation so that the best opportunities for investors come from investments to tackle climate change. One urgent priority is bringing more private investment into adaptation and we have been analysing ways to expand adaptation markets in India. We also need a global effort to expand viable markets that support resilience.

International climate finance: The issue of climate finance from rich to poor countries has been highly contentious. These transfers are vital for vulnerable countries to address their challenges, but they face daunting challenges accessing the resources they need. We work with countries all over the world to help them develop strong pipelines, design great projects and build capacity to access finance such as from the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund and other resources.

Climate justice and just transition

Climate justice is all about the unequal impacts of climate change: with those that contributed least to the problem often suffering most from the impacts of climate change. Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable is important both for reasons of equity and fairness, but also because unless we do so, we will not be able to practically and politically sustain the scale of change required. Two key things matter:

  • Increasing resilience: We need to work with governments to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people and increase resilience against disasters.
  • Just transition: Economic transformation from fossil fuels create jobs in some sectors and locations and fewer in others. We need to help governments plan for these changes, maximise the positive impacts and identify how they can address those that risk being left behind.

One key solution is ensuring that social protection, health and education services are resilient to climate shocks and help people recover more quickly from a shock such as a natural disaster. For example, a shock-responsive social protection mechanism could trigger additional payments to households to support them through a period of flood or drought. We can help governments to identify which people are likely to need the greatest support and prioritise needs. Vulnerability and risk analysis bring together physical risks with economic, social and other vulnerabilities.

Integrating climate and nature

There is growing recognition that alongside the climate challenges, there are huge biodiversity challenges to halting and reversing the loss of ecosystems, species and biodiversity. We need to tackle these challenges simultaneously so that addressing one does not come at the cost of the other. Fortunately, there are many win-win solutions. Nature-based solutions such as mangrove reforestation to protect coastal zones are powerful tools for climate adaptation and mitigation, as is transforming our farming practices. Moving towards climate-resilient, agro-farming approaches will help to improve carbon capture, as well as reducing deforestation rates, our global water footprint and levels of pollution in our freshwater ecosystems.

Physician, heal thyself…

We need to take our own medicine. We need to change the fact that the emissions of most development consultants are greater than most of the people in the countries we are advising. The irony of climate consultants flying around the world giving advice is not lost on anyone. Recent controversy and continuing uncertainty about the value of offsetting also show that there are few easy paths to net zero. We need to travel less by driving localisation and using post-Covid ways of working such as remote advice and online events.

In conclusion, we need to be straining every sinew to help governments address this problem. The latest IPCC report says the same thing as the earlier ones, just with even stronger impacts and the scientific consensus even clearer than before. The report not only points to the awful consequences of inaction but also to the huge benefits of taking action quickly. We stand to gain through lower costs, more jobs and economic growth, less poverty and inequality, less conflict, less migration and healthier ecosystems. If this is not enough to spur into action, nothing will be.

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