Behind the scenes of the mega-report on adaptation

The latest IPCC report on adaptation is out, and it came out 4 days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

If you’re asking yourself: what did I miss?

The UN Secretary General described it as “an atlas of human suffering”. He said, I quote: “Nearly half of humanity is in the danger zone right now”.

For the first time, scientists have given us a number, 3.3 billion people, who are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Second, we now know where many of them are located. And while there are groups in all countries vulnerable to climate change, the IPCC report shows that in some places – called “global hotspots” – the level of human vulnerability is a lot higher. 

For example, in the most vulnerable regions, deaths due to floods, storms and droughts are 15 times higher per event compared to low vulnerability regions and countries like Germany and the United States.

There’s a map (see below) in the report which shows where many of the most vulnerable are, and it includes parts of East Africa, South Asia, Central America, and the small island states.

If you’re nodding, and saying to yourself “hmm that makes sense”. In fact, this map was highly contested by delegates from both rich and poor countries at the approval session for the Summary for Policy Makers. Those objections led to it being removed from the summary – the most widely read part of the 3,500-page report. 

To find out why, and to learn about the highlights of this important report, stay tuned for my interview with IPCC authors Joern Birkmann from Germany and Edwin Castellanos from Guatemala. It’s not all gloom and doom, there are even a few reasons to be hopeful.

We talked about:

  • 5.08 Billions more people will face dengue risk by the end of the century, and among them many people in non-tropical regions such as Europe

  • 7.54 Reflections on the final approval session

  • 11.42 Why language matters so very much in the negotiations between governments and scientists over the Summary for PolicyMakers

  • 12.23 Imbalance between developing and developed countries in terms of who speaks up in the approval session, and size of delegations

  • 13.53 What happened with the figure on vulnerability (see below) at the final approval session. Why was it contested?

  • 16.01 The art of defining “policy-prescriptive”

  • 17.14 Quantifying the 3.3 billion number: a first for the IPCC and an important message of the report

  • 19.17 What is new in this report? Approaches to vulnerability have changed from the Fifth to the Sixth Assessment

  • 19:43 First ever reference to “colonialism” as a driver of vulnerability, few governments contested this

  • 21.55 Global hotspots of human vulnerability

  • 24.41 The idea of climate-resilient development is something new & imporant in this report

  • 25.55 Regional approaches were also a highlight of the report

  • 28.21 What’s the good news? The Sixth Assessment has a lot more literature on adaptation; the challenge is how to assess the effectiveness of what’s happening, especially in developing countries

  • 34.19 How are we doing on adapting to extreme heat events in Europe?

Edwin Castellanos has 24 years of continuous work in research and education in Guatemala and Mesoamerica in the area of climate change and management of natural resources.  He is the Coordinating Lead Author in the IPCC 6th Assessment Report in the chapter on vulnerability and adaptation for Central and South America. He also participated in COP 21 in Paris in December 2015 as the National Commissioner on Climate Change.

He is a member of the External Advisory Council for WWF Latin America; and member of the Alliance for Climatic Resilience in Rural Latin America.  He is the university representative before the National Council for Climate Change, the highest decision body on climate change issues for Guatemala.

He has been the Principal Investigator in multiple projects at the national and regional level on the topic of adaptation to climate change by rural and small farmer communities.  He has also lead the studies to monitor deforestation and to study the causes for that problem in Guatemala, as part of the national REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiatives and other initiatives to develop carbon-offset projects.

He received the Guatemalan National Medal for Science and Technology in 2016 and he became a member of the Guatemalan Academy of Sciences in 2011.  He is the author or co-author of over 50 scientific publications.

One focus of Joern Birkmann‘s work is the analysis of the resilience of spaces, infrastructures and social groups to extreme events. In addition to issues of regional planning and spatial governance, he has conducted research in recent years particularly on the complex of topics related to vulnerability and risk research and adaptation to climate change. He is the coordinating lead author for the 6th IPCC report which was presented to governments in March 2022. Together with Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf of RWTH Aachen University, he is currently coordinating scientific support for reconstruction following the floods in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate in a BMBF project.

Birkmann’s research projects include new methods for dealing with the challenges of social change and environmental change in selected regions and cities of the global North and South. In current research projects, for example, he is investigating the resilience and adaptive capacities of cities to heavy precipitation and heat stress, as well as spatial development trends in Baden-Württemberg, among other places. 

From 2004 to 2014, Birkmann worked at the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University, which is headquartered in Tokyo. In 2009, Birkmann habilitated in geography at the University of Bonn, and in 2012/13 he held a substitute professorship at Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

Since October 2014, he has headed the Institute of Regional Development Planning (IREUS) at the University of Stuttgart. He is a full member of the Academy for Territorial Development (ARL) and coordinating lead author of the IPCC.


Latest IPCC report on adaptation

Map in the report which shows where many of the most vulnerable are.

Regional clusters of vulnerability show the need for transboundary cooperation – Joern Birkmann, Daniel Feldmeyer, Joanna M McMillan, William Solecki, Edmond Totin, Debra Roberts, Christopher Trisos, Ali Jamshed, Emily Boyd and David Wrathall, IOP Science, September 2021

Understanding human vulnerability to climate change: A global perspective on index validation for adaptation planning – JoernBirkmann, Ali Jamshed, Joanna M. McMillan, Daniel Feldmeyer, Edmond Totin, William Soleckic, Zelina Zaiton Ibrahim, Debra Roberts, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Hans-Otto Poertnerg, Mark Pelling, Riyanti Djalante, Matthias Garschagen, Walter Lea, Filho, Debarati Guha-Sapir, Andrés Alegría, Science Direct, January 2022


The idea of global hotspots, I think is important because we should not just say everyone is vulnerable equally everywhere.

Denise: The latest IPCC report on adaptation is out, and it came out 4 days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

If you’re asking yourself: what did I miss?

The UN Secretary General described it as “an atlas of human suffering”. He said, I quote: “Nearly half of humanity is in the danger zone right now”.

For the first time, scientists have given us a number, 3.3 billion people, who are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Second, we now know where many of them are located. And while there are groups in all countries vulnerable to climate change, the IPCC report shows that in some places – called “global hotspots” – the level of human vulnerability is A LOT higher. 

For example, in the most vulnerable regions, deaths due to floods, storms and droughts are 15 TIMES higher per event compared to low vulnerability regions and countries.

There’s a map in the report which shows where many of the most vulnerable are, and it includes parts of East Africa, South Asia, Central America, and the small island states.

If you’re nodding, and saying to yourself “hmm that makes sense”. In fact, this map was highly contested by delegates from both rich and poor countries at the approval session for the Summary for Policy Makers. Those objections led to it being removed from the summary – the most widely read part of the 3,500-page report. 

To find out why, and to learn about the highlights of this important report, stay tuned for my interview with IPCC authors Joern Birkmann from Germany and Edwin Castellanos from Guatemala. It’s not all gloom and doom, there are even a few reasons to be hopeful.

Denise: I am here with Joern Birkmann who’s in Germany and Edwin Castellanos. They are both coordinating lead authors of their respective chapters. Could I ask you to briefly introduce yourselves, please?

Edwin: Thank you, Edwin Castellanos, I’m based in Guatemala, I work for a university directing a research center on sustainable development. And my climate change work started in the mitigation area, uh, studying, uh, carbon sequestration in forests. But then I moved into adaptation working mainly with, uh, small farmers in rural areas in central America.

Joern: My name is Joern Birkmann. I’m a professor at the university of Stuttgart in Germany. I’m particularly focusing also on issues around risk, uh, vulnerability, human vulnerability, adaptation, and the role of strategic and regional and local planning approaches.

Denise: Both of you have been involved in IPCC assessments in the past, is that correct?

Edwin: Yes. I was involved in the previous report,number five. So this is my second cycle of assessments before.

Joern: Yeah. I was also involved in the fifth assessment report as well as in the special report on managing the risk of extreme events. And I think it was interesting that particularly with the extreme event, disaster risk reduction report, more emphasis was also given to, to the relation of risk and adaptation.

Denise: Great. So let’s get started. So the summary for policymakers is the thing that most people read. Uh, and, um, I wanted to ask each of you, if you could pick out just one line or one section of that, that, um, you feel is particularly important or is your favorite bit of that text?

Edwin: I cannot find a specific sentence that I can pick, but what I can say is that I was very pleased to see that, uh, references to central and south America are present throughout the SPM. We were really pushing to make sure that our region was present there as a high-level level area.

And so it was, it was nice to see that we succeeded in doing that.

Joern: Yeah, a specific line would be also difficult for me, but on the other hand, I think that, um, some of the quantitative material around human vulnerability, like this 3.3 billion people, I think this is a good and important message, but also the idea of, um, you can act, you can actually try to promote climate resilient development.

I think that’s also important and it’s more just than looking at climate phenomena.

Denise: I want to share with you the one, it’s not my favorite, but it just was so startling to me. This is 4.4 about dengue risk. Um, dengue risk is going to put additional billions of people at risk by the end of the century in Asia, Europe, central and south American Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, um, I come from Hong Kong. I grew up in Asia and, uh, it was a real surprise to me to see. Europe, dengue, we’re going to have plenty of dengue at the end of the century. So yeah, that really drives home the reality of it.

Edwin: Actually, the increasing incidence of dengue is quite well covered in several chapters in the report.

I can share a local experience here in Guatemala, where I live. I live in Guatemala City which is located on the mountain at 1500 meters above sea level. And, uh, 20 years ago, dengue was unheard of in our city because it was considered to be basically, uh, uh, tropical areas only know, uh, basically the lowlands by, by the, by the ocean.

But, uh, starting about 10 years ago, the mosquitoes were able to go higher in the mountains because of the warmer temperatures. And now, uh, dengue it’s, present here in the city, uh, almost all the time. I actually caught dengue living here in Guatemala City. I’ve had dengue twice, Once when I was doing field work on the lowlands in the, in the warm weather. But then I got dengue again here in the highlands.

Denise: My next question I wanted to ask you about it was a very dramatic approval week and, uh, I’m guessing that it was more dramatic than in the AR5 equivalent session, but, uh, I’m sure both of you attended in person, um, There were some media articles about how, certain countries were blocking language and, um, you know, things like adaptation, finance, uh, uh, being pushed out in favor of wording that’s more about private investment and, um, uh, developing countries, for example, uh, trying to remove references to migration, uh, as a, as an adaptation strategy, um, 

What did it feel like to be in the overtime after, uh, you know, when they went over time and the discussion started to become really difficult?

How were you feeling? 

Joern: I think the overtime issue, at least for me, for, what’s not, the pressing problem. I think the strange thing, or a quite different feeling was to be just connected to online. So sometimes you will not, I mean, you are seeing that some delegations, uh, spoke up always, but it was more difficult to observe to what extent are there other delegations that have a different view? 

And, uh, some of these sessions in the beginning took quite a long time for approving just one sentence. But at the end it was just pressure. And then it was more rushed, but on the other hand definitely a lot of countries had also specific views and also probably justified views on issues around population growth, on questions about migrations is not actually adaptation, it is a failure of adaptation. Um, But I think it was interesting and still interesting. The IPCC process that so many governments go through line by line. Um, but definitely the two weeks approval was also a bit long for my taste, my personal taste. Because after a while you also saw that some governments were repeating things and also as an author to be present from five to 11 o’clock in the night, two weeks long it’s not the best idea to, to make this text more precise.

Edwin: It was for sure, a very tiring situation to be in. Even though it was tiring for Europe because they have to stay up late for the Americas, we have to get up really early and work through the night. The first week, uh, I was getting up at 11:00 PM and work through the night to noon of the next day. So it was, it was pretty tiring. And like Joern was saying, um, interesting to see how terms that are commonly used in science and, and for a scientist don’t present any problem.

When discussing in the presence of a government representative, they became very complicated. Simple things like development or consumption would take a long time to be approved whenever present in a statement. But I think it’s an interesting process in which, uh, uh, the authors are challenged to, uh, make sure that they prove that there is enough evidence to write what is written in the report. And so I think there’s a very detailed process of approval ensures that what is written there has the full backup of, of the literature because otherwise, uh, governments would not accept it.

Denise: Uh, who were the actors speaking the most often? Most frequently? I, I, uh, I’ve been told that if you want to know who’s speaking the most, you just look at whose photos are showing up on the earth negotiations bulletin more than once.

Joern: I guess that some governments were also not speaking so often, but quite influential. It’s definitely also related to country size sometimes. I guess that a certain risk in the process is if you have 190 governments around the table that you end up with a, uh, telephone book, uh, type of census.

So everyone wants to include his specific region to be at risk or a specific phenomena where you need specific adaptation funds for. And that makes it then sometimes not so precise as if you would write it as a purely scientific piece. On the other hand, if you write it for a high level journal its just visible for the academic world. 

So I think some of these terms were, as Edwin pointed out, where we would normally just name these things, like population growth, development. You get a sense of the kinds of sensitivities linked to it. and that some people also have a certain agenda or some countries have very specific concepts behind using specific words or not agreeing to use these kinds of words.

Edwin: One thing I’d like to comment regarding, uh, country participation in this process is that you can definitely see an imbalance between developed and developing countries in terms of delegations.

On one hand, some countries come with very large delegations. It was common to see some countries with 10 or more participants in a single session. But then you saw that there were many countries, especially small countries that were not participating at all. Particularly I have to say, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but, uh, I’m coming from central America.

And I was really disappointed to see that most central American countries do not participate in the process. And so, uh, I guess it’s probably a limitation of time or personnel, I don’t know. But, uh, that there’s an imbalance in that aspect of it. Yeah,

Joern: no, I totally agree that, uh, sometimes if you talk to us about the most vulnerable countries, most of them are not present to be honest.

And, um, so this is also definitely a certain challenge we are facing if this is online, but also even if you have it in presence at some countries, having the resources, but maybe also just have the capacity  to take on or to, to actually engage in this discourse while others probably don’t, or have less interest or less resources.

It’s probably both. It’s probably not just resources.

Edwin: And in terms of, uh, battles, lost, Joern, I don’t know if you want to comment a bit about vulnerability probably cannot tell too many details, but, uh, there was, there is this map that is actually the report, both in chapter eight and in the technical summary.

And we were hoping to get it into the Summary for Policy Makers, but we couldn’t. So I don’t know if you want to add a bit on that Joern.

Joern: The more precise you get, I think the more challenging it gets, sometimes.

I mean, if you come up with the certain numbers needed for adaptation funds, I think there’s this kind of competition of high numbers.

But when we, for example, displayed some of the information about human vulnerability at a country scale, also local scale, that is more controversial, less accepted because you sometimes see the colours of different countries. And some countries, probably also justified, say we would see ourselves in a different colour, or we would see ourselves that this could be misleading. 

Denise: Wait, I’m sorry, I’m trying to visualize your figure, your figure. What did it show exactly?

Joern: It shows human vulnerability. It’s actually in the technical summary. It shows human vulnerability at a national scale. That’s definitely to a certain extent controversial because you have a lot of vulnerable groups also in rich countries. But in general, if you want to have a global message, I think it’s still justified to assume that human vulnerability, that predisposition to be adversely affected, is more difficult, more problematic in most, or in larger parts of Africa compared for example, with America. But some governments might say, no, sorry, this is somehow a misleading message.

Denise: Why?

Joern: Because there are specific, probably, um, different views. Uh, the underlying material is, is not seen as, as, as appropriate for, for the topic or some people also would probably argue that some of these things are policy prescriptive. If you look into some of the challenges, if you started to talk, for example, conflict intensity, fragile state, corruption. Personally I read corruption reports. I don’t get more corrupt, but some people would say, guys, this is probably too policy prescriptive for IPCC.

Edwin: And I think, in general, vulnerability is still a concept that’s not solidly defined. 

Different groups would have a different definition of how to measure vulnerability. And so that was part of the argument that the figure was based on a tool, uh databases that are published, uh, worldwide. But people were saying, well, if you use different data, you will get different results.

And it’s true, no, uh, there is not a definition of vulnerability carved in stone.  And therefore it is still a relative term. And so asking which countries are more vulnerable is still a difficult question to answer from the scientific point of view.

Joern: It was somehow surprising. We don’t want to go into more details, but some of the headlines are particularly based on this assessment.

So you wonder for the 3.3 billion people being particularly vulnerable. For example, the Times newspaper took up as a headline. You wouldn’t get to the number if you’re not quantifying it. So 3.3 billion is something quantified. It is somehow a pity that this map is only in the technical summary, but it’s also not too problematic because main messages are actually in the text, but it’s definitely more agreeable with, I would say, to have some higher level of abstraction if you come with more national data.

Denise: So this, this figure is in the technical summary, but it was meant to be in the SPM. Is that correct?

Edwin: And the governments decided that it was not appropriate for the SPM.

Joern: I think the points are manyfold. I mean, one is there was potentially less agreement of what vulnerability is. And now if you’re asking what is a precondition of people in a country, uh, often you might end up with a question.

Okay. What was your own contribution to this kind of existing human vulnerability? That is probably something different than looking at, yeah, some of the more climatic oriented risks. Yeah. So I think the discussion was interesting. And I felt, I mean, on the one hand it was a certain loss assessors, I would say on the other hand, the, the, the, the messages also the global, the idea of global hotspots, I think is important because we should not just say everyone is vulnerable equally everywhere.

That is somehow a message. I would probably say it’s not true from the literature, which was assessed, but on the other hand that I need to say, okay, that certain group. What’s it are different than there that have to be targeted as priority areas for adaptation or regions. I think that’s fine. That’s in the report.

Denise: So I wanted to get into some of the things that are new in this report. And one of them is vulnerability. It says that the approaches to vulnerability scientifically have changed a lot since the fifth assessment of segments. So maybe, um, Edwin, could you explain a little bit about. What that means and, uh, how decision-makers can use these new approaches, this new law.

Edwin: The approaches to vulnerability actually changed quite a bit since the Fourth Report.  Uh, and that was also, that was a result mainly of the special report on extreme events in the, the, in the report from extreme events, IPCC was able to bring together experts from climate change areas together with experts, from risk areas.

That report, um, basically revised the definition of vulnerability and that new definition was used starting in the Fifth Report. And so the Sixth Report uses basically the same definition as the Fifth Report of vulnerability, but it stresses the fact that the socioeconomic conditions of the different areas in the world are the ones defining the vulnerability and those social economic conditions are not only the result of present conditions, but also the result of historical conditions.

And that allowed us to say that things like colonialism was also an important issue to think about when we think about vulnerability. 

Denise: This is new, right? It’s new in the IPCC to mention colonialism? That’s interesting.

Edwin: That had never been mentioned in an IPCC report before. And now we were able to argue that the historical development of countries and regions influence the current socioeconomic situation of populations, and therefore what happened in the past is important to understand what’s happening in the present.

And that’s how we were able to bring in the colonialism part.

Joern: And yeah, honestly, if you look at the final part, the report around solution spaces, climate resilient development, I would guess that maybe 60 to 80% of what is referred to actually addresses a broader spectrum of human vulnerability, climate justice. So yeah, I think the emphasis is, definitely beyond. I mean, mitigation is definitely important and it’s necessary, but I think the climate resilient development pathways really refers to a lot of issues we would also say are relevant and characteristics of human vulnerability. And as indicated, we were actually also even surprised, I was actually surprised that there were only very few governments who criticized this reference to this historic drivers like colonialism. 

Denise: Can we talk about these hotspots of high human vulnerability?

Where are they? Um, what do we know about them and what needs to change from a policy perspective?

Edwin: Yeah. The report indicates that the region where I work center in south America is one of the hotspots of vulnerability, not necessarily the entire region, because there is a lot of heterogeneity in the region, but some areas of this sector of the world are highly vulnerable, same situation with Africa and especially central Africa.

And then some parts of Asia, particularly Southern Asia. 

So these are regions that show similar characteristics in terms of high levels of poverty, high levels of inequity, uh, but also weak institutions and problems with, uh, with governance. And, um, basically what, what we see is that in these areas, we have only a lot of, uh, exposure in hazards from climate change, but a low capacity from governments and from local institutions in terms of responding to the impacts of these extreme events.

And that’s what makes them areas that are highly vulnerable.

Joern: To add on that, I think the new part is also, I mean in AR5 we also described what human vulnerability actually is, that a lot of people are marginalized and poverty contributes heavily to that. But I think with the idea of global hotspots, to a certain extent, I’m not sure how far, it’s been communicated, or can be communicated, but we also want to give a certain spatial ID, where these hotspots are, and these probably need to be targeted also in a, in a more comprehensive way.

Just a weather radar system would not the underlying issue here. And I think one of the challenges, sometimes colleagues also somehow mix vulnerability and exposure. But definitely for example, there the SIDs are named, central and south America, not as an entire region, but parts of that, West, central and east Africa. 

And here, I think it would be important to apply this broader understanding of what adaptation has to address. So then we are not just looking at the climatic hazard. It’s important to understand how flooding or drought will occur, probably to ensure that, um, people get better prepared.

You need to address deficits or challenges in terms of education. 

Edwin: I was just going to add that, uh, an important message from this focus on vulnerability, as part of the socioeconomic conditions of countries. If countries want to develop, if countries want to reduce poverty at the same time, they will be working to increase the adaptive capacity of the population.

Basically you can focus on both development and resilience to climate at the same time. And that’s one of the key messages of the report, to look for this, uh, climate resilient development.

Joern: And it would be a bit strange if we only define, for example, the installation of a weather or drought warning system as adaptation and the programs for improving informal settlements and living conditions of marginalized populations as something else. So yeah, I think this broader, more integrated view is really important.

Denise: Um, so I want to touch on the regional aspect as well, because, also one of the novel things about this assessment. So, Edwin, you were coordinating lead author for the, uh, central and south American chapter. Can you speak about what was different about the content and the process, and maybe something about how policy makers can use this, uh, new, you know, regional, uh, chapters.

Edwin: Well, even if we go into a regional analysis like central and south America, we have to, realize that some regions in the world are still not fine enough in terms of a unit of analysis. So for example in our chapter for central and south America we still have to divide the region in eight regions to be able to find more homogeneous areas of the analysis.

And so our chapter is actually divided into eight sections, dealing with different regions of central and south America. Central America is a single sub-region within this region. And then south America is divided into seven sub-regions. By doing that, we are able to find more homogeneous regions, both in terms of climate impacts, but also in terms of socioeconomic and biophysical conditions.

So that is an improvement, I think, from previous reports. That we are trying to narrow down into more homogeneous areas. But still the analysis is not fine enough to be able to analyze that for a single country. So IPCC reports are still lacking in that sense that if you are looking for specific information for a specific country, you may find very little information.

The reports are more useful if you’re interested in looking at a more regional approach, no. And so in that sense, governments will have to look for information, not so much for their country, but for the area where the country located to try to see what’s going on in that area and try to see if they can learn from, uh, experiences that are happening in countries, in the, in the neighboring areas to be applied to their own countries.

Denise: On adaptation generally, um, who’s uh, where is the good news? And then what is the bad news? I think a lot of the media coverage tends to go with the bad news first. Um, it’s not enough of it is happening. Some of it is happening in the wrong way, even if that is unintentionally.

So I wondered if we could start with who’s doing a good job right now. Are there any, um, cases of countries, approaches that we can be inspired by and learn from? And then what is going wrong?

Edwin: Sure I can start if I may. Because I can actually compare the Fifth Report where I was an author with the Sixth Report. 

In both reports I was author in the same chapter, Central and South America. So in the Fifth Report, for example, we were really struggling to find literature describing adaptation initiatives, because adaptation was still in the very early stages. And a lot of the actions were not described the literature. And that is an important point to remember that as IPCC authors, we are not writing about what we think is important.

We are writing about what’s available in the literature. So we may know that a specific issue is very important, but we cannot write about it because we don’t find the literature to support it. And so in the Fifth Report, basically the adaptation section has some important information, but it was relatively brief because, uh, the literature available describing adaptation options was very limited. In the Sixth Report, there was much more information on adaptation. So the good news is that there are many adaptation initiatives happening on the ground. Governments are also taking initiatives to implement adaptation at the national level. For example, in our chapter, we report that most governments, in our region have already adopted adaptation plans.

And so that’s a good thing to happen. The bad news related to the good news is that many of these plans are still yet to be implemented, or they’re only in the very early stages of implementation. 

Uh, the other part that was also lacking in our chapter was that we did have information on adaptation initiatives happening, but because these are still in the early stages, there is no 

on how effective they are on how efficient they are in terms of reducing risk and vulnerability. And so we really could not do an assessment on effectiveness. For example, that was something that other chapters were attempting to do. And I think they were able to do this, but at least for central and south America, we can say that yes, there is adaptation happening.

But we still have to wait probably for the next report to do an assessment on how effective that adaptation is.

Joern: And maybe to add on that. I think Edwin has an even a more in-depth understanding than I have, but, um, I guess the, also the differences in AR5 that was still, I would say a little bit, not a beauty contest, but a more descriptive nature of saying, okay, this is autonomous versus transformative adaptation.

That’s also important. I think now we get stronger to a level of, of assessing adaptation processes or adaptation requirements. For example the broader understanding that also for example, cities and adaptation is an important topic –  is definitely something that emerged between the last assessment and this new assessment report.

So in former times there was a strong tendency to look particularly at climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, water, primarily. And now it gets to more complex systems. I think that’s also helpful. And I think the criteria on how to judge success of adaptation properties also has a stronger reference point to what’s enabling conditions rather than saying, okay, the amount you spend for adaptation is particularly important.

Edwin: I would like to add if I may. The IPCC report is based on published literature, uh, that makes, uh, a very difficult to write about areas where the literature is very thin and that also creates a big imbalance between chapters, for example, north America, and Central and South America.

Now in the North American chapter they were able to do more in-depth analysis. You know, they were talking about doing a gap analysis in terms of adaptation. How far are we from reaching the final goal. And that kind of more in-depth analysis was impossible for our region because we just didn’t have the literature.

Denise: Um, I wanted to ask you Joern because you’re in Germany and I’m in France about adaptation in Europe. Uh, because, uh, my understanding is in France, uh, there’s very little, uh, national and kind of, uh, you know, regional climate plans on adaptation and just from personal, uh, firsthand experience, we have these extreme heat events in France.

Now, every year it’s a regular, uh, everyone expects to have at least one or two of them, but nothing seems to change. Uh, and so I don’t see any adaptation around me, like, um,

Joern: Probably there is some, I mean, the, all the warning systems for heat stress, a specific, guidelines for on how to prepare elderly or elderly homes.

I think there has been improvement since the early 2000s when when we had the major heat waves. I’m not a hundred percent sure whether that is all covered in national adaptation programs. But I think that you also at the EU, like ASEAN, the adaptation topic is, is an important one. So I think there’s actually some progress.

What I’m not so confident with is, I mean, in terms of mitigation of CO2 reduction, greenhouse gas reduction, we have very precise goals as Edwin pointed out. If you want to, or if you assume that the adaptation gap is the difference between where you are and what your goals are, the question is what are actually our adaptation goals?

We probably won’t change the demography of France and Germany. So getting the demographic structure change is not an easy task. Not also possible, actually. I think that the question is a bit also for Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, but also actually for Guatemala city or Mexico city. What are our adaptation goals?

Is it to keep a specific temperature, to provide green space for everyone with a certain square meter size. Here we still have the challenge. 

Denise: in, France, at least when we have these extreme weather events, um. I grew up in a hot climate and you know, where I grew up. We, uh, during the summer months we go to school earlier in the day, right.

So school will start at 7:00 AM and you’ll finish by two. Then you can go and rest. I don’t see that happening here. And people sort of go around acting like it’s normal and too, it’s not normal. And they can’t stand being at work anymore. So there isn’t any, um, you know, preemptive anticipatory guidelines from the city government or whatever, saying.

Don’t go to work at these times, don’t work outdoors at these times. Those kinds of things.

Edwin: I think what you’re pointing out, Denise, is that it is difficult to change human behavior.

And we see that here in Guatemala also, and in central America, for example, the farmers are used to planting in April because it always rains in May and now it not raining in May anymore. So you will say. It just stands to reason that they should not plant in April anymore, but it’s so difficult to convince them not to do so.

And so we are always used to doing things the way we did and now we need to learn to do things in a different way. And, and so what is going to be tricky. To make people realize that yes, this implies a change for everything. I mean, not everything I do, but I guess everybody has to have at least something changing if we want to adapt to this new state of the world.

Joern: I think in terms of heat, for example, in Europe, we probably have some, some lessons learned. Um, I’m not sure to what extent are they implemented in, in long or medium term strategies actually of larger cities, but at least for example, also Paris is, is a kind of continental city large scale, not having a coast.

Uh, so there’s no fresh air from the coastline. Um, but on the other end, I think it’s also quite tricky still to define what is actually the specific adaptation goal, if we take the Ahr Valley  where 160, 180 people died during the heavy precipitation event, some people would assume, okay, let’s just take them out of harm’s way.

But what does it mean? I mean, it was heavy precipitation that could have come well, it could rain down in France, in Paris, in Bonn, in Berlin. So you don’t have an opportunity actually, to relocate people out of this hazard zone. Definitely you don’t have to build down at the river. But here I think the adaptation idea that also you need to change land uses upstream or where the rain maybe comes down is probably something new.

Or also actually infrastructures. We are discussing even hard technical infrastructures like bridges. What would be an adaptive bridge would be something that you could push down during the heavy rain event, but what would happen with the connection between two villages or cities. 

So yeah, I think the idea that adaptation is just a question of implementing science is probably also wrong. I think here, we still also need also in terms of behavior, what is the amount of behavioral change that really contributes, but what is also structural change, be it, air conditioning, or be it some physical structures you need to enable people to actually change their behaviour. 

My feeling was actually that the COVID pandemic was a strong indication that we can rapidly change behavior.

Denise: Um, one thing that, uh, really stood out for me in the press conference was when, um, one of the co-chairs said that adaptation strategies might have to be revised constantly. Uh, and so this for me sounds like, the whole kind of in a way, the corporate idea of managing risk, um, it puts a whole new sort of framing on that.

Joern: Edwin first. 

Edwin: I was going to comment that the big uncertainty is really, uh, the fact that we cannot model human behavior. And so when, when we do the models, uh, for the future, uh, the big uncertainty is whether we are going to be able to cut down on emissions or not.

And so we don’t know if in 2050, we’re going to be at two degrees or at 1.5 or a 2.5. And so the goals of adaptation are going to be extremely different depending on the temperature. And that’s going to depend on whether finally governments and, and people in general decide to cut down on emissions.

Joern: Yeah, I think it’s also interesting that we have definitely also some goals which are probably, um, I would say more or less agreed, reducing, for example, the number of fatalities due to climate related extreme events be it heat waves, or storms, be it sea level rise or heavy precipitation events. So I think here there’s a strong agreement that this is not acceptable and that’s an adaptation gap. Um, I guess warning systems really help, but if you think about, uh, for example, also heat stress in central Europe, um, the challenge will be also to what does it mean for fragments of the society that don’t have access to certain resources.

If you have a single family house with a pool in France, I think you’re doing fine even in a heatwave. But if you are living in a banlieue if you’re living in a multi-story building without any, sufficient shadowed green space, if you have to commute for your work and you’re standing right in the center of the sun during the commute, this is something I think we have to pay more attention to and we often have quite a static view. We look at the number of people where they live and say, okay, there they are sea level rise exposed, but we are not looking at the dynamics.

How many people are actually coming into the city. What are the adaptive capacities of not commuting at certain times? So you think you’re also in a more dynamic understanding of human behavior, dynamics within cities, dynamic within regions. Uh, for example, in terms of mobility and the functions in cities is something which we can add.

And I’m not sure whether we need to revise. I mean, we definitely have to revise goals also in the light of different climate warming levels. But on the other hand, I think we would be safe already if we have a better understanding of these dynamics of exposure, dynamics of human vulnerability, and also prioritize these and not just say, okay, we, we keep it with the weather warning. That’s also good, but it’s not sufficient.

Denise: I wanted to ask both of you when your friends and family say to you, for example, what should we do where we’re so concerned?

Uh, is there one action that you would recommend to them?

Edwin: Well, the most important thing is to be informed. And so people should try to gather information from reliable sources. Not only these IPCC reports, which may be too general at the individual level, but also from local sources, try to find out what kind of risks you are exposed to in your area. Try to find out if there are any plans at all for reducing that risk.

So be informed. It’s definitely a very important first step for improving your adaptation level.

Joern: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a key point. Also this discussion around climate resilience, vulnerability reduction, that’s actually possible. 

The report, but also discussion is not just saying the world will die whatever we do, I think its more nuanced. Some press reports are bit too negative on that, but I think that the opportunities, we have also outlined in this discussion.

Edwin: One last thing I’d like to add is that, I think as individuals, we should also be always talking to our authorities and in Europe you are much better at doing that. Our authorities here in our region don’t listen that much, but we need to increase the pressure on political leaders to really take action and to take more serious steps to address these problems.

Denise: Thanks for listening to New Climate Capitalism. If you enjoyed our conversation, you can find the full transcript plus links to the various bits of the IPCC report we discuss in the podcast at climatenarratives.co.

If you’re enjoying these podcasts, please head over to substack and hit subscribe to my newsletter The Zeroist, which is a finance newsletter about the net zero revolution. 

Thanks to Victoria Yates and Valentine Scherer for their help producing this episode, and to Lucas Laufen for the theme music.

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