Humanity cannot indefinitely adapt to worsening climate crisis, major scientific review warns

Humans cannot endlessly adapt to the worsening climate crisis and "unprecedented" action is required from governments to avoid crossing irreversible tipping points, a major review has concluded.

Leading global experts from the natural and social sciences have together produced a list of 10 critical climate insights from the latest climate-related research, which they have launched at the UN’s Cop27 summit in Egypt.

Their report warns that rising sea levels capable of submerging coastal communities and extreme heat "intolerable to the human body", are examples of the "hard" limits of our ability to adapt, and which we now face in growing areas of the world.

It also highlights how over 3 billion people will inhabit "vulnerability hotspots" – areas with the highest susceptibility to being adversely affected by climate-driven hazards – by 2050, which is double the number of people who live in these areas today.

The assessment also warns that humanity’s persistent dependence on fossil fuels is continuing to exacerbate major vulnerabilities, particularly impacting energy and food security.

"Deep and swift mitigation to tackle the drivers of climate change is immediately necessary to avert and minimise future loss and damage," they say.

The report, convened by the international networks Future Earth, The Earth League, World Climate Research Programme, warns that "only through ambitious mitigation efforts and systemic transformation, can we avoid facing widespread limits to adaptation, and increased losses and damage".

Professor Mercedes Bustamente, from the University of Brasilia, in Brazil, said: “People and ecosystems in different places across the world are already confronted with enormous impacts, and if the planet warms beyond 1.5/2C, more widespread breaching of adaptation limits can be expected.

"Adaptation efforts cannot substitute for ambitious mitigation."

The only approach which can stave off these existential threats is enormous international collaboration by governments to radically implement policies which protect us in future, the experts say.

"The latest science confirms the rising social costs of severe climate extremes and the urgent need to deviate away from risks of going beyond limits to adaptation and crossing irreversible tipping points," said Professor Johan Rockström, co-chair of the Earth League, the Earth Commission and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

An abandoned house on a Texas beach in the Gulf of Mexico. We can only adapt to the climate crisis up to a point, so we must take action to limit the damage, scientists warn (Getty)
An abandoned house on a Texas beach in the Gulf of Mexico. We can only adapt to the climate crisis up to a point, so we must take action to limit the damage, scientists warn (Getty)

"As science advances, we have more evidence of massive costs, risks but also global benefits of reduced loss and damage, through an orderly safe landing of the world within the Paris climate range," he said.

"To succeed requires global collaboration and speed at an unprecedented scale."

But the team also warned that in order for action to have an adequate impact, a holistic approach must be taken by policymakers, in which they recognise the links between the climate crisis, the broader natural world and the clash with the demands of our civilisation as it currently operates.

“Decision makers must recognise the interconnectedness of biophysical-social challenges, and that the most impactful responses are not siloed," said Professor Chukwumerije Okereke, of Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, in Nigeria.

"Substantially shifting the allocation of capital and land use towards meaningful mitigation, enacting robust and coordinated global policy responses for adaptation, loss and damage, as well as deconstructing the barriers to just climate action are some of the approaches identified within the report to accelerate reaching Paris Agreement goals."

The report was launched at Cop27 and can be read here.