New IPCC report

'Climate change is intensifying social inequality.'

Prof. Dr. Dr. Walter Leal is one of 200 lead authors of the IPCC Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, published on 28 February 2022. He supervised Chapter 8, which deals with poverty, livelihoods and sustainable development. He also contributed to chapters 7 and 9, which cover climate change, health and Africa, with a focus on the impact of climate change on poverty and sustainable development. We spoke with him about the new report's findings.

Prof. Dr. Walter Leal's work focuses on sustainable development, climate change and energy, as well as the life sciences and innovation. He is the head of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Management research transfer centre at HAW Hamburg.

Prof. Dr. Walter Leal's work focuses on sustainable development, climate change and energy, as well as on the life sciences and innovation. He is the head of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Management Research Transfer Centre at HAW Hamburg.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Assessment Reports have been published since the 1990s and warning since that time about the consequences of climate change. Does the current report contain anything fundamentally new?
Prof. Dr. Dr. Walter Leal: In the 1990s, the IPCC reports were not well known. Today they are an important instrument with a central influence on decisions about climate change policy around the world.

The findings of the current IPCC report show that global weather patterns are changing. Even here in Europe we are in no way immune to climate change, as the fires in southern Europe and the floods in central Germany have clearly shown. These are just a few examples of the changes in the global weather and water cycles that we will see more often in future, because the systems are no longer as stable as they used to be. This is a consequence of changing climate conditions. And these changes are dangerous because no one knows exactly how and when the resulting extreme weather events will take place.

Can you describe your responsibilities as a lead author of the most recent global climate report?
Walter Leal: I was the lead author of Chapter 8, which deals with poverty, livelihoods and sustainable development. More specifically, my contribution examines how climate change is impacting poverty and the pursuit of sustainable development. I also contributed to the chapters 7 and 8, which cover climate change, health and Africa.

My role as lead author was to support the researcher teams with their examination of studies and analyses, and to contribute new ideas and my own perspectives. I also proofread the texts and tried to correct errors and fill in any blanks in order to communicate a clear message. The aim is to ensure that the contributions have such a strong scientific foundation that they are as free as possible of subjective opinions, polemics and ambiguities.

Your chapter is focused on the issues of poverty and climate change. The countries of the Global South are demanding that the budget for measures to adapt to the consequences of climate change be increased by 50 per cent. Are there any proposals for this?
Walter Leal:
Wealthy countries such as the USA and many European countries are hesitant to provide more financial support without a guarantee that the recipient countries will be more committed to climate protection. But limiting climate change is not just the responsibility of established industrialised countries. New and emerging economies also need to make a concrete contribution – especially countries like China, South Africa and India – so that efforts in one part of the world aren't undermined by uncurbed emissions in another part of the world. At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last November, the poorer countries complained that the US$100 billion per year pledged in Paris in 2015 to fight climate change has not been provided. So there is no financial basis with which to implement adaptive climate measures, which are urgently necessary.

One of the most important findings from this chapter is that climate change is worsening poverty and intensifying inequality. When megatrends like urbanisation and migration are added, this dynamic is accelerated.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Walter Leal is one of the lead authors of the new IPCC report. He teaches Health Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

What recommendations does the chapter you worked on make regarding the resilience of people in poverty in the face of extreme climate-related events? How can their ability to withstand the economic, social and ecological shocks be strengthened?
Walter Leal: One of the most important findings from this chapter is that climate change is worsening poverty and intensifying inequality. When megatrends like urbanisation and migration are added, this dynamic is accelerated. This interaction is undermining progress towards realising the 17 UN sustainable development goals. Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 5 (gender equality) and Goal 10 (reduced inequalities) are especially threatened, and inequalities will increase.

But climate change is also exacerbating other inequalities in the world, such as the different adaptive capacities and the unequal choices and opportunities with respect to sustainable development and transformation. Chapter 8 of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report shows that the way a social group is impacted by climate change depends on various factors, such as the socioeconomic, cultural and geographical context. New data assessing global human vulnerability and resilience in the case offorced migration and poverty, which we describe in the new report, make it possible to identify regional hotspots that overlap with hotspots for climate risks – a dangerous interaction!

The IPCC is not a political body and is instead intended to provide guidance for political decisions on climate change. How could it carry more weight?
Walter Leal: The IPCC already carries the necessary weight because it is an independent body that operates without any pressure or outside influence. Its central purpose is to deliver the best possible scientific information available on climate change. After that it is up to the politicians to decide whether they want to take this information seriously and adopt the necessary measures or if they would prefer to ignore it. In any case, the IPCC's work means that politicians recognise the risks and impacts that would result from inaction.

You teach Health Sciences, among other subjects, at HAW Hamburg. How do you integrate the findings of the IPCC report into your course materials? What do your students learn and where do they apply this knowledge later?
Walter Leal: I use the term 'literacy' in my teaching. In doing so I want to make clear that students at HAW Hamburg – and at all other universities, of course – are familiarised with the terms 'sustainability' and 'climate change'. There are two main reasons for this: First, these are two of the most important issues of the current global period and students should be aware of their definition, importance and societal function. Second, sustainability and climate change play a central role in all sectors and professions. Sooner or later students will have to deal with them in their work setting.

Sustainability and climate change can be integrated very easily into teaching plans. They can be taught as modules, module units or as stand-alone topics in a lecture. As instructors we have a lot of opportunities and scope in covering these important topics.
 

Interview: Katharina Jeorgakopulos

Contact

HAW Hamburg
Faculty of Life Sciences
Prof. Dr. (mult.) Dr. h.c. (mult.) Walter Leal
Head of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Management Research and Transfer Centre
Tel. 040 428 75-6313
walter.leal2 (@) haw-hamburg.de
 

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