What does the new IPCC report mean for youth workers?

A blog by Freya Aitchison about the most recent IPCC report which came out a couple of weeks ago, on the impacts of climate change and how youth workers can respond to the report.

On 28th February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the latest installment of its Sixth Assessment Report, summarising (in 3675 pages!) the science from the last five years on the impacts of climate change and what is needed to effectively adapt to these impacts. There’s a lot of jargon, statistics and technical language surrounding the report which can be stressful and confusing for young people and youth workers alike to interpret, so here we have broken down the key aspects of the report and what it means for the youth work sector. 

What is the IPCC? 

The IPCC is an international group of scientists, convened by the United Nations to collate the most up-to-date science on the climate crisis in order to influence national and international policy on climate change. There are thousands of scientists involved in writing the IPCC reports, from a wide range of disciplines including climate science, geography, physics, social sciences and many more. Scientists are not paid to work on the IPCC reports, but undertake the work pro-bono, to ensure the financial independence of the reports.  

How do the Assessment Reports work? 

The IPCC produces an Assessment Report every 5 years, summarising the scientific research carried out in that period. The reports are extensively peer reviewed, and use confidence language for each statement they make to indicate how much evidence and consensus there is about every bit of data. IPCC reports will never make specific policy recommendations, only set out what is likely to happen under different policy scenarios.  

Each Assessment Report is split into 3 Working Groups, which each release their portion of the report separately. The report that was released most recently was from Working Group 2, which focuses specifically on the impacts of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation measures. The Working Group 1 report, released in August last year, focused on the physical science of climate change, and was widely agreed to issue a Code Red for humanity. Working Group 3, which focuses on the mitigation of climate change, will release its report in April this year.  

What does this report say? 

Continuing the tone set in the Working Group 1 report last August, the language used in this report has been much more urgent than in previous IPCC reports. One of the main takeaways from the report was that while climate change will have significant impacts on all parts of the world, the people most at risk from these impacts are those who are already marginalised in some way. Factors which increase vulnerability to climate impacts include gender, ethnicity, location and income, and historical and ongoing colonialism is a huge driver of the inequalities which lead to increased risk.  

It’s clear from the report that human and ecosystem stability are interlinked and interdependent. Global warming of more than 1.5⁰C will cause irreversible damage to many ecosystems, as well as widespread food and water insecurity and adverse effects on the mental and physical health of people globally. Already, it is clear that climate impacts have limited economic growth in some areas, and are causing displacement and migration, especially in vulnerable areas. Limiting warming to 1.5⁰C would significantly reduce the projected losses and damages from climate impacts, but it would not eliminate the risks completely, especially for the 1 billion people worldwide who will be affected by coast-specific impacts of sea level rise regardless of how much climate action is taken.  

The report also talks about adapting to these impacts in a way that will reduce the overall costs of the damage. Currently, most adaptation strategies are fragmented into different sectors, meaning that the benefits of them are unevenly distributed and leave out many of the most vulnerable people. Adaptation strategies need to be more transformative, involving cooperation from all levels of government as well as communities and marginalised groups, with policies directly addressing context specific inequalities relating to gender, ethnicity, disability, age and income. A major barrier to adaptation is lack of education and climate literacy. Where people aren’t educated on climate risks and solutions, adaptation practices may turn out to do more harm than good and entrench existing inequalities, especially for indigenous people. 

How can the youth work sector get involved? 

The first thing that youth workers should be aware of following this IPCC report is that many young people will find its results upsetting and distressing, and it may heighten any feelings of climate anxiety. Youth workers can support young people by providing a safe space to talk about their fears and by letting them know that these feelings are valid, and that they are not alone in feeling this way.  

Youth workers can also talk to young people about different adaptation strategies for your local area. Think about who will be the most at risk in your local area and who might lose out in different adaptation scenarios. YouthLink Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful have developed a Climate Emergency Toolkit which includes some activities to help youth workers and young people think through these different scenarios. ‘Scotland 2100’ and ‘Visualising Climate Futures’ are particularly relevant for this topic. Adaptation Scotland’s Climate Ready Places site is also a great way to visualise some of the changes that need to happen in Scottish landscapes in the next few years to adapt to climate impacts. 

Education about the impacts of climate change as well as ways to adapt to them is needed in all areas of society but particularly for young people, who will be dealing with these impacts for the rest of their lives. As this report stresses, this education must hold social justice at the centre and focus on transformative solutions to the climate crisis. Young people can get a taste of climate education at our Climate Change Crash Course, with dates available until the end of March. Sign up here: https://www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/community-and-place/cop26-scottish-youth-climate-programme/  

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