Reflecting on the recent IPCC report and what we can do

Though the conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change report are grim, protecting and restoring natural ecosystems is an effective step.

This spring marked the release of yet another report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the AR6 Synthesis Report. In the third and final installment of the 2021 Sixth Assessment Report, the international panel of scientific experts broadly conclude:

  1. Humans are unequivocally responsible for climate change.
  2. Some dangerous climate impacts are unavoidable and irreversible.
  3. There is a rapidly closing window to act. 

The report also outlines the significant costs that human societies–especially those in the global south–will be forced to pay as a result of climate disasters. 

These conclusions are grim. Hopelessness, grief, and uncertainty are understandable emotions in light of the report, yet, the authors of AR6 are staunch in their argument that avoiding the worst impacts is possible. To do it, humanity needs to act definitively and immediately.  

But where to start? Given our ever-shortening window of opportunity, what actions should be undertaken first, and which will have the most impact?

The role of natural ecosystems

In the section Climate Mitigation of AR6, the authors compile 30 different greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures ranging from switching to solar power to reducing food waste. For each measure, the authors calculated the lifetime cost, feasibility, and potential emissions reduction, ranking measures from highest to lowest impact.

Of the measures, preserving natural ecosystems was identified as having the second-greatest potential for greenhouse gas reductions, only below solar energy. Ecosystem restoration, particularly reforestation, ranked fifth.  

Intact ecosystems are places where species have spent millenia locally adapting to their surroundings and forming tightly woven food webs. They are places with a diversity of species and habitat types, a key to resiliency in the face of a changing climate. They are places that we strive to protect.

This year, Raincoast, in collaboration with the Pender Islands Conservancy, achieved a major goal toward our ongoing efforts to further land protection in the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone: the protection of KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest. In a region with less than 1% of its historic extent of old growth remaining, it is essential to safeguard the maturing old growth forests of the future. Shauna Doll, our Forest Conservation Program Director, spearheaded the acquisition of the 45-acre property on S,DÁYES (Pender Island) to protect it in perpetuity. This effort was made possible by the exceptional support of our donors and supporters. Going forward, Science and conservation staff from Raincoast and the Pender Conservancy will be further assessing the land and making plans for its ongoing restoration and ecological management. 

Last month, we received news of a proposed waste facility within Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park, one of the last vestiges of intact wetland habitat along the Fraser River in Metro Vancouver. During the public engagement process, research scientist (and Burnaby resident) Allison Dennert from our Wild Salmon team and I published an Op-Ed in Burnaby Now, bringing to light how the project would cause irreparable harm to wetlands important to Fraser salmon, of which many populations are already threatened. Our voice added to the large-scale opposition to the project by Burnaby residents and local conservation groups who turned out en masse, filling council meetings, and bombarding the local newspaper with letters in a powerful display of public mobilization. On March 20th, Burnaby council voted to reject the project, saving 21-acres of habitat in the park.

We’re also working to restore degraded habitat in the Fraser Estuary, reconnecting tidal marshes and eelgrass habitat through our Fraser River Connectivity Project. Through this project, led by our Fraser Estuary Research and Restoration Director Dave Scott, we are creating breaches in man-made structures that block the natural migration of juvenile salmon. As part of our project, we have monitored juvenile salmon at our breach locations over the last three years as they have been developed, and ever since the first breaches were made, we have seen high levels of juvenile salmon passing through the breaches. The breaches also allow sediment to flow freely throughout the estuary, providing a better foundation for marsh plants to establish.

Staying grounded on an unstable planet

Throughout Raincoast’s history, we have countless other inspiring examples of our work advancing habitat and wildlife protection. 

News about climate change and the environment seems to skew towards negativity. We think it’s important to highlight, celebrate, and share the often unseen progress that is being made. These wins help us stay focused on our goal to see thriving ecosystems along the pacific coast.

Figure SPM.7

Figure SPM.7: Multiple Opportunities for scaling up climate action. Panel (a) presents selected mitigation and adaptation options across different systems. The left hand side of panel a shows climate responses and adaptation options assessed for their multidimensional feasibility at global scale, in the near term and up to 1.5°C global warming. The right hand side of Panel a provides an overview of selected mitigation options and their estimated costs and potentials in 2030.
Figure SPM.7: (See all figures) Multiple Opportunities for scaling up climate action. Panel (a) presents selected mitigation and adaptation options across different systems. The left hand side of panel a shows climate responses and adaptation options assessed for their multidimensional feasibility at global scale, in the near term and up to 1.5°C global warming. As literature above 1.5°C is limited, feasibility at higher levels of warming may change, which is currently not possible to assess robustly. The term response is used here in addition to adaptation because some responses, such as migration, relocation and resettlement may or may not be considered to be adaptation. Forest based adaptation includes sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration, reforestation and afforestation. WASH refers to water, sanitation and hygiene. Six feasibility dimensions (economic, technological, institutional, social, environmental and geophysical) were used to calculate the potential feasibility of climate responses and adaptation options, along with their synergies with mitigation. For potential feasibility and feasibility dimensions, the figure shows high, medium, or low feasibility. Synergies with mitigation are identified as high, medium, and low.

The right hand side of Panel a provides an overview of selected mitigation options and their estimated costs and potentials in 2030. Costs are net lifetime discounted monetary costs of avoided GHG emissions calculated relative to a reference technology. Relative potentials and costs will vary by place, context and time and in the longer term compared to 2030. The potential (horizontal axis) is the net GHG emission reduction (sum of reduced emissions and/or enhanced sinks) broken down into cost categories (coloured bar segments) relative to an emission baseline consisting of current policy (around 2019) reference scenarios from the AR6 scenarios database. The potentials are assessed independently for each option and are not additive. Health system mitigation options are included mostly in settlement and infrastructure (e.g., efficient healthcare buildings) and cannot be identified separately. Fuel switching in industry refers to switching to electricity, hydrogen, bioenergy and natural gas. Gradual colour transitions indicate uncertain breakdown into cost categories due to uncertainty or heavy context dependency. The uncertainty in the total potential is typically 25–50%.

Panel (b) displays the indicative potential of demand-side mitigation options for 2050. Potentials are estimated based on approximately 500 bottom-up studies representing all global regions. The baseline (white bar) is provided by the sectoral mean GHG emissions in 2050 of the two scenarios (IEA-STEPS and IP_ModAct) consistent with policies announced by national governments until 2020. The green arrow represents the demand-side emissions reductions potentials. The range in potential is shown by a line connecting dots displaying the highest and the lowest potentials reported in the literature. Food shows demand-side potential of socio-cultural factors and infrastructure use, and changes in land-use patterns enabled by change in food demand. Demand-side measures and new ways of end-use service provision can reduce global GHG emissions in end-use sectors (buildings, land transport, food) by 40–70% by 2050 compared to baseline scenarios, while some regions and socioeconomic groups require additional energy and resources. The last row shows how demand-side mitigation options in other sectors can influence overall electricity demand. The dark grey bar shows the projected increase in electricity demand above the 2050 baseline due to increasing electrification in the other sectors. Based on a bottom-up assessment, this projected increase in electricity demand can be avoided through demand-side mitigation options in the domains of infrastructure use and socio-cultural factors that influence electricity usage in industry, land transport, and buildings (green arrow). {Figure 4.4}

Our annual report is out now!

Get highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, staff and volunteers, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.