In any normal week, news that climate breakdown was accelerating and even “irreversible” in some cases would dominate the headlines and prompt renewed agonising over the end of the world.

But as we reach the end of the first bloody and destructive week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “bleakest warning yet” on the negative impacts of climate change has largely been drowned out by even bleaker messaging from eastern Europe.

Despite the understandable domination of the news agenda by Russia’s savage invasion, however, the message sent by the IPCC on Monday was equally disturbing.

Following on from a COP26 climate summit in November that – while making some progress – failed to deliver sufficient emission reduction commitments from many of the world’s largest polluters, The IPCC’s sixth assessment report warned that millions of people faced food shortages due to crop losses caused by climate change, even at current levels of heating.

The 3,676-page tome added that the most vulnerable people and systems were already “disproportionately affected” by climate change, with the rise in weather and climate extremes leading to “some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt”.

Up to 3.6 billion people lived “in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”, the report warned, with a “high proportion” of animal species also vulnerable.

The committee added that global warming reaching 1.5°C in the near term “would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”. 

And food production was very much on the frontline of the crisis, with fisheries yields down 4.1% due to climate change between 1930 and 2010, and some regions seeing 15%-35% losses – with the situation expected to get even worse over the coming years.

Climate change was also already affecting crops, and mostly harming them, with the report estimating global agricultural productivity growth had fallen by 21% since 1961. Meanwhile, high temperatures and extreme rainfall were rapidly reducing already-threatened soil quality, it said.

Yields from major crops (such as maize, soybeans, rice and wheat) were also forecast to decrease throughout the 21st century. The effects would vary between countries and crops, with estimates of yield drops between 0.7 and 3.3% per decade. However, the authors warned this may also be an underestimation of the risks as their analysis didn’t take future weather events into account.

If the above wasn’t sobering enough, the report also warned that up to 30% of current crop and livestock areas would become unsuitable for food production by the end of the century if emissions were too high.

With the window of opportunity for securing a “liveable future” diminishing rapidly, the report’s authors warned of “increasing gaps between the adaptation action taken and what’s needed”.

These gaps were largest among lower-income populations, the report pointed out, adding “the scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet”.

The potential escalation of the war in Ukraine into a global conflict is, of course, an even more immediate threat to the wellbeing of Earth and the human race. But the IPCC report is, in the words of Compassion in World Farming chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson, a “stark reminder we must act urgently to protect our planet and turn the tide on our climate crisis”.

As Thomas Lingard, global sustainability director for climate & environment at Unilever, points out, “the window is closing for governments, business and investors to take real action.”

Without such action, the world “faces dramatic loss of yields and the collapse of already strained supply chains, with severe implications for people across the globe”, Lingard warned.

The UK’s food industry has done much in recent years to try and tackle the challenges of climate change, with most now turning to the more onerus task of how to tackle Scope 3 emissions. But as inflationary pressures grow and the crisis in Europe puts further pressure on supply chains, there is a risk sustainability could take a back seat. 

This report is a reminder why that must not happen. As Greta Thunberg said “every sentence describing the new IPCC report is completely life-changing. Literally everything is at stake”.

So as we focus on one crisis for humanity, the challenge for us all will be to continue focusing on the other big threat, before it’s too late.