Tag Archives: IPCC

My notes from the public event Climate Change – the State of the Science (Stockholm, 28 September)


–       Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute who is not a climate change expert noted that the hard work of the IPCC embodies the scientific function at its best. However, predicting the future is even harder. There is a strong element of unpredictability in the conclusions because even though the question of human influence on climate is settled, we do not know how humans are going to act from now on. Also, the phenomena caused by climate change do not affect all countries equally. For example sea rises would have no impact in Sweden but would be catastrophic in Bangladesh. Rosling put the blame squarely on rich countries not only in terms of their emission levels (China still has not reached the US levels of 1900) but also for patronising poorer countries in terms of population control and accusing them of not doing what they themselves fail to do. We haven’t even started tapping into the sustainable energy potential. In other words, there is a huge inequality problem.

–       Professor Thomas Stocker of IPCC Working Group I emphasised the length of the process, the number of authors involved and the scrutiny to which the findings have been subjected. He presented 7 out of the 19 headlines that have been endorsed by all world governments (these are widely available online).

Things to note:

–       In terms of cooperation with governments, there were requests for more information and therefore there are more additions than omissions in the report (no hiding or watering down of facts). No key messages or figures have been left out. Even though this report was hard to produce, there has been better cooperation with governments this time round. The aim of the IPCC is not to influence governments but to provide information.

–       Even though human activities as well as non-human variabilities are measured (fingerprinting of solar, volcanic power etc.), some factors are very difficult and expensive to assess, for example the role of deep oceans. We know about the effect on coral reefs and that the impact on organisms is a ticking bomb. However, we don’t know whether the large amount of emissions that have been stored by the Earth (30% residing in the oceans) would come out again. There is also uncertainty around the possible release of methane which is currently stored in permafrost and the circulation in the Atlantic which warms Northern Europe. This is really difficult science and there are very few models available. The sea rise levels discussion attracts fierce positions and there is no scientific consensus about the validity of different approaches.

–       The Antarctic remains a territory of extremely large variability and thus difficult to assess. It is much more complicated than the Arctic and that is why Greenland features more prominently in the report.

–       The scenario of least temperature change requires huge efforts in terms of offsetting emission programmes (carbon sequestration and reforestation).

–       The scientists appeared concerned about media representations of the assessment report. The issue of climate sensitivity is bound to be raised. There is new evidence in this report but change is very small in comparison to the last report. The IPCC was able to convince governments on this front. Questions are also likely to be raised about pre-industrial times measurements. The reference period in the new report starts in 1850 as opposed to 1750 in previous reports. According to the scientists this difference in baseline is negligible and doesn’t make any difference. Finally, the range of temperature projections needs to be communicated very well. Cumulative emissions are important. There is a danger that things are picked out of context when there is a whole range of scenarios that should be looked at. The issue of  responsibility on the part of the media in reporting things correctly was raised by everyone on the panel.

–       The question of inequalities between scientists from different parts of the world was also discussed. Because the IPCC work is done on a voluntary basis, scientists who lack institutional support may be left out of the process even though the IPCC emphasises its global character. All of the panel scientists reported stories of inequality (70 scientists in every million of population in Africa, 4,000 in every million in North America). IPCC scientists try to help colleagues from poorer countries with training and publishing so that their findings become part of the wider scientific understanding.

–       Finally, concerns were raised about the burden on scientists. This has become too high and we should start thinking about other ways to inform the public. There was some discussion around the effectiveness of the special reports that are released periodically as on one hand more attention should be brought to them but on the other it has been shown that assessment is the most powerful tool.

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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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