WunderBlog Archive » Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

No Way to Slow Down

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 11:24 PM GMT on November 02, 2014

No Way to Slow Down

Earlier this week I saw an article in the USA Today about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting to release its “final report” this Sunday. Jeff Masters and I had a short email exchange as well, and Jeff has a thorough report and commentary on his blog. I was also contacted about going to the Conference of the Parties in Lima this year – not going to happen.

So this “final report,” is not really a final report. It is the “Synthesis Report” of the current assessment. From the IPCC website, the “Synthesis Report (SYR) synthesizes and integrates material contained within IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports. The SYR should be based exclusively on material contained in the three Working Group Reports and Special Reports produced during the 5th or previous Assessment Cycles. It should be written in a ‘non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy-relevant, but policy-neutral questions’ …” The intent of the IPCC reports is to assess the state of the science and provide translation of science-based knowledge to policymakers. The Synthesis Report has taken on a special emphasis because we are building up to the 2015 Conference of Parties in Paris. A lot of attention and promise is placed on the 2015 meeting. (Rood’s Blog, Just What Is This New York Climate Summit?). This report is viewed by some as the last statement of science and needed response before handing off information to policymakers. The reports being synthesized include: physical science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation.

There has been a draft report floating around, which has been the foundation of the press coverage. What I find interesting are the stories talking about strident language and the strong conclusions that will be in the report. Given the strict protocol of the IPCC, these reports will be a synthesis of what has already appeared in the comprehensive reports of the working groups. Therefore, there will not be anything fundamentally new. Previous synthesis reports have been in the range of 25 – 30 pages, so the only question will be what is the story that will be extracted from thousands of page that is delivered in 30 pages.

My last personal involvement in IPCC reports was in the mid-1990s, where I crafted a couple of paragraphs about the role of aircraft in climate change. In fact, my role was a subset, more along the line of how are aircraft effluents mixed. Most of my serious assessment time was spent in ozone assessments run by the United Nations Environment Program. These reports have a lot in common in terms of protocol, and many hours spent on exacting language that satisfies all of the parties involved in the authorship. By its very nature, it is a process that dulls sharp points that might be made. It is a process of negotiation of emphasis. The synthesis reports and the summaries for policymakers are far more likely to be read than the technical reports.

In BBC coverage of the synthesis report, they state that the conclusion of the 2007 IPCC reports, that warming is “unequivocal,” will be restated. The BBC report gives nice insight into the process with it stating that “Dr Rajendra Pachauri had to remind the delegates at one point that they were working on a summary for policymakers, not by them.” Again from the USA Today article, “It [Synthesis Report] ‘will provide the road map by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,’ Pachauri, the panel's chief, explained. ‘May I humbly suggest that policymakers avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.’ ”

The documents that come from the IPCC are important and they are, by far, the most comprehensive documents on climate change, its impact, and the needed response. Increasingly, I use the IPCC documents in class. Currently, I use the documents not only for their technical content, but also because in the deliberative process of the assessment, there is depth and breadth of thinking that is difficult to obtain. Also, these documents have been framed as translational documents between scientists and policymakers; therefore, I am interested in the usability of the documents.

That said, there are some strong constraints on the message that can be stated in the summary reports, for example, the synthesis report. These United Nations’ (U.N.) meetings operate in the context of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is an international agreement that commits its signers, and that is most of the world – commits it signers to the, “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system …” The limit of greenhouse gas concentrations should allow ecosystems to adapt naturally, ensure that food production is not threated and enable sustainable economic development. Don't expect any reports anchored in the Framework Convention to stray far from these words. Don’t expect those words to accept the increasing evidence that the words of the convention are moving beyond our reach.

In my class we usually come to the conclusion that the words of the convention are, with every year, more at odds with the facts on the ground. To some, there is already dangerous climate change, obviously: the villages on the Arctic Ocean shoreline that are eroding into the sea because they’ve lost their protective ice; the governments and people of many island nations; even some in California feel as if climate change is a clear and present danger. We’ve been writing for years about ecosystems not being able to adapt naturally – even I have a paper that discusses the inability of forests to migrate. Economic growth is required just to keep up with population growth, much less to allow what we would view as generalized prosperity. There is always a fight to give up any fraction of economic growth. We for the most part rely on energy for prosperity, and despite more renewable energy in our mix, fossil fuels still dominate the mix. Countries look to fossil fuels as their way towards prosperity and security – as members of the Framework convention, will they take radical steps away from what they are doing now? Would it mane sense?

As persistent readers know, I gave up the mantra of “dangerous” and “2 degrees” and the way “stabilization” was being taught up through the 2007 IPCC report. I thought that mantra was a disservice to my students. I find the need of the summary reports to hold on to this language frustrating – shuffling madness. The idea that “dangerous” still lurks beyond the horizon and that there is a tipping point that we can avoid is stupefying. And I find the notion that “will” is all that is missing from simple, non-disruptive solutions is naïve. The IPCC synthesis reports are part of the political discourse, and as such, enter into a world that runs on many fickle factors, of which, climate change is far down the priority list. I continue to maintain that those who use the knowledge of climate change will be winners, and those who do not will be left behind.


Climate Change News Climate Change Politics

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.