The IPCC's Blockbuster 5th Climate Assessment

Severe and invasive impacts of climate change (IPCC)

BREAKING: Late this evening (8 pm EST, or tomorrow, March 31, at 9 am in Tokyo), something large and unpleasant will hit the fan about climate change. At a press conference in Yokohama, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its Fifth Assessment Report on impacts of human activities on current and future climate: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

At this moment, participants in the IPCC’s Working Group II probably have finished putting final touches on the full draft. Led by co-chairs Chris Field of the US Carnegie Institution for Science and Vicente Barros of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, they’ll be sweating over the 29-page Summary for Policymakers line-by-line before releasing it to the media. Says Field:

“The author team assessed over 12,000 scientific publications, benefited from thoughtful comments from over 1,700 expert and government reviewers, read and assimilated more than 50,000 review comments, under the careful eye of dedicated review editors. With every line carefully checked and rechecked, Working Group II has produced what I believe to be the most complete, thorough, and authoritative assessment on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability to date.”

Veteran environmental writer Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian describes part II of the new UN IPCC study as “a blockbuster UN climate science report.” She opens her article with drama: “Climate change has already left its mark ‘on all continents and across the oceans,’ damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers….” Other factors: weather and temperature changes, drought, more intense storms, sea level rise, coastal flooding, ocean acidification, carbon and greenhouse gas buildup, and polar and Greenland ice melt.

The report on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability (and the almost concluded meeting of Working Group II) result from four years’ work by hundreds of climate science experts from every part of the world. The conclusions do not reflect new research. Rather, the consultants have worked to summarize studies already conducted—a huge amount of new and more conclusive findings since the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.

Also, it’s important to note that the UN’s IPCC is only an advisory panel. Decisionmaking authority rests with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This group ratified the original Kyoto Accords in 1997, drew up the Bali Road Map in 2007, hosted the disastrous 2009 Copenhagen summit, formulated the Cancun Agreements in 2010, and held the Durban meeting in 2011, the 2012 conclave in Doha, Qatar, and last year’s meeting in Warsaw.

Fifth Assessment Report: I and subsequent developments

Working Group I drafted the first report of IPCC’s fifth assessment on September 27, 2013, and published the final report on 30 January 30, 2014. It covered the physical science basis of climate change. From the World Resources Institute:

“The first installment of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report confirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that the impacts of climate change are accelerating, and they’re largely driven by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, the report also quantified the global ‘carbon budget,’ the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

Last fall in several publications I summarized the results of part I of the Fifth Assessment Report under the title “Hear what 259 world experts said about the physical science of climate change?” In case you didn’t follow that UN report, you may be surprised that many mainstream journalists slanted the news by casting unreasonable doubt on almost universally accepted findings. They appeared not to have read either the UN document (the Fifth Assessment Report: Physical Science ),or even the 27-page summary, because if they had, they’d have recognized their own perspective and “sources” as somewhat less than reliable.

The first part of last year’s UN report basically said that climate change is “unequivocal.” It will continue no matter how greenhouse gas emissions play out in the future. The international panel also found it “extremely likely(95% certain) that human influence has mainly caused the global warming we have observed since 1950––only 64 years ago.

Every year, late in November and early in December, representatives of 195 nations (the UNFCCC) gather for two weeks to try to negotiate and ratify global responses to the increasingly fragile state of earth’s climate. Last year, Warsaw, Poland, hosted the conference. Its goal: international agreement on reducing global warming and mitigating unavoidable temperature increases. (My report here–‘Lousy, Spoilt, and Defiled Planet’ Climate Talks Begin In Warsaw.) Unfortunately, these massive meetings have had a tendency to splinter into interest groups that block each other’s priorities rather than finding common ground.

Fifth Assessment Report: II

The volume to be released later today is the second in the series of 2013-2014 IPCC fifth assessment reports (AR5-II). IPCC Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachauri said in opening the Yokohama meeting:

“Overall, the management of risk related to climate change impacts would be the dominant approach emerging from this assessment.”

The assessment finds that these risks multiply exponentially as global temperature and carbon concentrations rise.

Initial drafts of AR5-II have been occasionally leaked to the media. They project that climate change will increase the risk of food and water shortages and related social conflicts in decades to come.

From one of the co-chairs:

“This report considers consequences of climate changes that have already occurred and the risks across a range of possible futures. It considers every region and many sectors, ranging from oceans to human security.”

Like its four predecessor assessments, the report will also highlight the need for adaptation and carbon emissions reductions to avoid much worse disruptions.
The full report will be published online in August and in book form a few months later.

When we see the draft report later today, we can expect IPCC to approach the subject of climate change from another perspective. It will consider the effects of climate change as a series of risks to humankind from the impacts of global climatic disruption.”

The draft also explores both preparedness and risk management. Climatesciencewatch noted that the IPCC AR5-II researchers have expressed hopes that

“…the reframing of the issue as a series of risks would help governments respond more rapidly to climate change…. The thinking behind the decision was to encourage governments to prepare for the full range of potential consequences under climate change.”

Assessment report co-chair Field puts it this way: “It’s much more about what are the smart things to do then what do we know with absolute certainty.”

Climatenexus provides an excellent summary of the report’s findings of note:

Observed Impacts

• Climate change is now everywhere.
• People everywhere are vulnerable to extreme climate events.
• Many species have migrated to new locations and changed the timing of their seasonal behavior in response to climate change.
• The impact of warming on global agriculture has been and will continue to be negative.
• Increasingly, governments are incorporating climate adaptation measures seamlessly into policy frameworks.
• We’re close to missing our chance to limit warming to 1.5ºC beyond pre-industrial levels.

Future Impacts

• Runaway warming would make some regions uninhabitable.
• Reducing carbon pollution rapidly and immediately can cut the overall economic damage of climate change by half.
• Without adaptation, even warming of only 1ºC will negatively affect crop yield.
• Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of many types of extreme weather.
• Adaptation (dealing with the direct effects of climate changes) and mitigation (reducing emissions to prevent further changes) are both essential to climate policy.
• Climate change will negatively impact many human systems.

Goldenberg says that finalizing the short AR5-II summary today will likely be a task beyond herculean:

“Nearly 500 people must sign off on the exact wording of the summary, including the 66 expert authors [leading scientists in multiple disciplines], 271 officials from 115 countries, and 57 observers.”

Today’s news conference (8 p.m. EST) will be webcast in English, Japanese, and Spanish. Follow it live at these webstreams:

For English go to:

For Japanese go to:

For Spanish go to:

For original go to:

Upcoming developments

Certainly more about the internal workings of the committee will come out in the weeks and months to come. The third and final IPCC climate change draft is scheduled for release in mid-April. It will address global, national, and local means to mitigate climate change. This draft report will be considered by the IPCC at its meeting in Berlin next month (April 7-11, 2014).

In October, the IPCC team will present the three final reports and a synthesis report of the entire Fifth Assessment. The full IPCC will consider all four documents in Copenhagen from October 27-31, 2014.

The next meeting of the UNFCCC (the international decisionmaking body) will take place in Lima, Peru, from December 1-12, 2014. In Paris from November 30-December 11, 2015, world governments will attempt to achieve a new and universal greenhouse gas reduction protocol with legal force beginning in 2015 for the period beyond 2020.

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