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How to read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports

  • 13 Apr 2014, 10:02
  • Mat Hope

Picdream

The UN's three new climate reports are thousands of pages long and contain a huge amount of detail on topics as diverse as flood risk to bioenergy. So how do you stop them from becoming the world's best-researched doorstop? Here's our guide to navigating the reports.

Three reports

Three publications make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) comprehensive review of climate change research, known as the Fifth Assessment Report (or AR5). As they're such big pieces of work, the IPCC only produces a new assessment report every five or six years.

So where do you start? First, make sure you're reading the right document.

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Responsibility for writing the reports is shared across three sets of scientists, known as Working Groups (sometimes referred to as WGs).

The WG1 report was released last September, WG2 came out yesterday, and WG3 is due in a week's time.

The Working Group 1 report looks at the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change. Working Group 2 is tasked with assessing the impacts of climate change, and options for adapting to it. Working Group 3 tries to work out how policymakers can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and curb climate change.

In addition to each of the working group's reports is a synthesis report which brings together all of the IPCC's research.

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What’s mitigation? A short and straightforward summary of the IPCC’s latest report

  • 13 Apr 2014, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Today an international group of hundreds of climate scientists released a  report on how nations can act to limit climate change.

The three-part report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the current state of climate change science. The organisation has just published the final part of the report, looking at how the world can cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere. Scientists now understand that this warming is changing the climate.

The first instalment of the IPCC's report, released last September, says scientists are more sure than ever - 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming in the oceans, land and atmosphere. As a result, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Scientists now know much more about the risks the world faces as the climate changes, too. The IPCC says climate change is already contributing to problems like flooding, disruption to farming and food supply and species migration and extinction.

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Regional changes, global effects: an interview with IPCC Arctic specialist Jan-Gunnar Winther

  • 09 Apr 2014, 10:30
  • Ros Donald

Climate change is affecting the Arctic further and faster than any other part of the world. Carbon Brief speaks to Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author Jan-Gunnar Winther about how the new report from the UN panel on the impacts of climate change relates to this highly sensitive region. 

What are the three main messages in the IPCC report concerning the Arctic?

First, it's important to stress that climate change with an anthropogenic component is having a greater effect in the Arctic than in other parts of the world, according to the report.

Second, it shows that we now have quite substantial knowledge that change in the Arctic region is having an effect on weather and climate in the northern hemisphere. We now know that regional changes - particularly in the Arctic - can have global effects.

And third, the report indicates that climate models have so far failed to give us accurate projections for the future of the Arctic. Over the past 20 years, they have systematically underestimated the rate of change in the Arctic. For example, the reduction in summer sea ice extent and thickness has been far beyond that predicted by models.

We must be aware that the future could bring yet more surprises in the region.

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IPCC report: Climate change and the things people care about

  • 07 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Professor Neil Adger

No place is immune to the impacts of climate change. This is the principal message from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The impacts of climate change will be felt in individual places such as in back gardens, homes, fields and cities and will likely make us feel less safe and secure. 

For the first time the IPCC examines in detail the impacts of climate change on well-being across the report, with a cluster of chapters on the topics of  health, human  security, and  poverty

Human security encapsulates the notion of the vital core of human lives and the ability of people to have freedom and the capacity to live with dignity. Human security has direct material elements, such as life and livelihood, but also elements of cultural expression and identity.

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IPCC says adapt and mitigate to tackle climate risks

  • 03 Apr 2014, 16:55
  • Roz Pidcock

The  front page article of today's Spectator claims the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has "updated" its position on climate change, to accept that "climate change is now a question of adaptation".

Author Matt Ridley suggests that this is such a departure from the UN climate panel's previous findings that its conclusions are now in line with those of climate skeptic lobbyist Lord Lawson.

Lawson stresses "the need to adapt to climate change, rather than throw public money at futile attempts to prevent it", according to Ridley, a fellow skeptic campaigner.

It's worth taking this with a pinch of salt. If the IPCC has said more about adaptation in the last week, it's because its most recent report is specifically about adaptation. That doesn't mean mitigation has been abandoned as Lord Lawson would like it to be - indeed, in a week's time the IPCC will publish another report dedicated to the mitigation he so scorns.

Heavy on adaptation

The crux of Ridley's argument is that adapting to climate change is given more prominence in the latest IPCC report than in past ones.

He says:

"[T]he document itself … emphasised, again and again, the need to adapt to climate change … Whereas the last report had two pages on adaptation, this one has four chapters."

In fact, there are six chapters which specifically mention adaptation in their titles in the new report, not four. The previous report in 2007 had two chapters, not two pages.

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Risk, resilience and honeybees: Scientists' views on the new IPCC report

  • 02 Apr 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Hundreds of scientists from more than 70 countries helped pull together the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Now it's published, here's what a few of them have to say about the report's messages, and what should happen now.

"No question" the risks are real ...

The IPCC report defines what the research community knows and doesn't know about climate change. Chris Field, co-chair of the group that produced the report, told journalists on Sunday:

"Our job is to represent the full range of scientific and technical views on this critically important issues. When the IPCC does a report, what you get is the community's position."

And the report is unequivocal on the fact that human interference with the climate system is already occurring. Field adds:

"We see impacts from the equator to the poles and from the coast to the mountains. There's no question we already live in a world that altered by climate change"

We're already seeing more frequent extreme weather, food and water shortages, shrinking glaciers and species migrations, the report says. And as climate economist, professor Nicholas Stern, points out:

"These are all happening after less than one degree centigrade of global warming."

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How much flooding is in the UK’s future? A look at the IPCC report

  • 02 Apr 2014, 13:00
  • Roz Pidcock

From posing a threat to natural ecosystems to damaging business, property and livelihoods, a report out this week from the UN's official climate body reviews the wide-ranging damages extreme flooding can cause.

With the UK currently dealing with the impact of widespread flooding, we look at what the report has to say about how serious a risk it could be in the future as the climate changes further.

Getting wetter

Last September, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a bumper assessment of how and why the climate is changing, including projections for how everything from rainfall to arctic sea ice is likely to change in the coming decades.

Scientists expect a warming world to lead to more extreme rainfall. The image below shows the UK receiving about 10 per cent more rainfall on average per year by 2100 (right) compared to 1986-2005 (left).

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The UK is set to see about a 10 per cent rise in annual average rainfall by 2100 (right) compared to the period 1985-2005 (left). Source: IPCC 5th Assessment Report  Sumary for Policymakers (p20).

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Calculating damages: How much will climate change cost?

  • 01 Apr 2014, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

Today's Financial Times features professor Richard Tol's take on what a new UN report says about how much climate change could cost the world. But examining the report's summary reveals a list of reasons why the IPCC believes the costs are likely to be a lot higher.

With the launch of the latest IPCC report, a fair amount of attention has focused on what it says about how much climate change could cost in terms of GDP as temperatures rise.

In part, that's because a lead author of the economics chapter became quite vocal in his opinion that the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is too "alarmist".

In interviews for BBC and Sky News yesterday, Richard Tol - an economics professor at Sussex University - argued the SPM takes too much of a "four horseman of the apocalypse" tone.

Today, Tol has an  opinion piece in the Financial Times, headlined "Bogus prophecies of doom will not fix the climate".

Tol's take is that while climate change requires a response, reducing emissions has been over-prioritised. To make his case, he refers to a figure from the IPCC report for the cost of two degrees warming:

"According to Monday's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a further warming of two degrees could cause losses equivalent to 0.2 to two per cent of world gross domestic product."

In other words, Tol says,

"[H]alf a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one year of economic growth."

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Trees at risk, poverty pockets and the risk of tipping: five hidden stories about the impacts of climate change

  • 01 Apr 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

The UN's much anticipated landmark report into the future impacts of climate change was finally  launched yesterday - covering everything from  fisheries to flooding. We've dug out five hidden stories you may have missed. 

Hundreds of scientists have collated all the available research investigating climate change's effect on natural systems and human societies around the world and put them together in a  summary report. Food prices will rise, security risks increase and the weather will get more extreme, the report  predicts. But not all the stories have made it onto the front pages

1. Don't be a tree   

A large fraction of both land-based and freshwater species face extinction risks as a result of temperature rise this century, according to yesterday's report - especially as climate change interacts with other stresses like  habitat destruction or over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species. 

The survival of many plant and animal species is already under  threat as a result of human activity. 

Only a few species have gone extinct so far as a result of the changing climate, the IPCC says - but as temperatures rise, this could soon change. 

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‘Climate change poses risks for human and natural systems’: Key quotes from the IPCC’s Working Group 2 report

  • 01 Apr 2014, 11:55
  • Roz Pidcock & Mat Hope

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a big report on the impacts of climate change yesterday. The report looked at everything from how climate change puts species and societies at risk, to what rising emissions may mean for marine life and extreme weather events.

We pick out some key quotes from the IPCC's Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers.

Impacts of climate change

"Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems"

"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans."

"Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial level. Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more ... and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security"

"Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries."

Food production & security

"All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability (high confidence)."

"Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence)."

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