Analysis

Climate fixes and Plan Bs: The IPCC’s guide to staying below two degrees of global warming

  • 14 Apr 2014, 13:10
  • Roz Pidcock

Cutting emissions, ramping up renewable energy, adapting to a new way of life and sucking carbon dioxide out of the air: recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) appear to offer a number of ways to limit the scale and seriousness of climate change.

Which are the real climate solutions, and which are pretty risky bets? Here's what the IPCC says about what will and won't work when it comes to fixing the climate.

The two degree target

What we can do to curb the  impacts of climate change is the topic of the  third in a series of recent reports from the IPCC. But when we talk about limiting climate change, what do we really mean?

The idea that we should avoid "dangerous" interference with the climate has been around for a while. But at the UN climate summit in  Cancun in 2010, governments made the goal of keeping warming to no more two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels an official target.

The world has already warmed by 0.85 degrees over the industrial period and if emissions stay high, we're on course for more like three to five degrees by 2100, the IPCC  noted in its September report.

In other words, without efforts to reduce warming, we're set to fall a long way short of the target.

RCP2.6-8.0

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Media reaction: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's big climate mitigation report

  • 14 Apr 2014, 12:50
  • Mat Hope

While many were still engulfed in their duvets recovering from the night before, the UN spent Sunday morning launching a big report on strategies to tackle climate change. The report was the third instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) major review of the most up-to-date climate change research.

If you've been too busy to catch up on the swathes of media coverage since then, have no fear - we've speed-read it all for you:

International cooperation

A significant proportion of the media focused on the report's message that there is still time for countries to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - but only if they work together.

  • The  Financial Times said the IPCC was sure there is "still time to save the world". It quotes one of the report's co-chairs, Ottmar Edenhofer, saying the report carried "a message of hope"  that tackling climate change "can be done".
  • Doing so would mean cutting emissions "by up to 70% by 2050 if it is to prevent global temperatures rising by more than two degrees", the  Sunday Times reports. The IPCC's research shows "stabilising climate is humanity's biggest challenge", it adds.
  • Newswire  Agence France Presse described the report's findings as a "wake up call" for governments. It said the IPCC identifies a 15-year window in which countries' will be able to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
  • That means "governments must do more" to address rising emissions, the Washington Post argues. Countries must work together to lower emissions by 40 to 70 percent, according to the IPCC's findings, it said.
  • Taking a slightly different angle, the  Independent on Sunday was the only major UK newspaper to focus on the consequences of inaction. Unless the world acts soon, the IPCC says emissions could reach a level "that could reap devastating effects on the planet", the newspaper reports.

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Not just another climate report: main messages from the UN report on tackling emissions

  • 13 Apr 2014, 14:15
  • Robin Webster

If we're going to curb the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, the world's governments need to co-operate - and they're running out of time to do it. That's one of the top-line messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s latest mega-report into current and future greenhouse gas emissions. 

Today's report is the last in a series of three from the IPCC. The first two summarised the physical evidence base for climate change and its potential  impacts on ecosystems and human societies. Now the organisation is looking at what's likely to happen to greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century - and what possibilities there are for reversing the upwards trend. 

The full report runs to thousands of pages, providing an overview of all the research in the area. In order to complete it, the scientists assessed more than 1200 scenarios for how the future might unfold from different studies. The report's  summary is slightly more digestible, at just 33 pages. Here's our run-down of its key points. 

Emissions rising

Between 2000 and 2010, greenhouse gas emissions grew at 2.2 per cent a year -  a faster rate of increase than over the previous three decades. Human-caused emissions were "the highest in human history" in the first decade of this century, the IPCC says. 

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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).

AR5_rainfall

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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