Analysis

Five decisions the IPCC made today about its future

  • 27 Feb 2015, 14:10
  • Roz Pidcock

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made some interesting  decisions about how to make its reports more useful, communicate them more effectively, and involve more scientists from developing countries.

It's worth noting, this week's meeting in Nairobi was not in response to Dr Pachauri stepping down as chairman after nearly 13 years.

As is customary for the IPCC after the release of one of its major assessment reports, this week has been about reflecting on lessons learnt and how to move forward.

So what's been decided?

Will we see shorter, more focused IPCC reports from now on?

The short answer is no. At least, not as a general rule.

Every 5 to 7 years, the IPCC publishes an enormous review of scientific literature on all aspects of climate change. These are known as Assessment Reports.

Some scientists and governments have  suggested this timeline isn't very effective since it doesn't capture topics in which the science evolves rapidly. The sheer size of the reports is also very demanding on the scientists who volunteer to write them, without payment.

In response, the IPCC has been  considering producing "rapid updates". These are short, targeted reports published in between the major ones, looking at specific topics or regions.

IPCC secretary  Dr. Renate Christ told a press conference this morning that while more frequent reports "might sound like a good idea, there are practical limitations to doing so".

Each report has to go through a rigorous triple-review process by governments and experts. It's this process that sets the IPCC apart from other organisations, Prof Tom Stocker, co-chair of Working Group 1 and nominee for role of IPCC chair, told Carbon Brief at a press conference last year:

"It's this very lengthy, but carefully designed process of the IPCC carrying out this assessment that makes it distinct from all other sources of information. That's a point we would like to preserve."

Producing more reports would mean adding to the already large workloads of the scientists and reviewers involved, Christ explained. So the IPCC has come to a compromise.

The IPCC will continue to produce assessment reports every five to seven years, but it will make better use of 'Special Reports' to provide slimmer, more focused assessments, too.

There have been a couple of special reports in the last few years, on renewable energy and extreme weather, for example. It sounds like the IPCC plans to produce more of them.

The government of Monaco requested a special report on the oceans, for example. It  says:

"It would seem extremely useful and relevant if [the] IPCC could produce a special report dedicated to the ocean … As a continuation of the AR5 chapters dedicated to the ocean, the report would gather in a sole document all the scientific knowledge related to the  role of the ocean in the climate system and climate change impacts."

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Reaction: Geoengineering is no substitute for cutting carbon emissions, conclude US researchers

  • 11 Feb 2015, 16:30
  • Robert McSweeney

Above and below clouds | Shutterstock

On Tuesday, the US National Research Council published two new reports on 'climate interventions', or what's more commonly known as 'geoengineering'.

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention into the Earth's climate system to try and limit the effects of human-caused global warming, and it can be divided into two main areas Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sometimes known as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), is one approach. The other is reflecting some sunlight away from the Earth before it can be trapped by greenhouse gases, referred to as 'albedo modification' in the reports, but more commonly known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM).

The new reports are the result of an 18-month study into the potential impacts, benefits and costs of geoengineering. The study produces a set of recommendations, which call for more research and development, but also caution that sunlight-reflecting technologies "should not be deployed at this time".

Geoengineering Summary Table

Overview of general differences between carbon dioxide removal approaches and albedo modification approaches. Source: US National Research Council ( 2015)

While the reports make clear that geoengineering is not a substitute for global action to reduce carbon emissions, it recognises that some action may be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The reports have prompted a flurry of reaction, particularly in the US. Here are some of the selected highlights.

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Newspapers’ skeptic views persisted in ‘Climategate’ aftermath, study shows

  • 02 Feb 2015, 13:40
  • Mat Hope

Newspaper stack | Shutterstock

UK newspapers include skeptic viewpoints in a significant proportion of climate change coverage, even when there is questionable editorial justification to do so, a new study suggests.

The likelihood of reading climate skeptic views is also significantly affected by which newspaper you read, the study shows, with some newspapers including skeptic voices in as many as four times the number of articles of their competitors.

The  research by James Painter from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Neil Gavin from Liverpool University's department of politics, published in the Environmental Communication journal, concludes that such reporting can dampen public concern about climate change, and reduce the impetus for politicians to take action to tackle climate change.

Picking a moment

The number of articles and opinion pieces featuring climate skeptic voices varies depending on context, the study shows.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 10.55.34.png
Source: Painter and Gavin,  Climate Skepticism in British newspapers, 2007 to 2011. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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UK flooding pushes public acceptance of manmade climate change to five-year high

  • 29 Jan 2015, 00:01
  • Robert McSweeney

Berkshire floods 2014 | Shutterstock

There is growing public acceptance of the human contribution to climate change, according to a new study published today. The latest results from a national survey show public agreement that humans are causing climate change is at its highest level for 5 years.

The researchers also find that those affected by the UK winter floods in 2013-14 were significantly more likely to be concerned about climate change than those that weren't affected.

Public acceptance

A year on from the major winter flooding in the UK, the new study led by Cardiff University sheds new light on public perception of climate change. Researchers interviewed 1,002 people across the country about their views on climate change and the floods.

The results of the survey show almost nine in 10 respondents said the world's climate is changing (88 per cent), and more than eight in 10 said human activity was at least partly the cause (84 per cent). This represents the highest level of acceptance that the climate is changing since surveys began asking the question in 2005. More than a third (36 per cent) said that climate change is mainly or entirely caused by humans, which is the most agreement on the human impact on climate change since the question was first included in comparative surveys in 2010.

Capstick Et Al (2015) Is The Climate Changing

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'As far as you know, do you personally think the world's climate is changing?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

Capstick Et Al (2015) Causes Of Climate Change

Responses from this and previous surveys to the question 'Thinking of the causes of climate change, which best described your opinion?'. Source: Capstick et al. (2015).

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Scientists react: 2014 confirmed as hottest year on record

  • 16 Jan 2015, 17:13
  • Carbon Brief staff

Land & ocean percentiles 2014 | NOAA

NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have confirmed 2014 was the warmest year since records began in 1880. 

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000.

Carbon Brief rounds up the reaction from scientists…

Prof Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment,  said in USA Today:

"Humans are literally cooking their planet...It just shows that human emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, are taking over the Earth's climate system. The data are clear. The Earth is warming and humans are causing the bulk of this warming."

Overpeck said in the Huffington post:

"Perhaps more important than the global temperature story are the impacts of record regional heat. In places like California, the Southwest U.S. more generally, Australia and parts of Brazil, record heat is exacerbating drought and leading to more stress on our water supplies and forests."

"With continued global warming, we're going to see more and more of these unprecedented regional conditions, and with them will come more and more costs to humans and the things they value. 2014 shows that humans are indeed cooking their planet as they continue to combust fossil fuels."

Dr Radley Horton, a scientist from Columbia University, said in USA Today:

"What we have known for decades is that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations - due to human activities - have stacked the deck dramatically towards more record warm years, and fewer record cold years."

Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in the New York Times:

"Obviously, a single year, even if it is a record, cannot tell us much about climate trends. However, the fact that the warmest years on record are 2014, 2010 and 2005 clearly indicates that global warming has not 'stopped in 1998', as some like to falsely claim."

Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said in the New York Times:

"Why do we keep getting so many record-warm years? It's because the planet is warming. The basic issue is the long-term trend, and it is not going away."

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Explainer: How do scientists measure global temperature?

  • 16 Jan 2015, 11:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Every year around this time, there's a flurry of activity in the world's major meteorological agencies as they prepare to release official global temperature figures for the previous year.

This year, there's particular interest as it looks likely 2014 will be the hottest year on record.

First out the blocks with the official data was the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). Earlier this month, it confirmed 2014 had  taken the top spot with global temperatures 0.27 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. Today, it's the turn of NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the UK Met Office following suit next week.

Why so many records? While global temperature is a simple enough idea, measuring it is harder than you might think. We take a look at what goes into taking Earth's temperature.

The basics

To get a complete picture of Earth's temperature, scientists combine measurements from the air above land and the ocean surface collected by ships, buoys and sometimes satellites, too.

The temperature at each land and ocean station is compared daily to what is 'normal' for that location and time, typically the long-term average over a 30-year period. The differences are called an 'anomalies' and they help scientists evaluate how temperature is changing over time.

A 'positive' anomaly means the temperature is warmer than the long-term average, a 'negative' anomaly means it's cooler.

Daily anomalies are averaged together over a whole month. These are, in turn, used to work out temperature anomalies from season-to-season and year-to-year.

 

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25 inspirational texts about climate change

  • 25 Dec 2014, 12:10
  • Simon Evans

Did Santa bring any of these this Christmas?

We asked 25 thinkers, writers and journalists a simple question: What books or readings inspired you to get involved in climate change-related work?

We were expecting to get back a list of books - and we did. But we also got some interesting insights into why people work on this issue, why they started, and why they carry on.

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First look at new NASA satellite map reveals global carbon dioxide hotspots

  • 18 Dec 2014, 20:10
  • Roz Pidcock

NASA space scientists today unveiled a new satellite map showing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere right across the globe.

The map is the first two months of data from the new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission, launched in July this year.

The team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Colorado State University and California Institute of Technology presented their findings at AGU conference in San Francisco today.

PIA18934

The map shows an average global concentration of 400 parts per million (ppm) with hotspots of high carbon dioxide in the Southern Hemisphere above southern Africa and Brazil. The scientists attribute this to springtime burning of savannas and forests to clear land for farming. 

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Insights from a global survey of climate change opinion

  • 18 Dec 2014, 10:55
  • Robert McSweeney & Rosamund Pearce

People say they are more likely to recycle or cut back on energy use at home compared to other actions to reduce their impact on the environment, new survey data suggests.

And disagreeing that humans cause climate change doesn't necessarily prevent people making environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes.

We recently reported on a survey carried out for Chatham House examining public opinion about climate change and meat and dairy consumption. But the survey of thousands of people in 12 countries didn't just ask questions about eating habits. Chatham House has kindly allowed us to delve a little deeper into their data.

Who agrees that humans contribute to climate change?

The study asked people about their views on climate change and the actions they might be prepared to take to reduce their impact on the environment. Across the 12 countries, 83 per cent of people surveyed say they agree that humans contribute to climate change. Just seven per cent disagree. For the UK specifically, 78 per cent of respondents agree, putting the UK towards the bottom of the list in terms of national levels of agreement.

Climateopinion 1st6

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Media round-up: The IPCC synthesis report

  • 04 Nov 2014, 16:54
  • Robert McSweeney & Rosamund Pearce

Rajendra Pachauri on Sky News

On Sunday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its synthesis report, which summarises the findings of three huge assessment reports. It prompted a flurry of media coverage. Here are some selected highlights.

Broadcast media

  • BBC News discusses the "controversial" recommendation that fossil fuels should be phased out by the end of the century - "a huge undertaking". Since every attempt to negotiate a new climate treaty has failed, and with Paris on the horizon, the BBC asks: "has anything really changed?"

  • With the "glacial" pace of the UN negotiating process,  Channel 4 news asks: can we adapt fast enough? Professor Joanna Haigh argues that climate change has not dropped of the agenda, discusses geoengineering versus preventative measures, and the value of the political process.

channel4news.png

  • In The IPCC report: why it matters, the BBC debates why another report was needed right now. Scientists believe that political leaders are in the process to agree a new climate deal - and they want to give them the most succinct report for this - "It may be the runt of the litter in size, but in political terms, it could turn out to be a real heavyweight".

  • In Climate change action will cost, the BBC broadcasts Ban Ki-moon's speech at the launch of the report.

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