Analysis

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.

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  • 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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The IPCC’s untapped resource: the frequently asked questions

  • 03 Nov 2014, 09:41
  • Robert McSweeney

Answers | Shutterstock

This Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its latest Synthesis Report, a non-technical summary of three huge Assessments Reports.

But there is another easily-accessible IPCC resource that has already been published and is often overlooked: the IPCC's Frequently Asked Questions.

So what information does an FAQ written by the world's top climate scientists provide?

Here are some of the questions they cover:

- FAQ 1.1: If understanding of the climate system has increased, why hasn't the range of temperature projections been reduced?

- FAQ 2.1: How do we know the world has warmed?

- FAQ 2.2: Have there been any changes in climate extremes?

- FAQ 3.1: Is the ocean warming?

- FAQ 3.2: Is there evidence for changes in the Earth's water cycle? 

- FAQ 3.3: How does anthropogenic ocean acidification relate to climate change?

- FAQ 4.1: How is sea-ice changing in the Arctic and Antarctic? 

- FAQ 4.2: Are glaciers in mountain regions disappearing?

- FAQ 5.1: Is the Sun a major driver of recent changes in climate? 

- FAQ 5.2: How unusual is the current sea level rate of change?

- FAQ 6.1: Could rapid release of methane and carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost or ocean warming substantially increase warming? 

- FAQ 6.2: What happens to carbon dioxide after it is emitted into the atmosphere? 

- FAQ 7.1: How do clouds affect climate and climate change?

- FAQ 7.2: How do aerosols affect climate and climate change?

- FAQ 7.3: Could geoengineering counteract climate change and what side effects might occur?

- FAQ 8.1: How important Is water vapour to climate change?

- FAQ 8.2: Do improvements in air quality have an effect on climate change?

- FAQ 9.1: Are climate models getting better, and how would we know? 

- FAQ 10.1: Climate is always changing. How do we determine the causes of observed changes?

- FAQ 10.2: When will human influences on climate become obvious on local scales?- FAQ 11.1: If you cannot predict the weather next month, how can you predict climate for the coming decade?

- FAQ 11.2: How do volcanic eruptions affect climate and our ability to predict climate?

- FAQ 12.1: Why are so many models and scenarios used to project climate change?

- FAQ 12.2: How will the Earth's water cycle change? 

- FAQ 12.3: What would happen to future climate if we stopped emissions today? 

- FAQ 13.1: Why does local sea level change differ from the global average? 

- FAQ 13.2: Will the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets contribute to sea level change over the rest of the century?

- FAQ 14.1: How is climate change affecting monsoons?

- FAQ 14.2: How are future projections in regional climate related to projections of global means?

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Probing the deep: An in-depth look at the oceans, climate change and the hiatus

  • 20 Oct 2014, 08:40
  • Roz Pidcock and Rosamund Pearce

Waves in ocean via Shutterstock

Oceans cover more of the planet than anything else. So it makes sense that we need to know what's happening to them to understand how humans are changing the climate. 

If you follow climate science, you'd be forgiven for being a little confused recently by different news reports suggesting the oceans are warming, slightly  cooling or doing  nothing at all.

So are the oceans hotting up or aren't they? And how does what happens beneath the waves influence what we feel up here on earth's surface? Here's our top to bottom look at the oceans and climate change.

More heat in, less heat out

Scientists have known for centuries that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat and warm the planet. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

Scientists use satellite measurements to monitor how much of the sun's energy enters earth's atmosphere. A different set of measurements tells them how much finds its way out again.

The difference between those numbers is increasing, which means the earth is  trapping more heat than it used to. And that means the planet  must be warming.

A hiatus in surface warming

An interesting question is why temperatures at earth's surface - that's the air above land and the very top of the ocean - don't always reflect what's happening to the planet as a whole.

Over the last 15 years or so, surface temperatures have risen  much slower than in previous decades, even though we're emitting greenhouse gases  faster than we were before.

This is what's become known as the "hiatus", "slowdown" or even "pause" in surface warming.

This raises an obvious question. If earth is  gaining heat but the surface isn't warming very much, where is the heat going instead?

Where does the heat go?

Oceanheatadjustedocean 2nologo

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How we can make good decisions about geoengineering

  • 30 Sep 2014, 15:15
  • Dr Rob Bellamy

NERC

Next month's synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to give the organisation's verdict on geoengineering, a radical set of proposals to use large-scale technologies to tackle climate change.

There are two types of geoengineering. Carbon geoengineering seeks to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, for example by capturing it from the air and storing it underground, or by adding iron to the oceans to trigger carbon-absorbing algal blooms.

Solar geoengineering is different. It seeks to reflect some sunlight away from the Earth before it can be trapped by greenhouse gases.This can be done, for example, by spraying clouds with sea salt to make them more reflective, or by stratospheric aerosol injection, where reflective particles are pumped into the atmosphere.

Geoengineering

My colleagues and I have been  examining the importance of 'opening up' discussion about geoengineering to alternative options, different perspectives and real world complexity.

'Closing down' assessment

Our earlier research has shown that the ways in which researchers frame assessments of geoengineering have important effects on the conclusions people come to.

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How TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s three big reports

  • 23 Sep 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

TV studio | Shutterstock

TV audiences around the world aren't hearing much about climate science.

That's the main conclusion of a new study looking at how TV news covered the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) three big reports earlier this year.

While the IPCC's reports made a  small splash in the print media, the same wasn't true of television news. Media in many countries barely covered the reports. And when they did, they used an old-fashioned "doom" narrative to explain them, research by Oxford University's Reuters Institute finds.

That's concerning, because many people still get their news from the TV, and place particular trust in TV news to deliver a balanced account of climate science.

Here's which channels covered the reports, how, and why it matters.

Country divergence

The IPCC's first report on the science behind climate change was launched in October 2013. A second report on the impacts of climate change was released the final day of March 2014, with a  third report looking at policies to cut emissions following a couple of weeks later.

The Reuters Institute looked at how a selection of news bulletins in the UK, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Germany covered all three reports on their launch day, and the day before.

13 out of the 36 main news bulletins the Reuters Institute studied covered the IPCC reports. That adds-up to about 34 minutes of airtime.

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25 inspirational texts about climate change

  • 15 Sep 2014, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

Around this time each September, thousands of students will go off to study climate change at university. But sometimes climate and environmental issues can be pretty dry.

So 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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Pacific watch: Is El Niño finding its second wind?

  • 22 Aug 2014, 14:55
  • Roz Pidcock

Scientists around the world have been watching closely to see if an El Niño develops this year - a weather phenomenon in the Pacific that drives extreme weather worldwide.

After initially predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, forecasters began scaling back their predictions earlier this month.

But interest in the Pacific weather phenomenon shows no sign of waning. And after much talk of El Niño cooling off, there are hints it could be rebounding, say scientists.

El Niño watch

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the  equatorial Pacific Ocean - a phenomena known as El Niño.

Together, El Niño and its cooler counterpart La Niña are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Between them, they're responsible for most of the fluctuations in global temperature and rainfall we see from one year to the next.

Earlier this year, the ocean looked to be primed for an El Niño, with above average temperatures in the eastern Pacific lasting throughout March and May.

But last month, forecasters across the world began  dialling down their forecasts. The atmosphere had "largely failed to respond" to sea surface temperatures, scientists announced.

"Waiting for Godot"

This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  dropped the odds of an El Niño developing in autumn or winter to 65 per cent, down from 80 per cent  earlier this month. As NOAA scientist, Michelle L'Heureux,  described recently:

"Waiting for El Niño is starting to feel like Waiting for Godot"

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Climate scientists dub this year’s El Niño “a real enigma”

  • 04 Aug 2014, 14:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Last month, forecasters were predicting with  90 per cent certainty we'd see an El Niño by the end of the year, driving severe weather patterns worldwide. But with little sign so far of the ocean and atmospheric changes scientists expected, those odds have dropped off quite a bit.

We'll probably still see an El Niño before the year's out but it's unlikely to be a strong one, scientists are saying.  

What is an El Niño?

Every five years or so, a change in the winds causes a shift to warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the  equatorial Pacific Ocean - a phenomena known as El Niño.

Together, El Niño and its cooler counterpart La Niña are known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Between them, they're responsible for most of the fluctuations in global weather we see from one year to the next.

ENSO

Sea surface temperature during El Niño (left) and La Niña (right). Red and blue show warmer and cooler temperatures than the long term average. [Credit: Steve Albers, NOAA]

 

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Does British belief in climate change really go up and down? A look at 14 polls

  • 29 Jul 2014, 15:30
  • Ros Donald

Newspapers love to cover surveys that show  belief in climate change has  risen or fallen. But how much can polls really tell us about what the UK public believes when it comes to climate change? We surveyed 14 polls to try and understand what's happening. 

We looked at polls by the  Guardian, the Sunday Times, the  Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC),  Carbon Brief ( twice), the  UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) and Ipsos Mori.  

The polls were released between 2009 and 2014, but UKERC's poll includes earlier results from surveys in 2005 2010 and  2012

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Typhoon Haiyan, record-breaking CO2 levels, rising seas and more: five measures of the state of the climate in 2013

  • 18 Jul 2014, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels broke modern records last year - and 2013 was one of the warmest years on record according to four major datasets. Sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans are getting warmer. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's State of the Climate, 2013 is a reminder of the many changes the world is experiencing. 

The State of the Climate report, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a different beast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report. Both reports assemble multiple datasets to give a picture of the changes the planet is experiencing, but NOAA's annual climate checkup doesn't try to answer why certain events have occurred. Instead, it focuses on building a detailed picture year on year, chronicling the shifting state of the physical climate system. 

NOAA has also created a  summary that pulls out the report's most striking results. We've picked five measures that help form this picture along with NOAA's explanation of why they matter. 

 

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