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."


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

  • 11 Feb 2015, 16:30
  • Robert McSweeney

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.


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

  • 02 Feb 2015, 13:40
  • Mat Hope

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.