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Robert McSweeney

03.11.2014 | 9:41am
IPCCThe IPCC’s untapped resource: the frequently asked questions
IPCC | November 3. 2014. 9:41
The IPCC’s untapped resource: the frequently asked questions

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?

Peer-reviewed

For those looking for a climate change information, the IPCC Assessment Reports are a good starting point. But at over 5,000 pages, they aren’t exactly small.

While the IPCC website breaks each report down into chapters, it can still be difficult to find what you need. So since the fourth assessment report, published in 2007, the IPCC has compiled a set of Frequently Asked Questions and answers, designed as an accessible resource for any reader.

The FAQs provide summary explanations for a range of key topics on the science of climate change, its impacts and how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. All the answers are peer-reviewed to the same standards as the rest of the report.

The science of climate change

The FAQs are most comprehensive on the physical science of climate change, covered by working group one of the IPCC.

The questions cover a broad range of topics, from the fundamental: ‘How do we know the world has warmed?’, to the more specialised: ‘Could rapid release of methane and carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost or ocean warming substantially increase warming?’

Take, for example, the FAQ on climate extremes – ‘Have there been any changes in climate extremes’ – on p.218 of Chapter 2. It has the following summary:

“There is strong evidence that warming has lead to changes in temperature extremes – including heat waves – since the mid-20th century. Increases in heavy precipitation have probably also occurred over this time, but vary by region. However, for other extremes, such as tropical cyclone frequency, we are less certain, except in some limited regions, that there have been discernable changes over the observed record.”

The answer also provides a more detailed two-page explanation, including graphs and the infographic shown below, summarising changes in extreme weather events:

-images -Assessment Reports -AR5 - WG1-Chapter 02-Fig FAQ2.2-2

IPCC WGI FAQ2.2 Figure 2 – Trends in the frequency (or intensity) of various climate extremes (arrow direction denotes increase/decrease) since the middle of the 20th century (except for North Atlantic storms where the period covered is from the 1970s). IPCC

Climate impacts and emissions

The other two IPCC working groups take a slightly different approach. They still produce FAQs, but they are shorter, without graphs or infographics.

Working group two covers the impacts of climate change and ways in which those impacts could be minimised, which is known as ‘adaptation’. So, for example, the FAQs for this report cover such questions as ‘Will climate change cause war between countries?’ ( Chapter 12, p.772) and ‘What opportunities are available to facilitate adaptation?’ ( Chapter 16, p.908).

An example answer is shown below for the question ‘How will the availability of water resources be affected by climate change?’ ( Chapter 3, p.251):

“Climate models project decreases of renewable water resources in some regions and increases in others, albeit with large uncertainty in many places. Broadly, water resources are projected to decrease in many mid-latitude and dry subtropical regions, and to increase at high latitudes and in many humid mid-latitude regions.”

While these FAQs don’t go into the same level of detail as those from working group one, they still provide useful summaries of the IPCC’s conclusions.

The last IPCC report covers emissions of greenhouse gases and how they can be reduced, known as ‘mitigation’.

The FAQs in this report examine specific sectors, such as ‘How much does the transport sector contribute to GHG emissions and how is this changing?’ ( Chapter 8, p.65). There are also FAQs for the different methods of reducing emissions, including ‘What is the best climate change mitigation policy?’ ( Chapter 15, p.68) and ‘How do opportunities and barriers for mitigation differ by region? ( Chapter 14, p.56).

Although they only cover a handful of pages, the IPCC’s FAQs provide a useful starting point if you’re searching for climate change information.

First included in the last IPCC report published in 2007, their expansion for the Fifth Assessment Report in 2013 suggests the IPCC is attempting to make their reports more approachable. So perhaps take a look next time you’re pondering one of life’s great questions, like ‘How is climate change affecting monsoons?’ ( Chapter 14, p.1228).

Below we’ve pulled together a list of all 182 FAQs from the three reports, and links to the relevant chapters:

Working group one: The physical science basis

– FAQ 1.1: If understanding of the climate system has increased, why hasn’t the range of temperature projections been reduced? Chapter 1, p.140

– FAQ 2.1: How do we know the world has warmed? Chapter 2, p.198

– FAQ 2.2: Have there been any changes in climate extremes? Chapter 2, p.218

– FAQ 3.1: Is the ocean warming? Chapter 3, p.266

– FAQ 3.2: Is there evidence for changes in the Earth’s water cycle? Chapter 3, p.269

– FAQ 3.3: How does anthropogenic ocean acidification relate to climate change? Chapter 3, p.297

– FAQ 4.1: How is sea-ice changing in the Arctic and Antarctic? Chapter 4, p.333

– FAQ 4.2: Are glaciers in mountain regions disappearing? Chapter 4, p.345

– FAQ 5.1: Is the Sun a major driver of recent changes in climate? Chapter 5, p.392

– FAQ 5.2: How unusual is the current sea level rate of change? Chapter 5, p.430

  – FAQ 6.1: Could rapid release of methane and carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost or ocean warming substantially increase warming Chapter 6, p.530

– FAQ 6.2: What happens to carbon dioxide after it is emitted into the atmosphere? Chapter 6, p.544

– FAQ 7.1: How do clouds affect climate and climate change? Chapter 7, p.593

– FAQ 7.2: How do aerosols affect climate and climate change? Chapter 7, p.622

– FAQ 7.3: Could geoengineering counteract climate change and what side effects might occur? Chapter 7, p.632

– FAQ 8.1: How important Is water vapour to climate change? Chapter 8, p.666

– FAQ 8.2: Do improvements in air quality have an effect on climate change? Chapter 8, p.684

– FAQ 9.1: Are climate models getting better, and how would we know? Chapter 9, p.824

– FAQ 10.1: Climate is always changing. How do we determine the causes of observed changes? Chapter 10, p.894

– FAQ 10.2: When will human influences on climate become obvious on local scales? Chapter 10, p.928

– FAQ 11.1: If you cannot predict the weather next month, how can you predict climate for the coming decade? Chapter 11, p.964

– FAQ 11.2: How do volcanic eruptions affect climate and our ability to predict climate? Chapter 11, p.1008

– FAQ 12.1: Why are so many models and scenarios used to project climate change? Chapter 12, p.1036

– FAQ 12.2: How will the Earth’s water cycle change? Chapter 12, p.1084

– FAQ 12.3: What would happen to future climate if we stopped emissions today? Chapter 12, p.1106

– FAQ 13.1: Why does local sea level change differ from the global average? Chapter 13, p.1148

– FAQ 13.2: Will the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets contribute to sea level change over the rest of the century? Chapter 13, p.1177

– FAQ 14.1: How is climate change affecting monsoons? Chapter 14, p.1228

– FAQ 14.2: How are future projections in regional climate related to projections of global means? Chapter 14, p.1256

The FAQs from working group one are also collated into a single report available here.

Working group two: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability

Context for AR5

– FAQ 1.1: On what information is the new assessment based, and how has that information changed since the last report, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007? Chapter 1, p.174

– FAQ 1.2: How is the state of scientific understanding and uncertainty communicated in this assessment? Chapter 1, p.176

– FAQ 1.3: How has our understanding of the interface between human, natural, and climate systems expanded since the 2007 IPCC Assessment? Chapter 1, p.180

– FAQ 2.1: What constitutes a good (climate) decision? Chapter 2, p.200

– FAQ 2.2: Which is the best method for climate change decision making/assessing adaptation? Chapter 2, p.210

– FAQ 2.3: Is climate change decision making different from other kinds of decision making? Chapter 2, p.216

Natural resources

– FAQ 3.1: How will climate change affect the frequency and severity of floods and droughts? Chapter 3, p.247

– FAQ 3.2: How will the availability of water resources be affected by climate change? Chapter 3, p.251

– FAQ 3.3: How should water management be modified in the face of climate change? Chapter 3, p.253

– FAQ 3.4: Does climate change imply only bad news about water resources? Chapter 3, p.257

– FAQ 4.1: How do land use and land cover changes cause changes in climate? Chapter 4, p.282

– FAQ  4.2: What are the non-greenhouse gas effects of rising carbon dioxide on ecosystems? Chapter 4, p.287

– FAQ 4.3: Will the number of invasive alien species increase as a result of climate change? Chapter 4, p.289

– FAQ 4.4: How does climate change contribute to species extinction? Chapter 4, p.295

– FAQ 4.5: Why does it matter if ecosystems are altered by climate change? Chapter 4, p.319

– FAQ 4.6: Can ecosystems be managed to help them and people to adapt to climate change? Chapter 4, p.325

– FAQ 4.7: What are the economic costs of changes in ecosystems due to climate change? Chapter 4, p.326

– FAQ 5.1: How does climate change affect coastal marine ecosystems? Chapter 5, p.374

– FAQ 5.2: How is climate change influencing coastal erosion? Chapter 5, p.376

– FAQ 5.3: How can coastal communities plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, in particular sea level rise? Chapter 5, p.387

– FAQ 6.1: Why are climate impacts on oceans and their ecosystems so important? Chapter 6, p.417

– FAQ 6.2: What is different about the effects of climate change on the oceans compared to the land, and can we predict the consequences? Chapter 6, p.426

– FAQ 6.3: Why are some marine organisms affected by ocean acidification? Chapter 6, p.436

– FAQ 6.4: What changes in marine ecosystems are likely because of climate change? Chapter 6, p.451

– FAQ 7.1: What factors determine food security and does low food production necessarily lead to food insecurity? Chapter 7, p.494

– FAQ 7.2: How could climate change interact with change in fish stocks and ocean acidification? Chapter 7, p.507

– FAQ 7.3: How could adaptation actions enhance food security and nutrition? Chapter 7, p.514

Human settlements

– FAQ 8.1: Do experiences with disaster risk reduction in urban areas provide useful lessons for climate-change adaptation? Chapter 8, p.565

– FAQ 8.2: As cities develop economically, do they become better adapted to climate change? Chapter 8, p.567

– FAQ 8.3: Does climate change cause urban problems by driving migration from rural to urban areas? Chapter 8, p.568

– FAQ 8.4: Shouldn’t urban adaptation plans wait until there is more certainty about local climate change impacts? Chapter 8, p.580

– FAQ 9.1: What is distinctive about rural areas in the context of climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation? Chapter 9, p.618

– FAQ 9.2: What will be the major climate change impacts in rural areas across the world? Chapter 9, p.630

– FAQ 9.3: What will be the major ways in which rural people adapt to climate change? Chapter 9, p.642

– FAQ 10.1: Why are key economic sectors vulnerable to climate change? Chapter 10, p.664

– FAQ 10.2: How does climate change impact insurance and financial services? Chapter 10, p.680

– FAQ 10.3: Are other economic sectors vulnerable to climate change too? Chapter 10, p.688

Human health and security

– FAQ 11.1: How does climate change affect human health? Chapter 11, p.741

– FAQ 11.2: Will climate change have benefits for health? Chapter 11, p.742

– FAQ 11.3: Who is most affected by climate change? Chapter 11, p.742

– FAQ 11.4: What is the most important adaptation strategy to reduce the health impacts of climate change? Chapter 11, p.742

– FAQ 11.5: What are health “co-benefits” of climate change mitigation measures? Chapter 11, p.742

– FAQ 12.1: What are the principal threats to human security from climate change? Chapter 12, p.762

– FAQ 12.2: Can lay knowledge of environmental risks help adaptation to climate change? Chapter 12, p. 766

– FAQ 12.3: How many people could be displaced as a result of climate change? Chapter 12, p. 768

– FAQ 12.4: What role does migration play in adaptation to climate change, particularly in vulnerable regions? Chapter 12, p.770

– FAQ 12.5: Will climate change cause war between countries? Chapter 12, p.772

– FAQ 13.1: What are multiple stressors and how do they intersect with inequalities to influence livelihood trajectories? Chapter 13, p.799

– FAQ 13.2: How important are climate change-driven impacts on poverty compared to other drivers of poverty? Chapter 13, p.802

– FAQ 13.3: Are there unintended negative consequences of climate change policies for people who are poor? Chapter 13, p.813

Adaptation

– FAQ 14.1: Why do the precise definitions about adaptation activities matter? Chapter 14, p.853

– FAQ 15.1: What is the present status of climate change adaptation planning and implementation across the globe? Chapter 15, p.876

– FAQ 15.2: What types of approaches are being used in adaptation planning and implementation? Chapter 15, p.878

– FAQ 16.1: What is the difference between an adaptation barrier, constraint, obstacle, and limit? Chapter 16, p.906

– FAQ 16.2: What opportunities are available to facilitate adaptation? Chapter 16, p.908

– FAQ 16.3: How does greenhouse gas mitigation influence the risk of exceeding adaptation limits? Chapter 16, p.924

– FAQ 17.1: Given the significant uncertainty about the effects of adaptation measures, can economics contribute much to decision making in this area? Chapter 17, p.954

– FAQ 17.2: Could economic approaches bias adaptation policy and decisions against the interests of the poor, vulnerable populations, or ecosystems? Chapter 17, p.961

– FAQ 17.3: In what ways can economic instruments facilitate adaptation to climate change in developed and developing countries? Chapter 17, p.965

Risks and opportunities

– FAQ 18.1: Why are detection and attribution of climate impacts important? Chapter 18, p.1017

– FAQ 18.2: Why is it important to assess impacts of all climate change aspects, and not only impacts of anthropogenic climate change? Chapter 18, p.1017

– FAQ 18.3: What are the main challenges in detecting climate change impacts? Chapter 18, p. 1018

– FAQ 18.4: What are the main challenges in attributing changes in a system to climate change? Chapter 18, p.1018

– FAQ 18.5: Is it possible to attribute a single event, such as a disease outbreak, or the extinction of a species, to climate change? Chapter 18, p.1018

– FAQ 19.1: Does science provide an answer to the question of how much warming is unacceptable? Chapter 19, p.1047

– FAQ 19.2: How does climate change interact with and amplify pre-existing risks? Chapter 19, p.1057

– FAQ 19.3: How can climate change impacts on one region cause impacts on other distant areas? Chapter 19, p.1062

– FAQ 20.1: What is a climate-resilient pathway for development? Chapter 20, p.1106

– FAQ 20.2: What do you mean by “transformational changes”? Chapter 20, p. 1107

– FAQ 20.3: Why are climate-resilient pathways needed for sustainable development? Chapter 20, p.1110

– FAQ 20.4: Are there things that we can be doing now that will put us on the right track toward climate-resilient pathways? Chapter 20, p.1123

Regional impacts

– FAQ 21.1: How does this report stand alongside previous assessments for informing regional adaptation? Chapter 21, p.1150

– FAQ 21.2: Do local and regional impacts of climate change affect other parts of the world? Chapter 21, p.1151

– FAQ 21.3: What regional information should I take into account for climate risk management for the 20-year time horizon? Chapter 21, p.1156

– FAQ 21.4: Is the highest resolution climate projection the best to use for performing impacts assessments? Chapter 21, p.1182

– FAQ 22.1: How could climate change impact food security in Africa? Chapter 22, p.1221

– FAQ 22.2: What role does climate change play with regard to violent conflict in Africa? Chapter 22, p.1239

– FAQ 23.1: Will I still be able to live on the coast in Europe? Chapter 23, p.1305

– FAQ 23.2: Will climate change introduce new infectious diseases into Europe? Chapter 23, p.1305

– FAQ 23.3: Will Europe need to import more food because of climate change? Chapter 23, p.1305

– FAQ 24.1: What will the projected impact of future climate change be on freshwater resources in Asia? Chapter 23, p.1338

– FAQ 24.2: How will climate change affect food production and food security in Asia? Chapter 23, p.1344

– FAQ 24.3: Who is most at risk from climate change in Asia? Chapter 23, p.1347

– FAQ 25.1: How can we adapt to climate change if projected future changes remain uncertain? Chapter 25, p.1386

– FAQ 25.2: What are the key risks from climate change to Australia and New Zealand? Chapter 25, p.1412

– FAQ 26.1: What impact are climate stressors having on North America? Chapter 26, p.1478

– FAQ 26.2: Can adaptation reduce the adverse impacts of climate stressors in North America? Chapter 26, p.1478

– FAQ 27.1: What is the impact of glacier retreat on natural and human systems in the tropical Andes? Chapter 27, p.1522

– FAQ 27.2: Can payment for ecosystem services be used as an effective way for helping local communities to adapt to climate change? Chapter 27, p.1526

– FAQ 27.3: Are there emerging and reemerging human diseases as a consequence of climate variability and change in the region? Chapter 27, p.1536

– FAQ 28.1: What will be the net socioeconomic impacts of change in the polar regions? Chapter 28, p.1595

– FAQ 28.2: Why are changes in sea ice so important to the polar regions? Chapter 28, p.1596

– FAQ 29.1: Why is it difficult to detect and attribute changes on small islands to climate change? Chapter 29, p.1620

– FAQ 29.2: Why is the cost of adaptation to climate change so high in small islands? Chapter 29, p.1626

– FAQ 29.3: Is it appropriate to transfer adaptation and mitigation strategies between and within small island countries and regions? Chapter 29, p.1642

– FAQ 30.1: Can we reverse the impacts of climate change on the Ocean? Chapter 30, p.1675

– FAQ 30.2: Does slower warming in the Ocean mean less impact on plants and animals? Chapter 30, p.1677

– FAQ 30.3: How will marine primary productivity change with ocean warming and acidification? Chapter 30, p.1682

– FAQ 30.4: Will climate change increase the number of “dead zones” in the Ocean? Chapter 30, p.1693

– FAQ 30.5: How can we use non-climate factors to manage climate change impacts on the Ocean? Chapter 30, p.1710

Working group three: Mitigation of Climate Change

Context for AR5

– FAQ 1.1. What is climate change mitigation? Chapter 1, p.45

– FAQ 1.2. What causes GHG emissions? Chapter 1, p.45

– FAQ 2.1 When is uncertainty a reason to wait and learn rather than acting now in relation to climate policy and risk management strategies? Chapter 2, p.56

– FAQ 2.2 How can behavioural responses and tools for improving decision impact on climate change policy? Chapter 2, p.56

– FAQ 2.3 How does the presence of uncertainty affect the choice of policy instruments? Chapter 2, p.57

– FAQ 2.4 What are the uncertainties and risks that are of particular importance to climate policy in developing countries? Chapter 2, p.57

Ethics

– FAQ 3.1 The IPCC is charged with providing the world with a clear scientific view of the current state of knowledge on climate change. Why does it need to consider ethics? Chapter 3, p.74

– FAQ 3.2 Do the terms justice, fairness and equity mean the same thing? Chapter 3, p.74

– FAQ 3.3 What factors are relevant in considering responsibility for future measures that would mitigate climate change? Chapter 3, p.74

– FAQ 4.1 Why does the IPCC need to think about sustainable development? Chapter 4, p.63

– FAQ 4.2 The IPCC and UNFCCC focus primarily on GHG emissions within countries. How can we properly account for all emissions related to consumption activities, even if these emissions occur in other countries? Chapter 4, p.63

– FAQ 4.3 What kind of consumption has the greatest environmental impact? Chapter 4, p.63

– FAQ 4.4 Why is equity relevant in climate negotiations? Chapter 4, p.63

Mitigation strategies

– FAQ 5.1. Based on trends in the recent past, are GHG emissions expected to continue to increase in the future, and if so, at what rate and why? Chapter 5, p.63

– FAQ 5.2. Why is it so hard to attribute causation to the factors and underlying drivers influencing GHG emissions? Chapter 5, p.63

– FAQ 5.3. What options, policies, and measures change the trajectory of GHG emissions? Chapter 5, p.63

– FAQ 5.4. What considerations constrain the range of choices available to society and their willingness or ability to make choices that would contribute to lower GHG emissions? Chapter 5, p.63

– FAQ 6.1. Is it possible to bring climate change under control given where we are and what options are available to us? What are the implications of delaying mitigation or limits on technology options? Chapter 6, p.99

– FAQ 6.2. What are the most important technologies for mitigation? Is there a silver bullet technology? Chapter 6, p.99

– FAQ 6.3. How much would it cost to bring climate change under control? Chapter 6, p.100

Sectors

– FAQ 7.1 How much does the energy supply sector contribute to the GHG emissions? Chapter 7, p.76

– FAQ 7.2 What are the main mitigation options in the energy supply sector? Chapter 7, p.76

– FAQ 7.3 What barriers need to be overcome in the energy supply sector to enable a transformation to lowâ?GHG emissions? Chapter 7, p.77

– FAQ 8.1: How much does the transport sector contribute to GHG emissions and how is this changing? Chapter 8, p.65

– FAQ 8.2: What are the main mitigation options and potentials for reducing GHG emissions? Chapter 8, p.65

– FAQ 9.1. What are the recent advances in building sector technologies and knowâ?how since the AR4 that are important from a mitigation perspective? Chapter 9, p.68

– FAQ 9.2. How much could the building sector contribute to ambitious climate change mitigation goals, and what would be the costs of such efforts? Chapter 9, p.68

– FAQ 9.3. Which policy instrument(s) have been particularly effective and/or costâ?effective in reducing buildingâ?sector GHG emission (or their growth, in developing countries)? Chapter 9, p.68

– FAQ 10.1. How much does the industry sector contribute to GHG emissions? Chapter 10, p.61

– FAQ 10.2. What are the main mitigation options in the industry sector and what is the potential for reducing GHG emissions? Chapter 10, p.62

– FAQ 10.3. How will the level of product demand, interactions with other sectors, and collaboration within the industry sector affect emissions from industry? Chapter 10, p.62

– FAQ 10.4. What are the barriers to reducing emissions in industry and how can these be overcome? Are there any coâ?benefits associated with mitigation actions in industry? Chapter 10, p.62

– FAQ 11.1 How much does agriculture, forestry and other land use contribute to GHG emissions and how is this changing? Chapter 11, p.77

– FAQ 11.2 How will mitigation actions in agriculture, forestry and other land use affect GHG emissions over different timescales? Chapter 11, p.78

– FAQ 11.3 What is the potential of the main mitigation options in agriculture, forestry and other land use for reducing GHG emissions? Chapter 11, p.78

– FAQ 11.4 Are there any coâ?benefits associated with mitigation actions in agriculture, forestry and other land use? Chapter 11, p.78

– FAQ 11.5 What are the barriers to reducing emissions in agriculture, forestry and other land use and how can these be overcome? Chapter 11, p.78

– FAQ 12.1: Why is the IPCC including a new chapter on human settlements and spatial planning? Isn’t this covered in the individual sectoral chapters? Chapter 12, p.77

– FAQ 12.2 What is the urban share of global energy and GHG emissions? Chapter 12, p.77

– FAQ 12.3: What is the potential of human settlements to mitigate climate change? Chapter 12, p.77

International cooperation

– FAQ 13.1 Given that GHG emissions abatement must ultimately be carried out by  individuals and firms within countries, why is international cooperation necessary? Chapter 13, p.74

– FAQ 13.2 What are the advantages and disadvantages of including all countries in  international cooperation on climate change (an ‘inclusive’ approach) and limiting  participation (an ‘exclusive’ approach)? Chapter 13, p.74

– FAQ 13.3 What are the options for designing policies to make progress on international  cooperation on climate change mitigation? Chapter 13, p.74

– FAQ 14.1 How are regions defined in the AR5? Chapter 14, p.55

– FAQ 14.2 Why is the regional level important for analyzing and achieving mitigation objectives? Chapter 14, p.56

– FAQ 14.3 How do opportunities and barriers for mitigation differ by region? Chapter 14, p.56

– FAQ 14.4 What role can and does regional cooperation play to mitigate climate change? Chapter 14, p.56

– FAQ 15.1 What kind of evidence and analysis will help us design effective policies? Chapter 15, p.67

– FAQ 15.2 What is the best climate change mitigation policy? Chapter 15, p.68

– FAQ 16.1. What is climate finance? Chapter 16, p.43

– FAQ 16.2. How much investment and finance is currently directed to projects that contribute to mitigate climate change and how much extra flows will be required in the future to stay below the 2°C limit? Chapter 16, p.43

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