IPCC climate change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability assessment poses urgent challenge for risk management

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"We're now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical," said Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II 2014 climate change assessment report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. "We live in an era where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential." 115 governments accepted the report, unanimously approved the text of the "Summary for Policymakers," and released the report on March 31 in Yokohama. The summary mentions the word "risk" an average of about 5 1/2 times per page, according to a report in the Associated Press. That sounds about right. The scientists do risk assessment; it's up to the rest of us to do risk management commensurate with the global problem they have characterized and warned us about with increasing urgency.

Here's a downloadable PDF of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Working Group II: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, approved Summary for Policymakers. The 66 expert authors and officials from 115 countries negotiated and signed off on the exact wording of the policymaker summary

The Final Draft Report, dated 28 October 2013, of the Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, was accepted by the IPCC on March 29, 2014 in Yokohama, Japan. It consists of the full scientific and technical assessment undertaken by Working Group II.

The Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability assessment report is the second volume of a four-part assessment by the IPCC. It is the product of 243 lead authors and 66 review editors from 70 countries, and 436 additional contributing authors from 54 countries. The report cites more than 12,000 scientific references.

Some links to and excerpts from some of the good media and blogging coverage:

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press: UN Scientific Panel Releases Report Sounding Alarm On Climate Change Dangers

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If the world doesn't cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral "out of control," the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he's not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying "the costs of inaction are catastrophic." ...

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report's authors said.

"We're now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical," said the overall lead author of the report, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. "We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential." ...

After several days of late-night wrangling, more than 100 governments unanimously approved the scientist-written 49-page summary — which is aimed at world political leaders. The summary mentions the word "risk" an average of about 5 1/2 times per page.

The report predicts that the highest level of risk would first hit plants and animals, both on land and the acidifying oceans.

Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report. And on the other end, it will act as a brake slowing down the benefits of a modernizing society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production, it says.

Justin Gillis in the New York Times: Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control. ...

The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.

“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.

But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food. ...

The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.

The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.

The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.

The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.

Steven Mufson in the Washington Post: U.N. climate panel: Governments, businesses need to take action now against growing risks

“The focus is as much on identifying effective responses as on understanding challenges,” Chris Field, co-chairman of the IPCC working group writing the report, said in a statement last week. On Monday in Yokohama, he said that “we need to think about reducing risks and building more resilient societies” by drawing on “deep pools” of creativity and innovation.

“For the first time, we have measured in terms of risk so each of the climate risks could be weighed against each other and compared with the risk of this versus the risk of something else,” Oppenheimer said.

Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona who also worked on the report, said, “We did that because we deal with day-to-day life by managing risks, and a big part of managing our large corporations is assessing risks and managing those risks.”

Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian: Climate change a threat to security, food and humankind - IPCC report

Joe Romm at Climate Progress: Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown Of Food Systems’ And More Violent Conflict

As with every recent IPCC report, it is super-cautious to a fault and yet still incredibly alarming. ...

As grim as the Working Group 2 report on impacts is, it explicitly has very little to say about the catastrophic impacts and vulnerability in the business as usual case where the Earth warms 4°C to 5°C [7°F-9°F] — and it has nothing to say about even higher warming, which the latest science suggests we are headed toward. ...

You may wonder why hundreds of the world leading climate experts spend years and years doing climate science and climate projections, but don’t bother actually looking at the impacts of merely staying on our current carbon pollution emissions path — let alone looking at the plausible worst-case scenario (which is typically the basis for risk-reducing public policy, such as military spending).

Partly it’s because, until recently, climate scientists had naively expected the world to act with a modicum of sanity and avoid at all costs catastrophic warming of 7°F let alone the unimaginable 10°F (or higher) warming we are headed toward. Partly it’s because, as a recent paper explained, “climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.”

On top of the overly cautious nature of most climate scientists, we have the overly cautious nature of the IPCC. As the New York Times explained when the IPCC released the Working Group 1 report last fall:

The I.P.C.C. is far from alarmist — on the contrary, it is a highly conservative organization,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, whose papers on sea level were among those that got discarded. “That is not a problem as long as the users of the I.P.C.C. reports are well aware of this. The conservatism is built into its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree.” ...

Remember, earlier this month, during the press call for the vastly better written climate report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a leading expert on risk analysis explained, “You really do have to think about worst-case scenarios when you are thinking about risk management. When it’s a risk management problem, thinking about worst-case scenarios is not alarmist — it’s just part of the job. And those worst-case scenarios are part of what drives the price.”

Dana Nucitelli at Skeptical Science: IPCC report warns of future climate change risks, but is spun by contrarians

In the end it all boils down to risk management. The stronger our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the lower the risk of extreme climate impacts. The higher our emissions, the larger climate changes we'll face, which also means more expensive adaptation, more species extinctions, more food and water insecurities, more income losses, more conflicts, and so forth.

Contrarians have tried to spin the conclusions of the report to incorrectly argue that it would be cheaper to try and adapt to climate change and pay the costs of climate damages. In reality the report says no such thing. The IPCC simply tells us that even if we manage to prevent the highest risk scenarios, climate change costs will still be high, and we can't even grasp how high climate damage costs will be in the highest risk scenarios. As Chris Field, Co-Chair of Working Group II noted,

"With high levels of warming that result from continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, risks will be challenging to manage, and even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits."

Andy Revkin, DotEarth blog, New York Times: U.N. Climate Report Authors Answer 11 Basic Questions

The countries that in 1988 created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which released its latest report on global warming impacts on Monday, have long neglected to provide resources to enable the panel to effectively convey its findings to the public. One example of that continuing communications gap is this: a helpful, and clearly written, “FAQ” on the new report is largely hidden from view deep on the http://ipcc.ch website.

Here, unearthed from the report, are the climate panel’s answers to 11 basic questions: ...

We'll give Eli the last word, at Rabett Run: We Are All Sitting Ducks

It is a sobering read, no more so than expected, perhaps less than needed.  The first sentence says it all:

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.

They throw up their hands in despair if the path to a 4C world is chosen.  They cannot estimate that damage.

It would be a good thing if the challenge were met, but sadly, like life, the house money bets against.

Earlier post: Previewing the new IPCC assessment of risks of climate change impacts (March 29)

This entry was posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to IPCC climate change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability assessment poses urgent challenge for risk management

  1. Ray Del Colle says:

    Climate change puts us at risk of extreme weather that costs hundreds of billions every year.

  2. Alex D Murchie P.Eng says:

    Thanks for this opportunity to say something about climate change. I am a certified professional engineer in Ontario, Canada. I have heard too long about the problem and see little progress in resolving the same. The world must, begin to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We also have to be aware of the increase of the chemical perfluorotrbuyyl-amine PFTBA. Each of these need to be reduced. To reduce carbon dioxide we can start seriously reducing our energy requirements from fossil fuel combustion and replace it with safe nuclear power supply and phase out regular unsafe uranium nuclear reactors. A best option available is to pilot and construct liquid fluoride thorium reactors, LFTR's. This design may be built in any size starting at 7 megawatts. Their application is unlimited; - power for remote native communities, small mining operations, larger towns, cities etc., and then also, transportation could be converted initially to hybrid electric and eventually to all electric with new ways of charging and of battery supply modes.
    Energy supply to replace fossil fuels would be addressed, however since world population waste is another major part of the carbon dioxide component then that could be addressed in specific areas such as the Ganges River system, in India where limited waste management is in place; there, there could be global assistance to supply government controlled non polluting washroom structures that would both deal with human waste and the processing of river water. That happens to be an unmentionable and currently unmanageable waste treatment problem for a population of approximately half a billion humans and animals.
    The PFTBA problem can be addressed by modifying electrical equipment design to negate its use.
    The above solutions to steady a world climate that is currently raising global surface temperatures could perhaps pull back on climatic disruptions and slow a migration necessity for many species that are having to find new territory to survive in.
    I am prepared to do liaison work through my consulting company to provide advice and more to governments and design providers. With their assistance it can also be proven with project cost analysis that the cost of these changes will be least cost after initial long term investment. That is usually the way if quality control is kept uppermost in the criteria. There will be a political problem of effectively countering vested interests that have negligible society or safety obligations at interest.
    The Fifth Assessment Report recently issued out of Yokohama and its mention of risk on every page may be the last call for help that will be given to human civilization. I personally may not see my demise as a result of climate change and the disruptions that go with it but by not heeding the warnings of IPCC, civilization is very vulnerable to failure. It will be a good risk to bet on the changes that I suggest herein.

    Al Murchie

  3. Brooke Brewington says:

    Not only do these risks cost billions of dollars and have huge impacts on our ecosystems, we do not yet know or have any way to predict the risks and consequences that will be irreversible. This is one of the biggest motivations to start mitigation and prevention in the use of GHGs and natural resources.

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