View Count: 126 |  Publish Date: March 31, 2014
IPCC report: how humans are changing the climate

12:39pm: Thats just about it for this live blog. Thanks for checking in.
Theres more to come on the IPCCs Fifth Assessment report.  Todays opus looked at the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability issues of climate change, following last Septembers release of the assessment of the latest science.
Next month in Berlin, we will get the third instalment with the release of the Working Group III report on April 12, looking at the prospects for mitigating global warming.
And then, by the end of the October, a summary of the three reports will be released in the so-called Synthesis Report.
Look out for our coverage of both those events, and more on climate change here.
Hang in there until next time,..
Heat wave in the US in 2012 hit zoo animals among others. Photo: AP Upvotes:1 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
12:29pm: Coming back to that issue raised earlier in this blog about the economic costs of climate change (also here in a story that went up this morning).
The IPCC report covers ground trod by, among others, the US government. The Obama administrations Interagency Working Group last year raised its estimate social cost of carbon to $US33 ($35) per tonne of carbon dioxide.
Thats another way of saying that every time we emit a tonne of CO2, we are inflicting a cost to society that will eventually be felt in the form of unwanted climate change.
Under the Gillard government, a three-year fixed price starting at $23 a tonne was the starting point when the carbon tax began on July 1, 2012. Its now $24.15, and will rise to $25.40 if its not scrapped after July 1 when the Senate changes.
The Coalition plans to replace the tax is with its Direct Action policy to pay polluters directly to cut back.
Anyway, what should be the correct price? Here the IPCC is not much help:
Estimates of the incremental economic impact of emitting carbon dioxide lie between a few dollars and several hundreds of dollars per tonne of carbon, the IPCC report says noting damage estimates vary strongly.
Carbon capture, coal, Yallourn Photo: Paul Jones PDJ Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
12:15pm: Heres Chris Field, the co-chair of the IPCCs Working Group II.
Fair to bet the Stanford professor will be running on adrenalin at this point - probably not much sleep for days and many interviews (including with Australian journalists last night):
Interview with @AFP and @c_field #IPCC #climateimpacts— Kalee Kreider (@kaleekreider) March 31, 2014 Upvotes:1 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
Environment Minister Greg Hunt Photo: Andrew Meares
12:10pm: It will be interesting to see what the Abbott government has to say about climate change amid its on-going fight to scrap the carbon price.
Fairfax Media has sought comment from Environment Minister Greg Hunt about the report - no mail yet.
On the other hand, the Greens dont think Mr Hunt will have much if anything to say about the issue.
Up until last week, Mr Hunt had only raised the issue of climate change in parliament since taking office in September, according to Adam Bandt. On those days, many of the references were to the Climate Change Authority - the independent body set up to recommend target for cutting greenhouse gases. (See their last findings here. The Abbott government wants to scrap the authority.)
“Faced with the threat of global warming, Greg Hunt is missing in action, Mr Bandt said in a statement. “Global warming means more bushfires, worse droughts and severe heat waves. It is the biggest threat to our way of life that we face. Upvotes:3 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
11:53am: As noted in the Australia/NZ section, coral reefs are at risk now.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland, was also a coordinating lead author of the new Open Oceans chapter of the IPCC report.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg notes today that ocean temperatures havent risen and the chemistry of the water changed as fast as they are now for about 65 million years.
“Oceans have absorbed over 90 per cent of the heat arising from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and have soaked up around 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, he said in a statement put out by the university today.“The rate at which energy has been entering the ocean is phenomenal, equivalent to the addition of two atomic bombs every second,” he said.
While the IPCC report is in part about adaptation, theres not a lot of potential for many species to change in a hurry:“The ability of ocean species to adapt genetically to increasing levels of stress brought on by rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification is not occurring fast enough, given the long generation times of many organisms such as corals and fish,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
And the reversal of ocean chemistry changes wont be speedy either - he puts it in the order of tens of thousands of years.
Members of the Ove Hoegh-Guldberg lab working with the first in-situ reef acidification system located on the reef flat of Heron Island, 2010. Photo Credit David Kline Upvotes:3 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
11:42am: However, our live blog will go for a bit longer yet - much more to be said, particulary about Australian impacts.
For instance, there is a whole chapter on Australia and New Zealand, and it runs just over 100 pages.
Makes for some interesting reading, whether examining the potential impacts of warming and ocean acidification on the Great Barrier Reef, or the drying out - particularly in cool season rainfall - of the Murray Darling Basin and south-western WA.
The Great Barrier Reef. Upvotes:1 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
11:37am: Thats it for the presser:
Final words: Pachauri, The world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate. #AR5 #IPCC #WGII #climatechange— Thea Dickinson (@adapt2climate) March 31, 2014 Upvotes:3 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
11:32am: Co-Chair Chris Field takes on the temperature pause issue. Says that the planet hasnt stopped trapping heat, and dont look at a small part of the picture.
WMO chief Michael Jarraud has a crack too: There is a real difficulty in talking about a pause. Heat is largely being taken up in the oceans. There is no pause.
In fact, 13 of the past 14 years were the hottest on record. Excluding 1998, they were all unmatched.
More on this soon.
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11:22am: Its perhaps worth a nod to the many scientists who effectively donate their research time and sleep (and a lot else) to take part in the IPCC reviews:
To the hundreds and hundreds of scientists and experts who gave their time to produce this report, thank you #IPCC #AR5 #climateimpacts— Andrew Bradley (@andrewbradleyhc) March 31, 2014 Upvotes:2 Downvotes:2 Copy Link
Richard Tol, IPCC co-ordinating lead author, Chapter 10. Photo: University of Sussex
11:20am: As an aside, Richard Tol told me by email he wasnt happy with the summary of the IPCC.
When asked about the heavy qualifications added to the 0.2-2 per cent range, he said:
Thats the price you pay in the UN.
Professor Tol, from the University of Sussex, said it was his seventh IPCC report hes been involved in.
I doubt Ill have time for AR6 -- heavy admin lined up, he said. I should be available for AR7.
That, of course, assumes there will be a sixth and seventh assessment report.
And, in case you missed it, here are the qualifications loaded up on that 0.2-2% GDP impact estimate:
“Global economic impacts from climate change are difficult to estimate...Economic impact estimates... depend on a large number of assumptions, many of which are disputable, and many estimates do not account for catastrophic changes, tipping points, and many other factors.”
“With these recognised limitations, the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0 per cent of income.”
“Losses are more likely than not to be greater, rather than smaller, than this range. (Italics in the original.)
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11:11am: Some more local reaction to the IPCC report, this time from WWF-Australia (which indirectly touches on the economic cost issue - how to put a price on extinction?)
WWF-Australia today called on Government to step up action on climate change.“This is the most important and authoritative report on climate change impacts ever written and the news isn’t good,” said WWF-Australia Climate Change spokesperson Kellie Caught. “The IPCC fifth assessment report says there is now high confidence that our wildlife are at increasing risk of extinction as a result of climate change. “We already know that climate change could be the death knell for some of our already threatened wildlife such as the Mountain Pygmy Possum, Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Western Swamp Tortoise, rock wallabies and marine turtles.  “The IPCC confirms Australia’s greatest icon, the Great Barrier Reef, is in danger from both warming and ocean acidification causing an increased frequency and severity of coral bleaching, disease incidence and mortality. “The loss of unique Australian species and places is a loss to the whole world. There is no way to put a price on this. Upvotes:5 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
11:08am: Pachauri has also just touched on the economic costs of climate change, saying they cant be counted easily. Also, the effects are not evenly spread.
For instance, if conditions favour food production in Finland or Canada as winters shorten and growing seasons lengthen. They would benefit. But what of the regions where rainfall becomes even more variable (and Australia is in that camp too)? How will the gains and losses be shared?
Field now talking about Professor Tol, saying he was deeply embedded in the process over the past week. He also adds, somewhat wryly, that every author would like the report to more closely reflect their own view. Upvotes:3 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
11:04am: One comment on this blog noted the lack of mention so far about UK Professor Richard Tol refusing to sign the Summary for Policymakers.
Its an interesting issue - and an important backstory to what was going on in Japan this past week.
Tol was a co-ordinating lead author for Chapter 10 on key economic issues from climate change. His prominent role raised a lot of concerns - Tol also happens to be on the academic advisory board of prominent climate sceptic group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. (Australias Ian Plimer and Bob Carter are also members.)
Anyway, Tol wasnt happy that about the alarmist tone of the summary, and declined to sign off.
The wider issue - of what climate change will actually cost the economy - is a big one. Heres my take of how the IPCC ended up dealing with the issue, including the GDP loss of 0.2-2 per cent at 2.5 degrees.
Heres a taste:
Tallying the damage bill has long been hotly disputed among economists and scientists. In a paper last year, Professor Robert Pindyck from the Massachusetts Institute Technology concluded the so-called integrated assessment models used to combine climate science with economics have “crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis”.
On the one hand, science has to deal with potential feedback trends unleased by global warming – such the run-away melting of the arctic permafrost releasing massive amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane – that are essentially “unknowable”, Pindyck wrote.
On the other, the underlying assumptions economists use to guess how much climate change will cost are “completely made up”, he said, likening the task faced a generation earlier by those trying to estimate the cost of a nuclear conflict between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Human interference with the climate system is occurring. Photo: Reuters Upvotes:3 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:57am: This in from Lisa Cox, from our Canberra bureau:
The Climate Institute said on Monday that the latest report should reset the debate on climate change in Australia, which for too long had been focused on political and cultural point scoring.“In areas from financial management to work place health and safety, shielding your eyes to these risks is considered reckless if not criminal. Climate risk management should be treated no differently, CEO John Connor said.“This exhaustive scientific assessment shows that we have the opportunity to manage many of the causes as well as consequences of climate change. Reducing carbon pollution reduces the scale of climate change and smart adaption can reduce damage and build resilience to intensifying extreme weather.” Upvotes:3 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:51am: Field continues with this theme of iterative risk management, adding that optimism related to the current report is a guarded one.
Field notes that investments in adaptive measures to limit climate change have other benefits in improving sustainability of economies and eco-systems.
Pachauri says lots of option on adaptation in this report available to governments. Cites institutions and methods to handle climate-related disasters, which can be applied to other challenges societies face.
I trust human society will give us justification for Chris Fields optimism.
Coral bleaching can devastate reef life, as seen here off Queensland. Photo: Supplied Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:44am: Pachauri: The very stability of human systems could be at stake if action not taken to reduce climate change.
The IPCC chair also notes that food security not a matter only on crops but worth looking at what is happening in the oceans. There, warming is leading to species shifting, but also rising acidity of the oceans as they absorb more carbon dioxide.
And, has been flagged, coral reefs are already showing impacts of climate change. (see this earlier report citing Australian reef expert, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, also an author for the IPCC report.) Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:40am: Chris Field says the projections for the future really are grave.
Notes studies that show crop yields will sink. By the end of the century, yields will be as much as 50 per cent lower, Field says.
Bottom line, the Stanford professor, says opportunites exist to reduce climate change (ie cut greenhouse gas emissions) and take adaptive steps for the changes now under way. An optimistic approach, he says.
Wheat is one of the crops likely to see yields drop as heat, water stresses rise. Photo: Bloomberg Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:32am: Wealth is not protection from vulnerabilities, the IPCCs co-chair Chris Field says.
On the other hands, nations are learning from the adaptive steps already being taken.
(The report notes that Victorias efforts to bolster its water resources including building the Wonthaggi desalination plant - big enough to supply a third of Melbournes water.) Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:26am: Australias Habiba Gitay from the World Bank notes 50,000 comments had to be worked through in the 30-chapter report.
More from Twitter:
Dr Maggie Opondo, CLA of #IPCC WG2 chapter on Livelihood and poverty explains how great it was to participate— JPascal van Ypersele (@JPvanYpersele) March 31, 2014 Upvotes:1 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:21am: Timely reminder from the IPCC media conference:
Its the largest scientist endeavour in history - the most solid scientific evidence has gone into the study of climate change, says Michel Jarraud, chief of the World Meteorological Organisation.
We can no longer plead ignorance...and now we have to act. Questions remain but they are no excuse not to act.
Notes big events to come: the New York climate summit in September in the lead up to the global gathering in Paris, France in 2015. Upvotes:5 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:16am: Fairfax Medias Tom Arups news report on the IPCC release can be see here:
Climate change is already being felt in all corners of the globe and some parts of the natural world may already be undergoing irreversible change, a major assessment by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found.
The report on the impact of climate change – the first of its kind in seven years – stresses that the likelihood climate change will cause severe and irreversible damage to the planet grows if greenhouse gas emissions continue is high and the planet warms significantly.
The report is the result of years of work by a team of 309 lead global researchers. It is the second part of the IPCCs fifth assessment of climate change and focuses on its impact and how the world might adapt. Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
10:14am: IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri in the media conference:
- 12000 reports assessed for WGII study.
- All humans will be affected, and highlights glacier melt and affects on water availability for dependent communities downstream.
- Species are on the move, while food security issues are also major risks.
- Important choices to be made for adaptation and mitigation to reduce those risks. Upvotes:2 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
10:10am: Theres a bit of social media interest around, as youd imagine:
Heres one from Twitter:
Pretty excited about the #IPCC_WG2 AR5 release today - sort of feel like Im standing in line for a good movie sequel (e.g. Into Darkness)— Timothy Bonebrake (@bonebraking) March 30, 2014 Upvotes:1 Downvotes:1 Copy Link
10:01am: And so the embargo lifts: Heres where you can get the IPCC report if you want to do your own reading.
Meanwhile, here are 10 highlights:
Top 10 pointsIPCC report opens: ‘‘Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.’’Key risks include: death, injury and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island states from storm surges, sea-level rises.Systemic risks to key infrastructure networks, including water and power, from extreme weather events.Risks also to food insecurity and breakdown of food systems from extreme weather.Impacts seen: ‘‘glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide’’, while coral reefs and arctic eco-systems among those already affected.Species on the move: while a few recent species extinctions are ‘‘attributed as yet to climate change’’, many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted geographic range and abundance.Recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wild fires reveal significant vulnerabilities to both human populations and eco-systems.Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, particularly for those in poverty. Adaptation is mixed, including in Australia, where planning for sea-level rises ‘‘remains piecemeal’’. Efforts to cope with reduced water availability more common.Economic costs are ‘‘more likely than not’’ to be greater than the 0.2-2 per cent GDP range cited. That estimate excludes catastrophic changes, tipping points, among other factors.
IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri is projected onto a screen at the opening session of the 10th plenary of the IPCC Working Group II in Yokohama. Photo: AFP Upvotes:2 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
9:58am: Only a couple of minutes until the embargo lifts on the IPCC Working Group II report on impacts of climate change.
Just think we have the Working Group III report in Berlin on mitigation efforts to come on April 11. Put that one in the calendar. Upvotes:0 Downvotes:0 Copy Link
9:50am: And from Deborah Snow (and me), this report on the health risks if we continue on our warming path:
The Earth is warming so rapidly that unless humans can arrest the trend, we risk becoming extinct as a species, a leading Australian health academic has warned.
Helen Berry, associate dean in the faculty of health at the University of Canberra, said while the Earth has been warmer and colder at different points in the planets history, the rate of change has never been as fast as it is today.
What is remarkable, and alarming, is the speed of the change since the 1970s, when we started burning a lot of fossil fuels in a massive way, she said. We cant possibly evolve to match this rate [of warming] and, unless we get control of it, it will mean our extinction eventually.
Professor Berry is one of three leading academics who have contributed to the health chapter of a Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due out shortly. Upvotes:3 Downvotes:3 Copy Link
9:46am: Were almost at the release time for the IPCC report - at the top of this hour.
Heres a reminder of some of this mornings reports in Fairfax Media, this one from Tom Arup:
Rich and poor countries are still unprepared for many threats posed by climate change and extreme weather, a United Nations assessment of global warming will warn.
Scientific authors and government representatives from around the world have spent the weekend negotiating the final text of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at a meeting in Yokohama, Japan.
Several leaked drafts of the report indicate the panel will warn that observed impacts of climate change are substantial. The drafts say changes in climate have already affected all continents and the oceans.
The drafts also identify significant risks - and limited benefits - in coming decades as the planet warms and weather becomes more extreme. The risks include death and injury in low-lying coastal communities, extreme heat and food insecurity.
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