Connecting Knowledge and People
By Janto S. Hess and Rory Walshe.
On Monday the 31th of March, the IPCC Working Group II released its contribution to the 5th Assessment Report. Was this ground breaking? Ultimately it is just another report that confirms what we already know. Climate change is real, primarily anthropogenic, and is going to significantly alter the lives of humanity on the planet. Although not ground breaking per se, the report reveals an insight into the newest findings of the working group II regarding “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”.
The IPCC reports are probably the strictest peer-reviewed publications in the history of science. The different working groups discuss their findings, which are a compilation of all available data for each field, in the last stage of the review process with government delegations. During this discussion, each word and sentence of the summary for policy makers (probably the only section that will be widely read) is negotiated among all participants until a mutual agreement is reached. It is important to acknowledge that the scientific basis on which the material is founded is not up for discussion. Instead, only the formulation of the report is under review.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the 309 authors from 70 countries and all other people involved in this lengthy process of thousands of hours of writing and debating with all interest groups. This considerable effort and money is spent to reconfirm, once again, that “the threat is real”. Even if the report itself does not trigger a quantum leap in international mitigation and adaptation efforts, it will decrease uncertainty and increase the knowledge base on which decisions can be made.
It is important to note that the due to the thousands of people involved in producing the IPCC reports and the burden placed on reaching a common ground consensus in the negotiation process, outcomes are generally conservative in their treatment of uncertainty.
Major findings of the report include:
“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans”
For the first time in the history of IPCC reports, a visual display is provided to give an overview of the global impacts that can be attributed to climate change (figure 1). This is significant because the impacts widely considered to be climate related are now officially confirmed to be so. The map draws a clear picture that climate change is influencing the whole of humanity around the globe.
Figure 1: Observed global impacts that can be attributed to climate change (IPCCC 2014)
“Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence)”
The positive effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on crop growth and potentially newly created arable land due to changing climatic patterns has been widely discussed among scientists in the previous few years. The report clearly states that the negative impacts have and potentially will continue to outweigh these positive effects.
Some other choice excerpts include:
“For most economic sectors, the impacts of drivers such as changes in population, age structure, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, and governance are projected to be large relative to the impacts of climate change (medium evidence, high agreement).”
“Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence).”
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger (medium confidence).”
These findings will set the agenda for research in the coming years and provide a baseline for most publications, particularly from the social science approach to climate change.
Other implications of the many findings in the report include warnings of impending food insecurity as a result of shrinking crop yields, decreasing human security concomitant with shortages in food and water and increased migration and conflict. These impacts are not going to be spread evenly either – climate change will disproportionately impact the poorest people worldwide and will act to exacerbate existing inequalities.
It is the hope of many who work in climate change that the media coverage and airtime of this report (and of climate change generally) will finally reflect the degree of certainty in the science. That is, 97% of all climate scientists are sure that man-made climate change exists and only 3% deny the provided evidence. Furthermore, out of 10,885 published, peer-reviewed articles in 2013, which researched the anthropogenic influence on climate change only 2 rejected this correlation. In other words, roughly .02 percent of researchers reject anthropogenic global warming (Powell 2014). This is not reflected in current media. According to the guardian (2013) climate change deniers are unfortunately given an equal voice with which raise doubts within society about the given evidence of climate scientists. This needs to change. International and national politics will not move forward without shifting public perceptions towards the topic.
The opportunity to spread the message of this report is one that should not be missed. As we write this, agents of misinformation and diversion are colluding to distract the public’s attention from the strength and importance of this report. Articles such as those in the Wall Street Journal purporting that climate change will be positive for human kind, or Forbes regurgitation of climate change denial from The Heartland Institute, do not need to be suffered gladly.
We, the team at Climate-Exchange, sincerely hope that you will join us in endorsing and sharing the report as widely as possible to make a change and encourage people to do the same. Most big changes start with little steps. Help us today and talk to your friends and colleagues about climate change.