Scientists struggle to complete climate impacts report

Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News 29 Mar 14;

Negotiators worked through the night here in Yokohama in an effort to complete their review of a key report on the impacts of climate change.

At stake is a dense 29-page summary detailing the effects of climate change on the planet over the next 100 years.

Several hundred members of the UN's climate panel have been deep in deliberations since Tuesday, with many sessions running very late.

The report is the first such assessment since 2007.

The tired attendees left the conference centre at eight thirty in the evening as the lights were dimmed to commemorate Earth Hour.

But 60 minutes later they trooped back in to continue their word-by-word analysis of the contents.

The report is the second of three analyses developed by international teams of researchers. The first, published last September detailed the mechanics of climate change, explaining that warming was "unequivocal" and humans were behind it.

This new document being prepared here in Japan will detail the impacts and vulnerabilities to rising temperatures that the world faces over the coming century.

It will also highlight how much we can reduce the scale of these effects by adaptation.

Several versions of the report, called the Summary for Policymakers, have already been leaked but the final version won't be released until everyone - scientists and governments - are agreed on its contents.

There are likely to be a number of significant changes since the previous assessment came out in 2007.

There are now far more observations, more scientific studies on the effects of rising temperatures on humans and the species with which we share the planet. Running to 30 chapters in all, many delegates felt that it was the scale of the data that was causing delays.

There are two new chapters detailing impacts on the oceans. There are chapters on human health, on food security and conflict, but also four chapters on how we can adapt to the effects.

"We have a lot more information," said Dr Chris Field, who is the co-chair of the working group that is behind the report.

"The way I see it, we have a much sharper take on aspects of the issue that are serious but we also have a much sharper focus on the things that can be done to reduce the risks."

The summary is likely to say that the observed impacts of climate change are "widespread and consequential".

Whether it is increased melting of glaciers, or tree mortality, or impacts on rainfall patterns, the report says that the very real effects of warming are happening in the here and now.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, the report highlights some important impacts that we have little chance of avoiding, given the level of warming the world is already committed to, say the scientists.

These include threats to some "unique and threatened systems" even at 1C.

Risks from extreme weather events, including heat waves and flooding are also high at 1C.

At 2C, there are "very high risks" for Arctic sea ice and coral reefs.

The report is, according to authors, likely to be more doubtful of the benefits of warming on agriculture than its predecessor.

It is expected to say that yield losses of up to 2% per decade will occur for the rest of this century, at a time when population is set to rise sharply.

"There is a lot more literature on the response of agriculture to a changing climate and we are able to make a more comprehensive assessment than before, based on observations and model calculations," said Dr Field.

"The science on crop yields and especially on food security is getting to be a lot more actionable and usable."

Flood risks for people living in Asia are highlighted as a particular vulnerability.

The report talks about impacts on human health, how mortality increases with greater heating and how species the world over are likely to respond by moving towards the poles.

Fish will move, some stocks will be significantly impacted and people who depend on them for food will have to find other sources of protein.

The threat of the oceans becoming more acidic is spelled out as are threats to human security and migration.

The report spells out the likely impacts at different levels of warming in different parts of the world.

"We've projected climate change impacts at different levels of temperature rise, at levels of 2C and 4C and now beyond," said Dr Rachel Warren from the University of East Anglia, UK.

"We've also looked at how people and biodiversity can adapt to climate change. This notion of vulnerability is embedded in the concept of the report."

Adaptation is a key element of the report, with clear tables showing that what are currently classed as high-risk impacts could be reduced to low risks, if steps are taken.

Overall there is a greater attempt to set climate change as one of a number of threats facing people now and in the future.

"Once we think of the challenge as one of managing risk, rather than of, oh once we know for sure what's going to happen then we can do something, it becomes much more tractable," said Dr Field.

"It becomes much more a question of figuring out what are the smart and effective things to do."

IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'
Leaked text of blockbuster report says changes in climate have already caused impacts on natural and human systems
Suzanne Goldenberg 28 Mar 14;

Climate change has already left its mark "on all continents and across the oceans", damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers, according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday.

Government officials and scientists are gathered in Yokohama this week to wrangle over every line of a summary of the report before the final wording is released on Monday – the first update in seven years.

Nearly 500 people must sign off on the exact wording of the summary, including the 66 expert authors, 271 officials from 115 countries, and 57 observers.

But governments have already signed off on the critical finding that climate change is already having an effect, and that even a small amount of warming in the future could lead to "abrupt and irreversible changes", according to documents seen by the Guardian.

"In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans," the final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will say.

Some parts of the world could soon be at a tipping point. For others, that tipping point has already arrived. "Both warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems are already experiencing irreversible regime shifts," the approved version of the report will say.

This will be the second of three reports on the causes, consequences of and solutions to climate change, drawing on researchers from around the world.

The first report, released last September in Stockholm, found humans were the "dominant cause" of climate change, and warned that much of the world's fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.

This report will, for the first time, look at the effects of climate change as a series of risks – with those risks multiplying as temperatures warm.

The thinking behind the decision was to encourage governments to prepare for the full range of potential consequences under climate change.

"It's much more about what are the smart things to do then what do we know with absolute certainty," said Chris Field, one of the co-chairs overseeing the report. "If we want to take a smart approach to the future, we need to consider a full range of possible outcomes and that means not only the more likely outcomes, but also outcomes for truly catastrophic impacts, even if those are lower probability," he said.

The gravest of those risks was to people in low-lying coastal areas and on small islands, because of storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

But people living in large urban areas would also be at risk from inland flooding that wipes out homes and businesses, water treatment centres and power plants, as well as from extreme heatwaves.

Food production was also at risk, the report said, from drought, flooding, and changing rainfall patterns. Crop yields could decline by 2% a decade over the rest of the century.

Fisheries will also be affected, with ocean chemistry thrown off balance by climate change. Some fish in the tropics could become extinct. Other species, especially in northern latitudes, are on the move.

Drought could put safe drinking water in short supply. Storms could wipe out electricity stations, and damage other infrastructure, the report is expected to say.

Those risks will not be borne equally, according to draft versions of the report circulated before the meeting. The poor, the young and the elderly in all countries will all be more vulnerable to climate risks.

Climate change will slow down economic growth, and create new "poverty traps". Some areas of the world will also be more vulnerable – such as south Asia and south-east Asia.

The biggest potential risk, however, was of a number of those scenarios unfolding at the same time, leading to conflicts and wars, or turning regional problem into a global crisis, said Saleemul Haq, a senior fellow of the International Institute for Environment and Development and one of the authors of the report.

"The really scary impacts are when things start getting together globally," he said. "If you have a crisis in two or three places around the world, suddenly it's not a local crisis. It is a global crisis, and the repercussions of things going bad in several different places are very severe."

There was controversy in the run-up to the report's release when one of the 70 authors of a draft said he had pulled out of the writing team because it was "alarmist" about the threat. Prof Richard Tol, an economist at Sussex University, said he disagreed with some findings of the summary. But British officials branded his assessment of the economic costs of climate change as "deeply misleading".

The report argues that the likelihood and potential consequences of many of these risks could be lowered if ambitious action is taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. It also finds that governments – if they act now – can help protect populations from those risks.

But the report also acknowledges that a certain amount of warming is already locked in, and that in some instances there is no way to escape the effects of climate change.

The 2007 report on the effects of climate change contained an error that damaged the credibility of the UN climate panel, the erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.

This year's report will be subject to far more rigorous scrutiny, scientists said. It will also benefit from an explosion of scientific research. The number of scientific publications on the impacts of climate change doubled between 2005 and 2010, the report will say.

Researchers said they also hoped to bring a fresh take on the issue. They said they hoped the reframing of the issue as a series of risks would help governments respond more rapidly to climate change.

"Previously the IPCC was accused of being very conservative," said Gary Yohe, professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, one of the authors of the report. "This allows them to be less conservative without being open to criticism that they are just trying to scare people to death."

UN author says draft climate report alarmist, pulls out of team
Alister Doyle Reuters 27 Mar 14;

(Reuters) - One of the 70 authors of a draft U.N. report on climate change said he had pulled out of the writing team because it was "alarmist" about the threat.

Richard Tol told Reuters he disagreed with some findings of the summary to be issued in Japan on March 31.

"The drafts became too alarmist," the Dutch professor of economics at Sussex University in England said by telephone from Yokohama, Japan, where governments and scientists are meeting to edit and approve the report.

But he acknowledged some other authors "strongly disagree with me".

The final draft says warming will disrupt food supplies, slow economic growth, and may already be causing irreversible damage to coral reefs and the Arctic.

"The report is a product of the scientific community and not of any individual author," the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a statement. "The report does not comprehensively represent the views of any individual."

It said Tol notified it in September that he was withdrawing from the team writing the summary. He had been invited to Japan to help the drafting and is also the coordinating lead author of a sub-chapter about economics.

Tol, who has sometimes been at odds with other scientists in the past by pointing to possible benefits from global warming, had not made his pullout widely known until now.

The report will help governments prepare a deal to cut rising greenhouse gas emissions, mainly by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies, at a summit in Paris in late 2015.


Tol said the IPCC emphasized the risks of climate change far more than the opportunities to adapt. A Reuters count shows the final draft has 139 mentions of "risk" and 8 of "opportunity".

Tol said farmers, for instance, could grow new crops if the climate in their region became hotter, wetter or drier. "They will adapt. Farmers are not stupid," he said.

He said the report played down possible economic benefits of low levels of warming. Less cold winters may mean fewer deaths among the elderly, and crops may grow better in some regions.

"It is pretty damn obvious that there are positive impacts of climate change, even though we are not always allowed to talk about them," he said. But he said temperatures were set to rise to levels this century that would be damaging overall.

Another expert criticized Tol, saying his IPCC chapter exaggerated possible benefits.

"Of the 19 studies he surveyed only one shows net positive benefits from warming. And it's the one he wrote," said Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Unit on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

The IPCC summary says warming of 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times will reduce world economic income by between 0.2 and 2.0 percent a year.

Among rare examples of past dissent within the IPCC, Richard Landsea, a U.S. meteorologist, pulled out of the last report published in 2007, accusing the IPCC of overstating evidence that global warming was aggravating Atlantic hurricanes.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche)