Tag Archives: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

IPCC Synthesis Report: you’ve been told!

Damian Carrington at The Guardian:

    Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published.

    The stark report states that climate change has already increased the risk of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather and warns of worse to come, including food shortages and violent conflicts. But it also found that ways to avoid dangerous global warming are both available and affordable.

    “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message,” said the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon…(Emphasis added)

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is found here.

Roger Jones at The Conversation:

    acting on climate is ultimately an ethical, not an economic, consideration. Insufficient policy action is a declaration of self-interest, condemning our children, grandchildren and the planetary system that supports them, to a dystopian future. That’s what the report should say.

Ban Ki-moon:

    “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” He said that quick, decisive action would build a better and sustainable future, while inaction would be costly.

Tony (‘coal is good for humanity’) Abbott still refuses to address climate change at the G20 meeting as it would distract from discussion on growth. Nicholas Stern says climate change is core business if you’re concerned about growth:

    The G20 is the most effective forum for the discussion of the growth story of the future, the transition to the low-carbon economy.

    Yet the local politics of a country of less than 25 million is being allowed to prevent essential strategic discussions of an issue that is of fundamental importance to the prosperity and well-being of the world’s population of 7 billion people.

As Giles Parkinson told radio National

    essentially what the IPCC is saying to Australia is, on its current policy settings, ‘wrong way, go back’.

Here’s Abbott in visionary mode:


Carrington above provides a useful summary of the IPCC report. Jones identifies a change in approach:

    Instead of dealing largely in forecasts and responses, as in previous syntheses, it now frames the climate problem squarely in terms of risk management.

Jones then identifies some of the myths the report busts. Roz Pidcock at The Carbon Brief identifies what’s new and interesting about the report.

C. Forbes Tompkins and Kelly Levin at Climate Code Red list 9 significant scientific findings too recent to be included in the new IPCC report. Two of them relate to sea level rise, an increased fragility of both the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

There are more links at the end of the post. I wish to comment on the appropriateness of the 2°C guardrail, the view of risk taken in relation to the 2°C and then some conclusions.

Is a 2°C temperature rise safe?

David Spratt addressed this issue in September 2013. To summarise some of what he said:

  • The tipping point for Greenland Ice Sheet has been revised down to +1.6ºC (uncertainty range of +0.8 to +3.2ºC) above pre-industrial. We are likely to hit +1.6ºC within a decade or two.
  • It has been shown that “preserving more than 10 per cent of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels”.
  • Large-scale thawing of permafrost may have already started, but a 1.5ºC global rise in temperature compared to pre-industrial should be enough to start a general permafrost melt.
  • Current levels of CO2 at about 400 ppm place us in the Middle Pliocene epoch (3.0–3.5 Myr ago) when sea levels were 25m plus or minus 5 higher than now.
  • During the Eemian 123,000 years ago sea-level rises of 3 metres occurred within 50 years due to the rapid melting of ice sheets, when the energy imbalance in the climate system was less than at present.

On sea level rise, here are the projections given in the Long Report p. 60:

Temperature and sea level_cropped_600

In a footnote we are told:

    Based on current understanding (from observations, physical understanding and modelling), only the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet, if initiated, could cause global mean sea level to rise substantially above the likely range during the 21st century. There is medium confidence that this additional contribution would not exceed several tenths of a metre of sea-level rise during the 21st century.

They’ve covered themselves on Antarctica, but missed the fragility of Greenland. On page 30, they say this:

    There is low confidence in the available models’ ability to project solid ice discharge from the Antarctic ice sheet. Hence, these models likely underestimate the Antarctica ice sheet contribution, resulting in an underestimation of projected sea-level rise beyond 2100. (p30, Long report)

On sea level rise unfortunately for the next seven years we will be quoted the means given in the tables, without the qualifications, which themselves are inadequate in the late of the latest science. So the talk will be about half a metre, or up to a metre maximum.

For these and the other reasons quoted, plus a few I didn’t highlight, a 2°C guardrail looks foolhardy to say the least.

View of risk taken in relation to the 2°C

This table gives some overview of the relationship between the emissions levels, RCP scenarios, temperature change and the likelihood of staying below various temperature levels. I’ve actually taken the table from Working Group 3 and adapted it by taking out four columns (relating to quantums of CO2 and emissions reduction targets for 2050 and 2100) to highlight the broad relationships:

Implications of scenarios_cropped_modified

Much of the same information is given in the table on p23 (Short Report) and footnotes.

In the Short Report (p15) we are told that CO2e levels in 2011 were 430 ppm. Unfortunately the CSIRO/BOM State of the climate report says that in 2014 we are at 480 ppm of CO2 equivalent. So realistically the best on offer is the 500 zone with overshoot. This sees us with a likely as not chance of staying below 2°C. Here’s what the official language means:


In other words a 33 to 66% chance of staying below 2°C, or if we act quickly and drastically a 66% chance. When you consider the implications even of a 1.5°C climate, this is desperately insane and simply not acceptable.

David Spratt suggests a risk-averse (pro-safety) approach, say, of less than 10% probability of whatever target we deem appropriate. I’d suggest a less than 5% probability of a 1.5°C temperature rise and then see whether that is doable. Are we game to talk about what really needs to be done for a livable, sustainable ecosystem for future generations? Or are we going to continue eating our children’s future?


Back in 2007 environmentalist Bill McKibbin asked James Hansen what the appropriate levels of CO2 should be. Hansen gave his answer in December 2007 at the American Geophysical Union meeting. At that very time the UNFCCC Conference of Parties was meeting in Bali. Hansen’s response was that we had overshot and that we should aim at 350 ppm by taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. To clarify, Hansen’s answer assumed that we would achieve net zero in other greenhouse gases, so he was really talking about CO2e. McKibbin went off and started up 350.org.

In a strict sense the IPCC Report is agnostic about a 2°C guardrail. It simply identifies risks, vulnerabilities and impacts at various temperature levels. However, when it comes to mitigation scenarios, it deals with what is out there in the scientific literature. Here it seems the vast bulk of the modelling contemplates scenarios where the 2°C guardrail is simply part of the furniture. Yet what has been called CCS (carbon capture and storage) and the report (see Short Report p.15 for example) re-badges as CDR (carbon dioxide removal) is also part of the furniture.

It seems to me that the scientific community is struggling to catch up with where Hansen was seven years ago. Perhaps they are concentrating on what’s doable, but at the same time they are holding out false hope. While the world’s scientists and governments have issued their bluntest warning yet, we seem to be letting go the idea of a safe climate. I heard head honcho Rajendra K Pachauri on the radio saying that we only had a budget of 275Gt of carbon (that’s about 1000GT of CO2) left that could be used. In fact, rationally, we don’t have a budget at all, we are in the red. Rationally, all the fossil fuel reserves should be left in the ground – all of them, unless offset with CCS or CDR, for which our visionary PM has just slashed the research budget.


Al Jazzeera rounds up some of the opinion warning that 2°C is foolhardy and dangerous.

    “There is no such thing as a safe rise,” said Bob Watson, who was the chair of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002. “You will see food and water insecurity, human health problems, and sea level rise even with a 2 C rise.”

And so on.

See also:

UN Climate Report Rings Alarm, Offers Guidance

World’s Scientists Warn: We Have ‘High Confidence’ In The ‘Irreversible Impacts’ Of Climate Inaction

Media round-up: The IPCC synthesis report

That last link from The Carbon Brief is quite comprehensive and includes a list of their six posts.

Related IPCC posts, in chronological order:

Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?

A choice of catastrophes: the IPCC budget approach

Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 1

Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 2

Climate change impacts: IPCC Working Party 2 report

Adding to the muddle? The IPCC climate change mitigation report

Climate mitigation costs and strategies

Climate mitigation costs and strategies

Val at fairgreenplanet perceived two contrasting approaches to climate mitigation at the recent Australian Climate Action Summit:

  • technology can get us there, with a bit of political will


  • we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level

In relation to the first she also cited a recent post by John Quiggin who cites four major reports, all making the same point:

decarbonizing the world economy will involve economic costs that are
(a) small; and
(b) far outweighed by the benefits

So that’s a net gain of considerable dimensions.

This is supported at the country level by a recent report in the UK:

if the UK cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, as it has promised, its GDP would be 1.1 per cent bigger than if it stuck with fossil fuels, says a study by consultants at Cambridge Econometrics.

About half the gain would come from cheap running costs for fuel-efficient cars, with 190,000 new green jobs and higher wages also helping. The average household would be £565 a year better off.

The four reports cited by Quiggin are as follows:

First, there’s Pathways to Deep Decarbonization an international collaborative project under the auspices of the UN.

Second, the Better Growth Better Climate report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Third, this report on Green Growth from the Center for American Progress (covers the US only)

And, most strikingly, this report from staffers at the International Monetary Fund, long the guardian of fiscal rectitude has concluded that for most countries, the local side benefits of reducing pollution would be sufficient to offset the costs for carbon prices up to $50/tonne.

I find each report has limitations in its own way, so at the end I remain agnostic.

The fourth, the IMF study, looks at carbon pricing in the top 20 emitters. As far as I can make out it comes up with two propositions. First, each country can act on its own, with benefit, no-one has to wait for the world to act. Secondly, it identifies a sweet spot, which varies quite a lot from one country to the next, where net benefits accrue from carbon pricing. In Australia’s case it’s only $11.50 per tonne.

This is all very promising but is not as such a plan for climate stabilisation at safe levels.

The third, the American study, finds the aim of reducing emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2035 doable and beneficial. The problem here is in the task identification. The study assumes that the US should decarbonise at the same rate as the rest of the world. It ignores the ‘carbon budgeting approach’ whereby high per capita emitters need to decarbonise rapidly to make space for developing countries to grow their economies. See Figure 5 of this post on the IPCC report. The United States is a Group 1 country, which must decarbonise rapidly:

Figure 5: The climate budget approach
Figure 5: The climate budget approach

As we saw in this post, two thirds of increased emissions are now coming from emerging and less developed countries. In other words in reality increases from Group 2 and 3 countries are not being offset by cuts in Group 1 countries. Until we get our heads around this issue and address it we’ll stumble along on the road to perdition!

The problem facing Group 1 countries is impossible. The way around it lies in emissions trading between rich and poor countries, as per Figure 6 in that post. This would entail considerable wealth transfer, which could be mandated to be used in greening developing country economies.

Also 40% by 2035 overall is not a recipe for a safe climate, as shown below.

The first study, has two limitations. Firstly it simply does not address the issues of economic costs and social implications. Secondly, it simply accepts the stabilisation pathway for a 2°C temperature increase which sees zero worldwide emissions about 2070. In looking at the IPCC report (same as linked above), I developed this table to relate concentrations to temperature rise. RCPs are Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) which are expressed in terms of watts per square metre of radiative forcing (W m-2). Roughly, RCP2.6 represents the 2°C pathway, while RCP8.5 represents our present path.

Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios
Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios

Green indicates a comparatively ‘safe’ climate, orange indicates the increasingly contested zone which clearly carries some danger, and red to indicate breaching the 2°C guardrail which everyone with half a brain accepts as dangerous.

Strictly speaking the green box should be orange, because it sits on top of ‘now’ which is an 0.6°C increase, and the orange box below it should be red, for the same reason.

On the orange zone, the Climate Change Authority in its Review published this wondrous graph, showing that they were well aware of the inadequacies of a 2°C target:

Stabilisation probabilities_croppedb_580

As I said then, in terms of CO2 equivalents we are now at 480. This gives us less than 33% chance of staying below 2°C and about a 10% chance of exceeding a civilisation threatening 4°C. These odds are unacceptable. We are already in an overshoot situation.

This is old information – very old. James Hansen told us at an American Physical Union meeting in December 2007 that we needed to aim for 350ppm in the first instance and then decide where we go from there.

The RCP2.6 path involves a 33% chance of ending up with more than 2°C, odds that should be completely unacceptable.

Turning to the third report, which specifically addresses the financial implications, it too is on 2°C path. The costs numbers when taken in isolation look large (US$45 trillion will be required in 2015–2030 for key categories of energy infrastructure), but in context are trivial:

costs of this magnitude look like “background noise” when compared with the strong underlying growth that the global economy is likely to experience.

These costs will go up if mitigation is delayed:

Costs are also likely to rise sharply with delay. If global action to reduce emissions is delayed until 2030, global CO2 emissions would have to decrease by 6-7% per year between 2030 and 2050 in order to have a reasonable chance of staying on a 2°C path. Such rates of reduction are unprecedented historically and are likely to be expensive (estimates of delay suggest an average annual consumption growth loss of around 0.3% in the decade 2030 to 2040, compared to a loss of less than 0.1% over the same period if we act now).

Fine, and perhaps not yet serious, but I’m afraid completely out of date. In 2011 the Climate Commission published this graph to illustrate the implications of delay:

Figure 4: Emissions reduction options
Figure 4: Emissions reduction options

Under the ‘climate budget approach’ the area under the line must remain constant.

That too would have been based on a 2°C target, but it illustrates that if we delay peaking emissions worldwide, even to 2020, we’ll be in completely uncharted territory.

Chapter Five of the third report gives enormous detail of the policy work that needs to be done. It may be summarised as strong leadership, consistent policy over decades, structural change and perhaps unprecedented international co-operation, even if we start now on a task that is eminently doable and inexpensive; so more than “a bit of political will” is required.

Frankly, our best hope lies in the prospect that solar technology with storage will simply become the cheapest form of new energy, and has the advantage that it doesn’t need a large grid. Nevertheless there will be residual problems – land use and agriculture, transport, ocean acidification etc. Zero emissions transport will require planning and subsidies.

One thing we should realise, however, is that further out our future will be energy rich, not energy-constrained. Saving energy is not a reason for localism and changing the way we live.

So where does that leave Val’s second option?

Firstly, concerted long-term action and international co-operation of the kind we need is not in our DNA. We are designed to co-operate in bands of up to 150 people, the number that our big brains can cope with in terms of knowing in any detail. We are told Fukuyama, Harari for example that bands were relatively egalitarian with a leader answerable to the people. Beyond that we can co-operate in amazing ways, but at the price of setting up hierarchies and privileges, coercive elites. This occurred in general with agriculture and owning stuff, even herds. These problems can be ameliorated in a modern democratic nation-state, with it’s formal mechanisms for election, administration, justice and accountability, but we are still apt to act in the self-interest of that larger entity.

What we need is an infusion of new values and ways of perceiving, thinking and feeling. While not sacrificing individualism we need to feel and act as social beings. We also need to revalue ourselves in relation to the biological and physical systems of the planet, so that we stop acting like the top rapacious predator, the one that has decimated the wild animal kingdom by 52% since 1970. Along the way, we need to challenge a Chain of Being, that sees elite mostly European males as next to the gods and women, children, other races, other social classes, slaves, asylum seekers etc in subordinate positions.

We need to live in nature, not over nature.

While localism and social participation are necessary, the required cultural and existential changes are hard work will happen over generations if at all. The planet can’t wait. That last reference tells us:

Efforts have been made to economically quantify the world’s “stock” of natural capital and the yearly “flow” of ecosystem services they provide. The latest numbers are $142.7 trillion and $48.7 trillion, respectively. By comparison, the flow of incomes through the global economy is currently about $71.8 trillion per year. The research suggests that by 2013 we were eliminating that stock of natural capital at a rate of about $7.3 trillion per year, and that the flow of ecosystem services would be $23 trillion higher if not for human practices like deforestation, burning fossil fuels, and the like.

And underneath all this, there is the point that these creatures and the ecologies they inhabitant have an intrinsic moral worth irrespective of the dollar sign that markets can place on them. “Wildlife is and should be useless in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless,” author Richard Coniff recently wrote in the New York Times.

And the climate can’t wait.

We need hierarchies to get things done, a collective will not build a battleship, but we need to civilise them and render them accountable. We even need coercive powers, to counter the selfishness of states. The only supra-national entity that the major powers take notice of is the World Trade Organisation, not the UN. We need it to police international agreements, to oversee international carbon trading, and what Quiggin’s third report calls “border carbon adjustments”.

I never thought I’d say that!

The bottom line is that we must act if we want a future for our grandchildren, and cost, the only certain Armageddon is if we do nothing or not enough. We are heading into uncharted territory but indications are that there will be benefits and the net costs are unlikely to be as bad as pessimists might think. We just don’t know. And the groupie, local stuff, well there are reasons for doing that, but it won’t solve climate change as such.

Adding to the muddle? The IPCC climate change mitigation report

Gareth at Hot Topic has a neat summary of the key points of the IPCC Working Party 3 report: Climate change mitigation report, which I’ve numbered:

    1. Annual greenhouse gas emissions have risen 10 GtCO2eq between 2000 and 2010, and half of all emissions since 1750 have occurred in the last 40 years
    2. If no further actions are taken to reduce emissions global mean surface temperature in 2100 will increase by 3.7 to 4.8°C compared to pre‐industrial levels
    3. To have a reasonable chance of staying under 2ºC of warming in 2100 means restricting greenhouse gases to 450 ppm CO2eq
    4. Hitting 450 ppm CO2eq will mean “substantial cuts in anthropogenic GHG emissions by mid‐century through large‐scale changes in energy systems and potentially land use”
    5. Typical 450 ppm CO2eq scenarios include overshooting the target and then removal of CO2 by bionenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), though “carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and methods are uncertain and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks”
    6. The Cancun pledges are not consistent with cost-effective efforts to hit 2ºC, and are more likely to commit the world to 3ºC of warming
    7. The sooner we act, the cheaper overall mitigation will be – as little as 0.06% of annual GDP growth to hit 450 ppm CO2eq.

The “substantial cuts” in point 4 are in fact 41 to 72% by 2050.

In point 5 the cuts required by 2100 are 78 to 118%. That is, the upper bound requires greenhouse gases to be removed from the atmosphere. This will give a “likely” chance of staying below a 2°C increase in temperature over pre-industrial. In IPCC parlance, likely means a 67% or better chance.

This is not “reasonable” as suggested in point 3, it’s reckless.

I’m surprised at the lack of urgency in the report and the modesty of the targets. A 67% or better chance, considering the risks associated with a 2°C increase, amounts to miserable odds. Moreover, as the CSIRO/BOM State of the Climate 2014 report indicated, we are already at 480 CO2eq ppm:


To make matters worse, the chances of staying under 3°C and 4°C are also only rated in the report as “likely”.

Our current situation demands the ambition and urgency called for by Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne:

He concludes that we need more ambition and urgency, both at the national and international levels. The achievement of emission reductions at the necessary scale and speed will require transformational rather than incremental change.

Wiseman goes for a three-phase emissions reduction target regime.

First, a 50% reduction target by 2020.

Second, zero net emissions by 2040.

Third, a carbon draw-down phase to get concentrations below 350 CO2e ppm.

Again, my view:

I applaud his ambition, but, personally, would change the date of the second to 2030 and put a date of 2050 on the third. That is, we should aim for 350 CO2e ppm by 2050.

Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre thinks policy makers are in a muddle about the 2°C target. I’m not sure this IPCC mitigation report helps all that much. Furthermore, I think it misleads rather than promoting a safe climate.

The WG1 science report identified the remaining carbon budget we have to work with to stay below 2°C. Rather than elaborate the carbon budget approach, which I described in the second part of this post, the mitigation report lays out a range of scenarios which involve both overshooting and the use of carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) technologies.

In my view policy makers who concentrate on a less than 95% chance of remaining under the 2°C threshold (I’d prefer 1.5°C) should be immediately sacked and replaced by others more fit to purpose. Scientists writing this report have left the real challenge to the politicians, but by normalising scenarios that lack urgency I fear policy makers will descend into a bigger muddle than ever.

This graph from Malte Meinshausen displayed in the Climate Change Authority report on targets is salutary, considering we are at 480 CO2e ppm:

Stabilisation probabilities_cropped_600

For a safe climate, the line on the graph should be drawn where 2°C intersects with 95%. That would call for greenhouse gas concentrtions of less than 350 ppm. Back in 2008 David Spratt and Philip Sutton in the book Climate Code Red nominated 320 ppm as the target for a safe climate. They called the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC “dangerously conservative”. Not much has changed.

Remember James Hansen nominated 350 ppm not as an end target, rather as an interim goal, whereupon we could decide the next necessary move.

The sad fact is that scientists are not looking at scenarios of 430 ppm or below by 2100. There are too few in existence for the IPCC to summarise.

In describing stabilisation pathways the IPCC collated 900 individual scenarios with target CO2 concentrations (for 2100) of 430 to 720 ppm. They then summarised the scenarios in seven categories (see table SPM1 on page 13 of the Summary for Policy Makers). It’s too large to reproduce here.

The first category, the best we are offered, has the following story line.

To achieve CO2e concentrations of 450 ppm (range 430-480) cumulative emissions from 2011 to 2050 must be in the range of 550 to 1300 GtCO2. By 2100 cumulative emissions must be in the range of 630 to 1180 GTCO2. Please note that the upper bound for 2100 is less than for 2050. This will require a reduction of emissions compared to 2011 of 41 to 72% by 2050 and 78 to 118% by 2100. The resulting temperature change will be 1.5 to 1.7 (1.0 to 2.8) relative to pre-industrial. This will give only a 50% plus chance of staying below 1.5°C and a better than 66% chance of staying below 2°C. There is up to a 33% chance that the temperature will go above 3°C and indeed 4°C.

The temperatures in brackets indicate the uncertainties of how the models relate to reality. In fact at section in the main report we are told that the report’s “probabilistic temperature statements should be regarded as indicative.”

The second category uses a target of 500 ppm (480-530), which only yields a “more likely than not” chance of staying below 2°C, that is >50%. Each category summarises a proportion of the 900 scenarios modelled. Each individual scenario is different depending on whether cuts in emissions are made early or late.

From there it obviously gets worse.

Scientists may be dealing with expected reality, but they have left the real challenge of dealing with the climate to the politicians. Moreover, the action required for a safe climate, as outlined by Wiseman, lies outside the frame of the stabilisation pathways outlined in this report. Approaches such as the International Energy Association’s (IEA) World energy Outlook 2011 highlighting an energy crunch for fossil fuel power generation by 2017 probably has more effect.

Key posts

These are the key earlier posts linked above:

Additional reading

Here I’d highlight the article at The Conversation by David Stern on concerns that the IPCC report was censored. This is a misunderstanding of the process. The main report includes a Technical Summary which is prepared by scientists. The Summary for Policy Makers is about a third the length and results from a political filter applied at the end. The material left out, according to Stern, relates to sensitivities and bargaining positions in the current round of UNFCCC talks aimed at striking an international agreement in December 2015 in Paris.

There’s more on the report at Climate Institute, at at Climate Central, at The New Scientist here and here, and at the BBC.

Carbon Brief went wild, producing a dozen posts which I’ve listed here for the record. I’d recommend the first two by Robin Webster for a quick overview, but Ros Donald on fracking and Mat Hope on acronyms may be of particular interest.

13/4 What’s mitigation? A short and straightforward summary of the IPCC’s latest report Carbon Brief staff

13/4 Not just another climate report: main messages from the UN report on tackling emissions Robin Webster

13/4 The what, when and where of global greenhouse gas emissions: A visual summary of the IPCC’s climate mitigation report Mat Hope

13/4 From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet Mat Hope

14/4 Does the IPCC endorse fracking? Ros Donald

14/4 Climate fixes and Plan Bs: The IPCC’s guide to staying below two degrees of global warming Roz Pidcock

14/4 Media reaction: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s big climate mitigation report Ros Donald

Daily Briefing | IPCC: There’s still time to take climate action, if countries cooperate
Carbon Brief staff

15/5 Degrees of change: the IPCC’s projections for future temperature rise Robin Webster

16/4 Tackling global warming could slow global growth – by 0.06 per cent, IPCC predicts Mat Hope

17/4 IPCC review of farming and forests leaves key questions about effect on climate change “unresolved” Robin Webster

17/4 Climate change is a political animal Paul Tobin

Independent Australia also looks at fracking and gas.

Developing countries are unhappy.

Please contribute other useful links in comments.

Climate change impacts: IPCC Working Party 2 report

On 31 March the IPCC released its second report in the current series, this one on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Follow the links from the report website. We looked at the first report, The Physical Science Basis here, here and here. The third report, Mitigation of Climate Change is now also out, and the final Synthesis Report is scheduled for in September. The series comprises the Fifth Assessment Report.

The IPCC was formed in 1988 and produced assessment reports in 1990, 1995 and 2007. As Graham Readfearn says, the message is the same – we are going to hell in a handbasket – and yes, at that level it’s becoming monotonous.

There is a change, however. It lies in the fact that the impacts of climate change are now all around us. We are not just getting warnings, we are living climate change. The impacts we see locally are integrating into a global pattern, which also includes large-scale transforming events, such as the drying of the Sahel and the loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Increased extreme weather is becoming part of the common experience. In this we are on a path where one in 100 events in any year may become one in three or five. We risk losing whole ecosystems such as the coral reefs where many are in trouble now and all will be by about mid-century, almost certainly. Finally, there is much greater certainty that climate change is happening and about our agency in it. With that certainty comes greater risk, but also opportunity to take action to adapt and to mitigate.

I’ve patterned that paragraph on Greg Picker’s explanation to Steve Austin, while changing the order of the points he made and adding some detail.

The report is organised into two “volumes”, with the first containing 20 chapters, including, for example, one on Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits and one on Human security. These sectoral reports will provide valuable reference material for years to come.

The second volume comprises 10 “regional aspects” including the ocean.

One of the 10 is on Australasia.

Impacts on Australia

Chapter 25 identifies eight significant impacts for Australia:

  • There is the possibility of widespread and permanent damage to coral reef systems, particularly the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo in Western Australia.
  • Some native species could be wiped out.
  • There is the chance of more frequent flooding causing damage to key infrastructure.
  • In some areas, unprecedented rising sea levels could inundate low-lying areas.
  • In other areas, bushfires could result in significant economic losses.
  • More frequent heatwaves and temperatures may lead to increased morbidity – especially among the elderly.
  • Those same rising temperatures could put constraints on water resources.
  • Farmers could face significant drops in agriculture – especially in the Murray-Darling Basin.

University of Queensland marine scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg worries that reefs could be severely damaged or disappear by mid-century.

A worst case scenario could see agricultural production reduce by 40% in the Murray-Darling Basin, and in south-east and south-west Australia. The National Irrigators Council says that’s why you have irrigation. However, there is a lot of dry-land farming in these areas and the future average rain is more likely to come in the form of floods when most of the water flows through to the sea.

The above scenarios are risks rather than certainties. However, they add up to a strong chance of dangerous climate change.

Increased certainty

The change in certainty in the attribution of climate change to human activity is conveyed in this image from Dr Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog last year:


Back in 1990 we saw the possibility of continuing change but what we had experienced at that time could easily have been natural variations subject to reversal. In any case there was low confidence that we could do anything to mitigate. Furthermore, why take measures to adapt, when there was no real certainty?

Now the story has changed dramatically. The pattern and the dominant causes are clear.


From page 27 of the Summary for Policymakers we find a graphic packed with information about various aspects of the impacts of climate change (sorry the graphic is too large to display here!) In the right hand column we find bar graphs showing the present, near-term (2030-2040) and the long-term (2080-2100) risk with hatching to show potential for mitigation through adaptation. The long-term risk is displayed in separate 2°C and 4°C bars.

Little adaptation is possible with Australia’s coral reefs, none at 4°C when the risk becomes very high.

Terrestrial ecosystems losing ice cover in the polar regions are similarly not amenable to adaptation and become very high risk at 4°C.

Loss of crop productivity becomes very high risk at 4°C with little possibility of adaptation. Ditto for heat-related mortality in Asia, North America and, presumably, elsewhere.

Burning embers

The extensive detail in these tables is summarised in a new improved version of the ‘burning embers’ diagram, shown below:

Burning embers_cropped

From this we can readily see that the 2°C ‘guardrail’ marks a fairly arbitrary point on the gradation from dire to downright dangerous.

Climate clippings 93

Climate clippings_175

1.Three reports

First, the Climate Change Authority released a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

I have a draft post in the bin, which I’ll publish after Easter. Labor are likely to adopt the enhanced targets it recommends, whereas the LNP have confirmed they won’t go beyond 5% by 2020.

Second, I’m working on a post on the IPCC’s second report in the current series, released on 31 March Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. To get a head start you can follow the links from the report website.

I should be able to finalise the post for the week after Easter.

Third, the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s third report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change was released on Monday. I hope to tackle it over Easter, aiming for publication the second week after Easter. The ABC has comment: politicians and Frank Jotzo and John Connor. The Carbon Brief has a lot of useful material.

2. The cost of mitigation

The IPCC mitigation report puts the cost of action at 0.06% of GDP, but calculating the cost is complex, especially when looking at the damage caused by doing nothing.

Researchers Rosen and Guenther find that the economic modelling is not possible, there are too many variables and too many unknowns.

Yet crisis trumps uncertainty, we have no real choice but to act.

3. Trouble in the vineyards

Early ripening is becoming a huge problem for growers and wineries.

growers say they’re having trouble processing their crop because it’s ripening too quickly.

Researchers are blaming climate change, with warmer conditions and drier soils accelerating the ripening process.

4. Microbes cause Permian–Triassic extinction?

The Permian–Triassic extinction event, commonly known as the Great Dying, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90% of all life on Earth.

According to new research at MIT the event may have been caused by microbes.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

5. Land clearing returns to Qld

According to The Wilderness Society the Queensland Government has approved the clearing of 30,000 hectares at Strathmore Station in the Gilbert River catchment in the Gulf country, which will add the equivalent of 4.2-6.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same as running up to another 2.6 million cars on our roads.

Strathmore wants to clear another 70,000 hectares. Together with another proposed Gilbert River project, IFED’s so-called Etheridge mega farm, the two schemes would clear and flood 200,000 hectares of land.

That would be like bulldozing a 10km wide strip for 200km.

6. Instruments of persuasion

Dr Rod Lamberts of the Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science at the ANU says it’s time to dump science and facts as instruments of persuasion in favour of advertising and marketing. He says we need to appeal to people’s emotions, which will

have a stronger effect than trying to appeal to their brains via some kind of, you know, fact channel.

But please note, the facts are needed to support the campaign:

If the goal is to affect change, then I believe we need to step more into the realms of advertising and marketing and so on, in terms of delivering messages that are supported by what the science is telling us, but don’t have the science in those messages. (Emphasis added)

Jane Caro agrees on the need for a different approach:

Facts have never changed anyone’s mind about anything, sadly. It’s very hard for scientists to understand this, because they’re highly rational people, but in actual fact, no-one has ever been rationalised out of a belief.

There are only two things that change people’s attitudes and behaviour, particularly their behaviour, and they’re two emotions, and they’re hope and fear.

Again, facts and the science are surely needed to rationalise a changed belief. Beliefs need reason to support them.

Who mounts and pays for an advertising and marketing campaign? We look to governments, but in Australia they are the actual problem.

7. Direct Action less popular than the price on carbon

Meanwhile Essential Media Communications have done a survey of opinion that shows Direct Action distinctly less popular than the price on carbon. In terms of age, there is a tipping point beyond which the doubters predominate and it’s age 55. Abbott’s climate policy may come back to bite.

as the flat-earthers take control of the Federal Government, more Australians than ever have come to the conclusion that the Earth is in fact round.

Changing our policymakers seems the best way home but then Labor needs to offer more than tokenism. In my opinion Labor politicians should be the prime target group. The current mob won’t change without a spell in opposition and transformational ideological renewal.


Use this as an open thread for climate topics.

Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 2

In Part 2 of the round-up of commentary on the IPCC WG1 report I’ve tried to highlight where people have said something new or not emphasised elsewhere. I’ve not attempted to cover the MSM.

That’s it as a round-up. I plan to revisit particular topics later when the IPCC have finished fiddling with the text and layout.

The following image is the temperature projections representing the most optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. Bear in mind that RCP2.6 is probably hopelessly optimistic and at present we are tracking to do worse than RCP8.5. Also what happens is not likely to be as smooth as the graphs the models spit out.


Here’s the link to Part 1.

The New Scientist has a special on the IPCC report which appears not to be paywalled at least yet. Among the questions asked is, can we be sure that any big issues have been missed?

Not entirely, is the answer given, but the text really says, yes, we can be sure. Anything that can’t be well-measured, such as the leaking of methane from permafrost, has been set aside. Also impacts with low probability and higher threat. So the report is restricted to the well-understood knowns and thereby conservative.

Science writer Michael Le Page distils a 10-word bottom line: we have to leave most fossil fuels in the ground.

He points to Norway to illustrate the problem. They get nearly 60% of their electricity from renewable sources and plan to go carbon neutral by as early as 2030. But they will do this by buying carbon credits with the earnings of their fossil fuel exports.

Doug Craig at Climate of Change picks up on the theme. Energy companies are currently spending $600 billion trying to find more fossil fuels.

The Conversation has tagged a topic IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Continue reading Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 2

Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 1


This is a wrap of some of commentary on the recent IPCC report. You can follow the links, or not, according to your needs, time and desires.

Climate Code Red carries a very clear summary of the report, which they got from Climate News Network, a handy site I wasn’t aware of.

The summary covers elements I neglected, such as Evaluation of Climate Models, but doesn’t go into the climate budget approach.

The post includes links to other commentary.

At RealClimate Stefan Rahmstorf solves the problem of the graph showing 82cm as the upper limit of sea level rise compares with 98cm in the text. It’s the last decade, the difference between 2080-2100 and 2100! Under RCP8.0 SLR will be accelerating rapidly according to forecasts.

George Monbiot is ascerbic as usual:

What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other lifeforms depend. Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown.

We need to leave most of the fossil fuel reserves everywhere, but for the corporations it’s full steam ahead, supported by their governments.

At ABC Environment Michael Mann and Dana Nuccitelli are in no doubt as to what’s causing global warming. The IPCC report:

concludes that humans have caused at least 50 per cent and most likely 100 per cent of the global warming over the past six decades, with external natural factors like the sun and internal natural variation like ocean cycles each contributing approximately zero to the warming during that time.

Ryan Koronowski at Climate Progress tells us 15 things we need to know about the report. For one thing Obama’s top science advisor said the report “represents the most comprehensive and authoritative synthesis of scientific knowledge about global climate change ever generated.”

And Stanford scientists Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field find that the current pace of warming is happening 10 times faster than any time over the last 65 million years.

John Upton at Grist pulls out the facts and figures. Grist also has an explainer about the IPCC. Continue reading Commentary on IPCC WG1: Part 1

A choice of catastrophes: the IPCC budget approach

wg1cover_175Below I’ve set set out some of the main findings in the Summary for Policymakers (downloadable from here) from the IPCC’s Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis before looking at what they say about the wriggle room remaining to us (ie. the ‘climate budget approach’) if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

This post follows the introductory post Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?

In this report they’ve set up a reference pattern which will be followed unless otherwise specified in the remaining volumes, so we’d better wrap our minds around it.

The basic concept is that of Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) which are expressed in terms of watts per square metre of radiative forcing (W m-2). So when looking at phenomena such as future temperature change or sea level rise there is no ‘business as usual’ (BAU) scenario. Four scenarios have been chosen – RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5. These are described as, respectively, a mitigation scenario leading to a very low forcing level, two stabilisation scenarios and one scenario with very high greenhouse gas emissions. The last (RCP8.5) is perhaps the equivalent of BAU or a ‘no climate change policy’ scenario.

AR5 uses four time reference points, two past and two future – 1850-1900, 1986-2006, 2046-2065 and 2081-2100.

I have called 1850-1900 ‘pre-industrial’, while 1986-2005 is roughly ‘now’. It needs to be borne in mind that the 0.61C warming had already taken place from pre industrial times to 1986-2005. Looking forward 2046-2065 is ‘mid-century’ while 2080-2100 is roughly the end of the 21st century.

I’ve prepared a spreadsheet showing in the first column the prospective temperature rise from ‘now’ to the end of the 21st century. The second column adds in the warming from pre-industrial until ‘now’. Finally I’ve tabulated the increase from pre-industrial to mid-century. I’ve only quoted the mean values so that the signal doesn’t get lost in the noise.

Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios
Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios

I’ve used green to indicate a comparatively ‘safe’ climate, orange to indicate the increasingly contested zone which clearly carries some danger, and red to indicate breaching the 2C guardrail which everyone with half a brain accepts as dangerous.

What needs to be emphasised here is the non-linearity of climate vulnerability and risk. As temperatures increase the potential for nasty surprises or ‘tipping points’ increases, but frankly we are already entering that zone.

Some points to note here. Firstly, the change from 1880 to 2012 (the real ‘now’) is given as 0.85C (0.65 to 1.06 with 90% certainty).

Secondly, while the CO2 levels are linked to certain watts per square metre in the RCPs the CO2 levels stand as a marker for all greenhouse gases. The RCPs don’t change if you additionally identify the MH4 and NO levels, as they are already included in the calculations.

This table from the report shows the forecast temperatures, plus sea level rise, with uncertainty ranges.

Table 2: RCP scenarios for temperature and sea level rise
Table 2: RCP scenarios for temperature and sea level rise___

The uncertainty range is a bit narrower than it was in AR4 in 2007. Please note, the text actually gives the range for RCP8.5 as 0.52 to 0.98m.

If we discard RCP2.6 because it won’t happen the total range of prospective sea level rise is 32cm to 82cm, with medium confidence. A linear extrapolation of the current rate of 3.2mm pa will yield the lower bound of that range. Also we are told:

Confidence in projections of global mean sea level rise has increased since the AR4 because of the improved physical understanding of the components of sea level, the improved agreement of process-based models with observations, and the inclusion of ice-sheet dynamical changes.


Based on current understanding, only the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet, if initiated, could cause global mean sea level to rise substantially above the likely range during the 21st century. However, there is medium confidence that this additional contribution would not exceed several tenths of a meter of sea level rise during the 21st century.

Under RCP8.5, however, the annual rate of change by 2100 will be from 8mm to 16mm, with a mean nearly four times the current rate. Apart from RCP2.6 sea level rise will continue in subsequent centuries.

RenewEconomy has a simple summary of the report, which includes this on precipitation:

Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.

Evidence for human influence has strengthened since AR4. It is now considered extremely likely (formerly very likely) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Moreover,

There is high confidence that changes in total solar irradiance have not contributed to the increase in global mean surface temperature over the period 1986 to 2008, based on direct satellite measurements of total solar irradiance.

Here’s the graph of radiative forcing:

Figure 1: Radiative forcing drivers
Figure 1: Radiative forcing drivers___

Here’s the historic graph for temperature rise, showing clearly that warming is still occurring:

Figure 1: Land and ocean surface temperature anomaly 1850-2012
Figure 2: Land and ocean surface temperature anomaly 1850-2012

Crisis or catastrophe – the climate budget crunch

Generally speaking, the 4C limit is said to be the point at which civilisation as we know it is threatened. Of relevance here, the AR5 document tells us that the near-complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet will occur, over a millennium or more, with a temperature rise of somewhere between 1C and 4C relative to pre-industrial.

The report still uses the guardrail of 2C temperature rise relative to 1861-1880 (Figure 2 shows that this would be similar to 1850-1900) in order to mark dangerous climate change. You’ll get plenty arguments about that. Bolivia, for example, wants to use 1C as the limit for a safe climate. In this post I noted that some developing countries sought a lower guardrail of 1.5C rather than 2C while the African civil society group Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) wanted 1 to 1.5C.

David Spratt asks the question as to whether current levels of CO2 are already dangerous. His answer is unsettling, to say the least. What do our politicians think of the notion that we need to keep the temperature rise to less than 1.5C if we want to preserve more than 10% of corals worldwide?

He also found that during the Eemian 120,000 years ago we had three metres of sea level rise within 50 years with much gentler forcing than we have now, in probably the best analogue of what lies before us.

In a warming world what matters is the total quantum of CO2 in the atmosphere. The ‘climate budget approach’ identifies the total anthropogenic CO2 emitted to cause warming of 2C. For a 66% chance of staying under 2C the total CO2 emitted must not exceed 1000Gt, according to calculations done by Malte Meinshausen and others back in 2009. The later we leave cutting the harder we have to cut. Meinshausen’s article in Nature is paywalled, but this graph in an article by Stefan Rahmstorf (in German) gives the idea:

Figure 3: Meinshausen's emissions reduction options
Figure 3: Meinshausen’s emissions reduction options

Rahmstorf’s text talks about 1000Gt of CO2 or about 1500GT of CO2 equivalent with other greenhouse gases for a 25% chance of staying within 2C. Forget the precise figures, it’s the pattern of peaking and subsequent reductions that matter.

Now, as Giles Parkinson reports, the carbon budget figures have taken a haircut to become 800Gt for a 66% chance of 2C when “accounting for non-CO2 forcings”. Problem is we’d already used up 543Gt of the budget by 2011.

Fiona Harvey at The Guardian tells us that the decision to put the numbers in the report was hard-won. There was concern they “would have political repercussions”. I think that was the intention!

Oliver Milman also at The Guardian, tells us that cuts of 10% per annum will now be necessary, though I can’t find that in the report. He doesn’t say from when. This graph, from the Climate Commission’s 2011 The Critical Decade report (the site is now down the crapper – my summary is here), shows 9% pa from 2020 for a 66% chance.

Figure 4: Emissions reduction options
Figure 4: Emissions reduction options

I suspect the new 10% is from 2015 or 2017.

The above graph is sourced from a substantial 2009 document (in German) produced by WBGU (The German Advisory Council on Global Change) making the case for a carbon budget approach. Of more use to us is their English summary which on page 5 outlines the steps to be taken to provide an equitable way forward. The high polluting countries should take urgent steps to reduce emissions. Developing countries are then given space to increase emissions before reducing. The strategy is captured in this graph:

Figure 5: The climate budget approach
Figure 5: The climate budget approach

The red line represents the industrialised countries, green the developing countries. Newly industrialising countries such as China, Thailand and Mexico are represented by orange. With world-wide carbon trading (a world climate bank is proposed) the pattern would be varied along these lines:

Figure 6: The carbon budget approach with carbon trading
Figure 6: The carbon budget approach with carbon trading

By 2100 all countries are allowed the same per capita emissions.

There is no doubt at all that the Germans and possibly the Europeans hoped for a deal along these lines from the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. In the end a weak ‘contribute what suits you’ deal was cooked up in a small unofficial meeting that took place when President Obama went looking for his Chinese counterpart and found him ensconced with the leaders of India, Brazil, South Africa and others. The Europeans were not in the room. To say they were pissed off is an understatement. Nor was our man Rudd in the room, one of three leaders appointed to assist the Danish chair.

Now we have a deal to conclude a deal by 2015 within the UNFCCC framework, to be implemented from 2020. We’ve lost five years and the task is immensely harder.

Parkinson notes that our skinny remaining carbon budget means we can only afford to use about 10% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves. But there is $4 trillion of shareholder value tied up in 200 listed companies in the industry carrying $1.5 trillion in loans. Writing down the value of that lot could break a few banks deemed too big to fail.

We’ve got a crisis for sure and a choice between two catastrophes.

It will be interesting to see what the mitigation working group comes up with. For my money, whatever they propose the Americans and the Chinese will not be pinned down to anything binding. In both cases their internal politics will not allow it.

The full WG1 report is now available. It’s 2126 pages long and they ask you not to quote it yet.

I outlined the budget approach in a post in January 2011:
Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now.

This was a repost and update of one I did in May 2009, Climate crunch which linked to a special edition of Nature where I think an early version of the Potsdam climate budget approach was outlined.

The post Suffer the little children told the story of what happened in Copenhagen and beyond.

Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?

In sum, the dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability.

In other words, we’re f*cked!

That quote was from here, linked from Christopher Wright.

The quote was actually from the abstract of a sober, technical paper by geophysicist Brad Werner. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report will also be sober and technical, based on peer reviewed literature, at least accepted for publication two to three months before the draft of each section is finalised, plus ‘grey’ material, which I take it means reliable sources such as government reports and reports prepared by or for organisations such as the International Energy Association, the World bank and our erstwhile Climate Commission.

There will be three working group reports, each with a summary for policymakers, plus a synthesis report. The working groups are:

    WG1: The Physical Science Basis
    WG2: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
    WG3: Mitigation of Climate Change

It remains to be seen how urgent and dramatic the summaries for policymakers will be. The full import won’t be on view until the publication of WG3 in April next year, but the first should give us an idea of the seriousness of the situation.

Here’s the timetable for releasing the reports:


Here’s the site for WG1. Here’s where the Summary for Policymakers should appear on 27 September. Here are the chapter headings of the report, due on Monday: Continue reading Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?