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What to expect from the next major global climate report

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change grabbed the world’s attention in 2018 when it issued a sober report warning that – in no uncertain way – world leaders had to take drastic and immediate steps to mitigate the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

Policymakers responded with a range of emotions, from denial to anger. But the message was clear. “Like a deafening and piercing smoke alarm coming out of the kitchen,” Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, told Washington Post IN time.

Next month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – or IPCC for short – plans to release another report. And again, scientists, lawmakers and activists are preparing for the news.

The report will come three months before world leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to test and understand a plan to avert the worst effects of climate change. And it’s all but certain that the IPCC findings will inform that debate.

So what is IPCC and what does it do?

One thing that is not is a fly-per-night operation. The UN group has existed for more than three decades by evaluating the science behind climate change, designing what is to come, and providing ways to respond. All with the eyes of the world upon him.

“No other science has been examined as severely as climate science in the last 30 years, and this thanks to these intergovernmental reports,” he said. Corinne Le Quéré, research professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia.

A consistent message between them: an increasingly strong statement about the human impact of global warming as a result of rising greenhouse gases, said Emily Shuckburgh, director of the Cambridge Neutral Carbon Initiative

On August 9, the IPCC will release the first of four reports under its final evaluation cycle. Here are five things to know about the IPCC, its forthcoming report and the policy surrounding the effort.

1. What it is

The IPCC is made up of government representatives who order regular environmental reports from academics from around the world. Those experts have been producing their estimates over a seven-year cycle since 1988, with separate reports in the intervening years. The IPCC is currently in the sixth evaluation cycle.

The assessments are divided between three working groups, each with a different focus and published at different intervals.

Working Group I is a synthesis of existing physical science. It answers questions about how much global warming is happening and where; how warming the oceans, sea level rise and weather changes affect; and sets out predictions of what we may see in the future. This is the report to be published in August.

Working Group II, scheduled for February, focuses on how vulnerable people and nature are to global warming, the costs of climate impact or adaptation options. Working Group III, to come to Mars, will consider options for meeting global temperature targets and scenarios for renewable energy or carbon capture and storage.

2. How it works

At the end of the cycle there is a final synthesis report. This cycle will also include a task force report on national greenhouse gas inventories.

On August 9, the IPCC will release its summary to policymakers following a series of meetings where it will be discussed, reviewed and then signed.

There are more than 230 authors from 65 countries. Men have historically made up the majority of these contributors, though that pattern has begun to change. Women now make up about 30% of the group. A gender panel and task force is working to bring more women into the process.

The final assessment will include new advances in science and a better understanding of human impact on global warming. It will also have an interactive atlas – a new addition – and five discharge scenarios that will explore the impact of emissions growth.

3. What to look for

A safety statement: Each assessment has included a level of confidence that human activities are responsible for the predicted heat. The latter in 2013 placed that belief highly probable.

Shifting baselines: This assessment will be fueled by a new generation of computer models. A report last year, for example, suggested that the historic rise in temperature has been slightly greater than previously thought, said Richard Black, a senior fellow at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. “What will be returned in terms of the remaining carbon budget?” he asked.

Other gases: Given the advances in science around the various greenhouse gases, Working Group I may share how to treat carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases with long life from methane and other short life gases.

Timing: What impact could the report have on future meetings, such as the UN General Assembly, the G20 and climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland? Is the window for reaching the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature limit of the Paris Agreement closing? How fast? How feasible is it to meet the temperature targets?

Formulation: The strength of the IPCC is that it is comprehensive, Le Quéré said. It is the only report looking at measurements from land to ocean to the stratosphere. Looks at modeling and human experience. This makes even more important the strength of language and the coherence between observations. She said she expects all new information to come together in a powerful way.

4. What makes this assessment different

The last major report by Working Group I was published in 2013. What has happened since then is seven years of a warming climate. At that time, the nations also signed the Paris Agreement, which includes very clear targets around the heating limits of 1.5 C.

It also brings a number of important challenges related to climate science assessment. Global warming has unfolded at roughly the rate predicted in the 1990s, Le Quéré said. “But what we see now is that the heat itself, the extreme events, we can see with our own eyes.”

There is also much more detailed information about the regional distribution of these events and the role of attribution in climate change. In many cases, attribute science has been able to scientifically demonstrate that climate change has increased the probability of extreme weather events, and much of this knowledge is due to new observations and modeling.

The Working Group offers a variety of climate forecasts taking into account an emission scenario. In the past, he has focused on the most likely climate forecasts. But its time around, Le Quéré said, governments have urged the IPCC to look at low-probability events that could be very damaging.

That means much clearer information about the risks of extreme climate events and much more regional information as required by individual governments, she added.

5. Points of contention

As Black points out, all governments accept these reports, so they cannot say they did not know what science was saying. The question is: Will they translate that science into action?

Another bad topic is the carbon budget. While it unites so much of science, it also encompasses all the uncertainty that goes with projection, Le Quéré said.

There may also be issues about the procedure because it is the first time there has been an attempt to pass a review for policymakers on Zoom, Black said. If countries are looking for an excuse to spoil everyone, that’s a good thing, he added.

It would be better if all reports – including Working Group II on Impacts and Sensitivity and Working Group III on Mitigation – were released ahead of climate change talks in November, Shuckburgh said.

But what next month’s report presents, she added, will make very clear the risk that climate change poses. It will then be up to the leaders to respond.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.

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