14 November 2011

Leaked Text of IPCC Extremes Report

Has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finally gotten the issue of extreme events right?  Maybe so. At the BBC Richard Black says that he has a copy of the forthcoming IPCC extremes report and shares some of what it says prior to being considered by governments this week:
For almost a week, government delegates will pore over the summary of the IPCC's latest report on extreme weather, with the lead scientific authors there as well. They're scheduled to emerge on Friday with an agreed document.

The draft, which has found its way into my possession, contains a lot more unknowns than knowns.
He  describes a report that is much more consistent with the scientific literature than past reports (emphasis added):
When you get down to specifics, the academic consensus is far less certain.
There is "low confidence" that tropical cyclones have become more frequent, "limited-to-medium evidence available" to assess whether climatic factors have changed the frequency of floods, and "low confidence" on a global scale even on whether the frequency has risen or fallen.

In terms of attribution of trends to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, the uncertainties continue.

While it is "likely" that anthropogenic influences are behind the changes in cold days and warm days, there is only "medium confidence" that they are behind changes in extreme rainfall events, and "low confidence" in attributing any changes in tropical cyclone activity to greenhouse gas emissions or anything else humanity has done.

(These terms have specific meanings in IPCC-speak, with "very likely" meaning 90-100% and "likely" 66-100%, for example.)

And for the future, the draft gives even less succour to those seeking here a new mandate for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions, declaring: "Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability".

It's also explicit in laying out that the rise in impacts we've seen from extreme weather events cannot be laid at the door of greenhouse gas emissions: "Increasing exposure of people and economic assets is the major cause of the long-term changes in economic disaster losses (high confidence).

"Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change."
None of this is a surprise to me, and it won't be to regular readers of this blog. After working for more than a decade on this issue with many colleagues around the world, it is indeed satisfying to see the climate science community on the brink of finally get this topic right, after botching it at almost every previous opportunity.

But before declaring victory, it is worth noting Black's expectation that governments will be pressing for different conclusions because money is at stake:
Developing countries like the fact that under the UN climate process, the rich are committed to funding adaptation for the poor.

Yet as the brief prepared for the Dhaka meeting by the humanitarian charity Dara shows, it isn't happening anywhere near as fast as it ought to be.

Only 8% of the "fast-start finance" pledged in Copenhagen, it says, has actually found its way to recipients.

It's possible - no, it's "very likely" - that the IPCC draft will be amended as the week progresses, and presumably the governments represented at the Climate Vulnerable Forum will be asking their delegates to inject a greater sense of urgency.
The good news about the leaked document is that efforts to alter the text will be noticed. Based on Black's report, it seems that the IPCC has at long last done the right thing on extreme events and climate change.  It will be most interesting to see the reactions.


  1. Whatever the IPCC will put in the report will not revive Kyoto. Of the 5 biggest emitters, only EU (#3) is committed to cutting emissions and giving money (CDMs).

    I think there will be more pressure among developing countries to make binding commitments as their own emissions grow relentlessly. The blame game angle won't work after 2015.

  2. There will of course be pressure to reword the report. One of the side-effects of the campaign for CO2 alarmism conducted by the IPCC is further to poison relationships between rich and poor countries. The extremists of the environmental 'movement' do not care much for either side as long as they suffer and diminish in wealth and numbers as quickly as possible. The draft report as it stands is a very welcome counter to such extremism, but many horses have bolted from the stable by now and I suppose it will take a lot more than a more honest report to get them back.

  3. I've been doing some my own climate research at NY Times archive for the 1930's. Anyone wanting stories on climate extremes in both NA and Europe should check it out. Almost the whole decade was very hot in the northern hemisphere. There is quite a bit on the heat wave in Russia. One article on an expedition to Franz Josef Isl. by the Russians indicates partly ice free conditions. I'm sure if this was happening now it would all be attributed AGW.

  4. Finally, people acknowledge what they know, don't know, and, perhaps, are incapable of knowing.

    Our response should be commensurate with an analyzed and substantiated risk assessment and level of uncertainty. We should adjust our behavior accordingly. This information, in addition to suitability to task, will influence the distribution of resources used in energy production.

    The best part, however, is that the scientific process will not be prematurely terminated. We may actually learn something form this experience. Perhaps even acquire the wisdom necessary to elevate the human condition and ensure the long-term viability of humanity.

    Well, this is a small, but positive step. We can ill afford for the scientific process to be subverted by special interests. No matter how well intentioned they may claim to be.

    the rich are committed to funding adaptation for the poor

    In order to mitigate the inevitable risk of corruption, this should ideally be accomplished through voluntary exploitation (e.g. economic exchange). Not only will this ensure the development of an economic foundation, but it will also permit for the people to develop in step with a sustainable economy.

  5. Greetings from Kampala.

    1. The IPCC report has nothing to do with whatever happens in Dhaka right now.

    2. The IPCC report has nothing to do with Kyoto.

    3. I wasn't aware IPCC was involved in a competition in which 'victory' was to be secured.

    Roger, you often show you want to be, and can be, a voice of reason in a polarised climate debate. Why don't you manage to do this when it comes to IPCC? The 'told you so' tone of your post doesn't suit you.

  6. -5-rjtklien

    Hi Richard, a few replies ...

    "I wasn't aware IPCC was involved in a competition in which 'victory' was to be secured."

    Actually, for more than a decade on the topic of extreme events the IPCC has been in a competition with accuracy, and it finally seems that accuracy is winning. Good for the IPCC.

    Given the history here, some of which you are aware of, I think my post is actually pretty tame stuff -- your skin in defense of the IPCC is not that thin, is it? ;-)

  7. 'If the century progresses without restraints on greenhouse gas emissions, their impacts will come to dominate, it forecasts:

    "It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, including heat waves, will continue to increase over most land areas...
    "It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls will increase in the 21st Century over many areas of the globe...
    "Mean tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase...
    "There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st Century in some seasons and areas...
    "Low-probability high-impact changes associated with the crossing of poorly understood thresholds cannot be excluded, given the transient and complex nature of the climate system.'

  8. under illusion, How ya going mate.
    In Australia, we have had the same expressions of faith by our climate commissioner, Tim Flannery, since about 2002. He claimed, as a scientist, that we would never have full dams again. Not only is almost every dam full in 2011, but our river systems have recently flushed salinity that had been building for a decade. What, are you telling me. I have no idea about science hypothesis, my mind can only accept reality.

  9. Even if "Unknown"'s claim about Tim Flannery weren't a lie (yet another of Andrew Bolt's misrepresentations), we have the fact of dishonestly selective quoting of the Richard Black article and the IPCC report.

  10. This draft will never see the light of day in the final report. There are too many climate scientists and government agencies invested in the alarmist meme. Natural variations... other causes of warming.... "How dare they!"
    Hank Zentgraf

  11. "They're scheduled to emerge on Friday with an agreed document."

    Good grief ... sounds like they're electing the next Pope. Will they send up a puff of green smoke to signify agreement?!

  12. user-illusion,
    Send all the history you want down the memory hole, but it will not change the facts.

  13. So much for the IPCC focusing on facts, as opposed to alarmism du conference:



    Top international climate scientists and disaster experts meeting in Africa had a sharp message Friday for the world's political leaders: Get ready for more dangerous and "unprecedented extreme weather" caused by global warming.

    And even more pathetic - the first 'scientist' to speak was from an NGO, and was a lead author.

    This leapord isn't changing its spots...

  14. I am having trouble reconciling your message with the climate alarmism being reported:


  15. When I plug "ipcc" into google news today I am seeing headlines such as:

    IPCC: Climate impact risk set to increase (BBC)
    Extreme weather to worsen with climate change: IPCC‎ (Reuters)
    IPCC chief braced for storms of denial over extreme weather report (Guardian)

    The last one (Guardian) is hilarious. It's like the author has read too many of Pachauri's romance novels and can't help from swooning.
    Actual quote from story:

    "... Pachauri rose to shake hands in farewell, Olympian calm intact."