Saturday, April 07, 2007

Working Group II report released

If you're reading this site, you probably follow climate change somewhat and are very much aware that yesterday the IPCC released the summary for policy makers of the Working Group II report.

To recap: the IPCC divides its effort in to three working groups. Working Group I covers the science and released their summary back in February. Working Group II "assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it."

You can download the Working Group II summary for policymakers here.

According to this schedule, the full report was also supposed to be released but I can't find it on the IPCC site.

Pre-release coverage: The first week of April had many stories previewing the report. One of the most interesting was this AP story by Seth Borenstein dated April 1st (but not a joke). A lot of coverage is given to a chart that shows the effects of each degree of global warming. Dr. Andrew Weaver gets the juicy quote calling it the "highway to extinction". Mr. Borenstein speculates its likely to be the subject of intense debate but it made it in to the final report as Table SPM-1.

The predictions for the upper end are pretty gloomy. Borenstein concludes with this hopeful quote:
“The worst stuff is not going to happen because we can't be that stupid,” said Harvard University oceanographer James McCarthy, who was a top author of the 2001 version of this report. “Not that I think the projections aren't that good, but because we can't be that stupid.”
Cynical response to Dr. McCarthy: Oh ye of little faith.

Seriously, lets hope we're indeed not that stupid.

The NY Times pre-release coverage, by Andrew Revkin and based on a preliminary copy they received, gives a bit to much space to the supposed "good side" of climate change: less deaths from cold and a greener world. As noted later, the bad ultimately overcomes the good. So why mention it? The "less deaths from cold" seems particularly weak but the details are in the full report which I haven't seen. Yes if there's less cold, there will be less deaths from cold but if the goal is "less deaths" then its not at all clear there will be any benefit.

Post release coverage: The NY times coverage is also by Andrew Revkin with James Kanter. The article correctly describes how the WGII report shows that climate change will affect the poor the most:
“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the panel. “People who are poor are least-equipped to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and therefore in some sense this does become a global responsibility in my view.”

I'm a little disturbed at this quote from co-chariman Martin Parry: “We’re no longer arm-waving with models,” he said. “This is empirical information on the ground.” Its good to have data from the ground but climate models are only arm-waving if you don't understand them. A better statement would be: "We now have data to confirm the theoretical calculations from the model". That's how science works, ya know.

The NY Times article also mentions some of the controversy that apparently began in the last meeting hours before release of the report when China and other countries' diplomats wanted some of the language watered down. AP's Seth Borenstein also writes about this. As Borenstein mentioned in his pre-release coverage Table SPM-1 was the subject and he reports it had parts removed and altered. They also argued about "confidence" vs. "high confidence" in some of the results. Why bother? Well they only make these reports once every 7 years and this one will guide policymakers for a while. The Times notes that the U.S. diplomats were *not* part of the dilution effort.

No comments: