SRA Risk Researchers Assess New IPPC Climate Change Report

The latest Working Group I report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released in late September of 2013. SRA researchers respond.

Almost three dozen presentations at the upcoming December 2013 meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis in Baltimore will involve our changing climate in some way. Some of the researchers presenting this work agreed to comment on what was new in the latest report and what impact they thought it would have.

The consensus? These researchers believe the report, while useful, will have little impact because the real problems lie elsewhere.

Janet Yang, Assistant Professor of Communication at the State University of New York at Buffalo, stresses that this report indicates it is “extremely likely” that recent climate warming has been anthropogenic.

This is a stronger statement than in previous reports. “And for the first time,” Yang adds, “the report set an upper limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be released” to keep total post-industrial warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Yang agrees, though, with environmental writer Andrew Revkin, who mentioned in a recent Dot Earth blog post that “the basics of climate change were clear long ago and the response to global warming is more about ethics and economics than [scientific] data.”

Yang and her colleagues are presenting two papers on climate change communication at SRA 2013. She notes that communication is “even more important” than ever in encouraging individuals to adopt pro-environmental behaviors.

Pia-Johanna Schweizer, Senior Researcher at the University of Stuttgart’s ZIRIUS Center, will present her work on climate change governance at SRA 2013. Schweizer is “rather pessimistic” that the latest IPCC report will seriously affect policy making or international negotiations, despite widespread media attention.

“The stalemate is not due to scientific uncertainty but to social implications,” Schweizer explains. She echoes Revkin in citing equity issues, moral and ethical considerations, and questions of who will pay the price and who will profit as the central concerns.

Karen Akerlof, Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia, agrees that the report may have “very little public or political impact.”

The report says that human influence is clear, Akerlof observes. “Yet this has not been an area of controversy within the scientific community for some time.”

Even so, Akerlof’s work on sea-level rise as a growing hazard for coastal communities – her recent project concerns coastal Maryland – resonates with the conclusions of the report. Akerlof will also present her research at SRA 2013.

Involving 209 lead authors, 50 review editors, and more than 600 contributing authors from around the globe, the WG I report (available here) addressed the physical science basis of climate change and is one of three components of the IPPC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The other two components are new reports from WG II (impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability) and WG III (mitigation), plus the AR5 synthesis report. All are due out in 2014.

                                                                                                                          Susanna Priest, Ph.D.

                                                                                                                          SRA News Editor


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