Clarifying the IPCC

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Key Terms

IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (group that brings together all the information we have to help decision makers make decisions)

AR5: Fifth Assessment Report (this group has released 5 reports over the past few decades to keep us updated with the latest discoveries/science/understanding, the AR5 is the most up to date as of 2015)

RCP: Representative Concentration Pathways (different model scenarios if we:

  1. do nothing (RCP 8.5), business as usual, aka ‘worst case scenario’,
  2. make some changes (RCP 6.0),
  3. make some more significant changes (RCP 4.5) and
  4. (4) cut emissions, remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and switch to alternative energy, aka ‘best case scenario’ (RCP 2.6)

Take Home Messages

Attribution (What is happening and what is the cause?)

  • The air is warming, the ocean is warming, sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing in area, the oceans are acidifying (by dissolving CO2)
  • These occurrences are caused by anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions by burning fossil fuels, nothing in the natural system can account for these changes over the past several decades

Future Projections (What could happen if we stop emissions?  What could happen if we do nothing?)

  • The range of model scenarios shows a range of outcomes from slight warming (2 deg C; best case scenario, RCP 2.6) to warming approaching that of when the dinosaurs roamed the planet (reminder, mammals were not the favored species of a climate that warm) (5 deg C; worst case scenario, RCP 8.5) by the end of the century.
  • Sea level will continue to rise, the amount of rise depends on our actions in the next ten years
  • Warmer air can hold more moisture, this means wet places will become wetter and dry places will become drier.  This holds true for all seasons, and partially explains the intense winter storms this year.  Extreme precipitation events in wet areas will become more intense and more frequent.
  • Climate change amplifies existing risks and creates new risks like:
    • undermine food security
    • reduce water resources
    • impact human health – heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, storm surges
    • substantial species extinction
    • constraints on common human activity

Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainable Development (What can we do? When do we need to do it?)

  • Adaptation and mitigation work together to help reduce the risks associated with global warming, both need to be done
  • Delaying adaptation and mitigation efforts makes more of a problem for future generations, more immediate adaptation actions will enhance future options and preparedness.
  • Examples of actions with co-benefits include: (page 20 of the IPCC AR5 summary for policy makers)
    • improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, leading to reduced emissions of health-damaging climate-altering air pollutants
    • reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water
    • sustainable agriculture and forestry
    • protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services
  • Behavior, lifestyle and culture have a considerable influence on energy use and associate emissions; changes in consumption patters, adoption of energy saving measures, dietary change and reduction in food wastes will substantially lower emissions (page 32 of the IPCC AR5 summary for policy makers)
  • National governments play key roles in adaptation planning: economic options, laws and regulations, policies and programs
    • carbon price
    • cap and trade
    • carbon taxes
    • weaken the link between Greenhouse gases (GHG) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
    • tax rebates or exemptions, grants, loans and credit lines for purchasing alternative energy technologies
    • transport, industry, and buildings are the biggest contributors to emissions: The choice is yours

Have a look, it’s an impressive document that deserves a wider discussion: IPCC AR5 Summary for Policy Makers

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