ISIS Report 03/12/07
IPCC Final Climate Warning Before Bali
Evidence for global warming unequivocal and most likely due to human activities,
but there is high confidence for effective adaptation as well as high agreement
and much evidence of substantial economic potential for mitigation; the cost
of fighting global warming at the most stringent level will cost no more than
0.12 percent of global GDP a year up to 2030. Dr.
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The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Synthesis Report
, released 17 November 2007, presents “a stark and dire warning about climate
change”, and prepares the ground for the December meetings of the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol in Bali. The developed
countries are expected to make further commitments to reduce their greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol’s 2008-2012 first commitment period.
The week in
Valencia was described by Third World Network’s director Martin Khor as a
“long and difficult meeting” ; especially controversial was the section
on long term perspectives and the five “reasons for concern” in the Summary
for Policy Makers .
The Synthesis Report,
adopted after extensive comments by governments and several amendments, integrates
and condenses a vast body of scientific literature from three working group
reports released earlier in the year: The Physical Science Basis; Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and Mitigation of Climate Change.
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Warming of global climate “unequivocal” and accelerating
“Warming of the climate
system is unequivocal”, so said Dr. Rajenda Pachauri, Chair of the Interngovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, in his presentation to the press . Measurements
show air and ocean temperatures increasing, global sea level rising, snow
and ice reducing, increase in heavy rains, droughts, and heat waves .
Eleven of the
past twelve years are among the warmest on record since 1850. The last time that the earth
warmed to such an extent was at least 1 300 years ago. But the last time the
polar regions were significantly warmer than the present for an extended period
was 125 000 years ago, and it led to a 4 to 6 m rise in sea level.
Widespread decreases in glaciers
and ice caps have contributed to sea level rise. New data since the last assessment
report in 2001 show losses from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica
have very likely contributed to sea level rise over 1993 to 2003. Global sea
level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year between 1961 and 2003, but
the rate accelerated in the period between 1993 and 2003 to about 3.1 mm per
“At continental, regional and ocean basin scales, numerous
long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in
arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts,
ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts,
heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.”
temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past
100 years. Satellite data since 1978 show that annual average arctic sea ice
extent has shrunk by 2.7 percent per decade, with larger decreases in summer
of 7.5 to 9.8 percent per decade. Temperatures at the top of the permafrost
layer have generally increased since the 1980s in the Arctic
by up to 3 °C.
The maximum area covered by seasonally frozen ground has decreased by about
7 percent in Northern Hemisphere since 1900, with a decrease in spring of
up to 15 percent.
Long-term trends in rainfall from 1900 to 2005 have been observed
over many large regions: significant increase in eastern parts of North and
northern Europe and northern and central Asia; drying in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia.
Precipitation is highly variable spatially and temporally.
Globally, the area affected by drought has also increased since
There have been changes in precipitation and evaporation over the oceans with
freshening of mid- and high-latitude waters together with increased salinity
in low-latitude waters.
westerly winds have strengthened in both hemispheres since the 1960s. There
have been more intense and longer droughts over wider areas since the 1970s,
particularly in the topics and subtropics.
of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent
with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapour. There have
been widespread changes in extreme temperatures over the past 50 years. Cold
days, cold nights and frosts less frequent, while hot days, hot nights and
heat waves have become more frequent.
There is evidence
of “an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North
Atlantic since about 1970, with limited evidence of increases elsewhere.”
The text on cyclones
was subject to intense and protracted discussion, as the US had proposed introducing
a number of qualifications to the original , probably having in mind Hurricane
Katrina that hit the country in 2006, while Cyclone Sidr has just devastated
Bangladesh in November 2007, with an estimated 900 000 families affected and
a death toll of more than 10 000 and rising .
Human activities are the main cause of global warming
The Summary of the IPPC
Synthesis Report  expresses “very high confidence” that the net effect
of human activities since 1970 has caused global warming. “Most
of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th
century is very likely due to
the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” This is an advance since the
conclusion of the previous Third Assessment Report that “most of the observed
warming over the last 50 years is likely
to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”.
“Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects
of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature
extremes and wind patterns..” .
simulated by climate models using natural and anthropogenic emissions for
the period 1906 to 2005 indeed show that anthropogenic emissions are responsible
for temperature increases over both landmasses and the ocean.
increase in CO2 concentrations is due primarily to fossil fuel
use, with change in land use also contributing a significant amount. Increase
in the other major greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide are primarily
due to agriculture. CO2 has increased from a pre-industrial 280
to 379 ppm (parts per million) in 2005. The annual CO2 growth rate
was larger during the past ten years at 1.9 ppm per year than it has been
since the beginning of continuous direct measurements (1960-2005 average 1.4
ppm per year).
fossil CO2 emissions increased from an average of 6.4 Gt per year
in the 1990s to 7.2 Gt per year in 2000-2005. CO2 emissions association
with land-use change is estimated to be 1.6 per year over the 1990s. Global
methane in the atmosphere has increased from the pre-industrial value of about
715 to 1732 ppb (parts per billion) in the early 1990s and 1774 ppb in 2005,
exceeding by far the natural range of the past 650 000 years (320 to 790 ppb).
Growth rate has declined since the early 1990s. Global nitrous oxide increased
from pre-industrial value of about 270 to 319 ppb in 2005, its growth rate
approx constant since 1980, and more than a third is due to agriculture.
Dire impacts of climate change projected
Various IPCC scenarios (see
Box 1)  project emissions increases of between 25 and 90 percent between
2000 and 2030 and beyond. Continued emissions at or above the current rate
would cause further warming and induce many changes in the present century
“very likely” to be larger than
those observed during the past century.
The IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SREs)
The SRES scenarios are different models for predicting emissions,
global temperatures and other aspects of global warming under different
storylines, they do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly
assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change or the emissions targets
of the Kyoto Protocol.
A1 scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic
growth, with global population peaking in mid-century and declining thereafter,
and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. Major
underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased
cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional
differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three
groups distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil-intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources (A1T) or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying
too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar
improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use technologies).
A2 scenario family describes a very heterogeneous world. The
underlying theme is self-
and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions
converge very slowly, which results in continuously increasing population.
Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic
growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than other scenarios.
B1 scenario family describes a convergent world with the same
global population, that
in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 scenario, but with
rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy,
reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource-efficient
technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and
environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional
B2 scenario family describes a world that emphasizes local solutions
to economic, social and environmental sustainability, with continuously
increasing global population, at a rate lower than A2, intermediate levels
of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change
than in the B1 and A1. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental
protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.
Warming is inevitable
. For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade
is projected for a range of emission scenarios. “Even if the concentrations
of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels,
a further warming of about 0.1 °C per decade would be expected.” The projected
temperature rise by the end of this century is between 1.1 and
6.4 °C over all scenarios.
On the most stringent
goal set to combat climate change, emissions of GHG would have to peak by
2015 to limit temperature rises to 2.0 - 2.4 °C.
There is higher confidence
than in previous IPCC reports “in projected patterns of warming and other
regional-scale features.” This suggests an increase in the frequency of hot
extremes, heat waves and heavy rainfall. Rainfall is also very likely to increase
in the high latitudes and likely to decrease in most subtropical regions.
Tropical cyclones are likely to become more intense. There is “high confidence”
that many semi-arid areas, such as the Mediterranean basin, western United
States, southern Africa and northern Brazil, will suffer a decrease in water
for different regions are as follow .
·In Africa, between 75 and 250 million will be
exposed to increased water stress, yields from rain-fed agriculture will fall
by up to 50 percent
·In Asia, freshwater availability will decrease,
coastal areas will be at greater risk from increased flooding, and climate
change will compound pressures on natural resources and public health;
·In Latin America, there will be significant loss
of biodiversity through species extinction. The productivity of some important
crops will decline, with increase in the number of people at risk of hunger.
And water available for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation
is likely to be significantly affected.
·Small Islands are expected to face flooding, storm
surges, erosion and other coastal hazards, threatening vital infrastructure,
settlements and livelihoods. The erosion of beaches and coral bleaching is
expected to affect local resources, and by mid-century, climate change is
expected to reduce water resources in many small islands.
Global warming could
also lead to some impacts that are “abrupt or irreversible”. Approximately
20-30 percent of species are likely to be at increased risk of extinction
if warming exceeds 1.5 to 2.5 °C, and after 3.5 °C, models predict
extinctions of 40-70 percent of species.
different IPPC scenarios predict sea level rise between 18 and 59 cm by the
end of this century, the Synthesis Report Summary  states that more rapid
sea level rise over century time scales “cannot be excluded”. Complete elimination
of the Greenland ice sheet could cause a seven-metre sea level
rise. None of the IPPC scenarios include climate-carbon feedbacks, nor the
full effects of changes in ice sheet flows. Notably, the Report does “not
assess the likelihood, nor provide a best estimate or an upper bound for sea
Adaptation and mitigation options
The Summary  states that
“a wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation
than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate
change.” It alludes to “barriers, limits and costs” to adaptation “not fully
understood”, and says that the capacity to adapt is intimately connected to
social and economic development, which is unevenly distributed across and
to climate change can be exacerbated by other stresses, for example, “current
climate hazards, poverty and unequal access to resources, food insecurity,
trends in economic globalisation, conflict and incidence of diseases such
There is high
confidence that there are viable adaptation options that can be implemented
in some sectors at low cost, and/or with high benefit-cost ratios.”
Many obvious adaptation technologies are mentioned, such as rainwater harvesting,
improved land management, erosion control and soil protection through tree planting;
creation of marshlands/wetlands as buffer against sea level rise and flooding,
and heat-health action plans.
The Summary notes
that there is “high agreement
and much evidence of substantial
economic potential for mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming
decades that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce
emissions below current levels.”
Examples of mitigation technologies likely to prove controversial are nuclear
power, carbon dioxide capture and storage, and biofuels. Astonishingly, organic
agriculture is not mentioned among the mitigation technologies.
It states that no
single technology can provide all of the mitigation potential in any sector.
“The economic mitigation potential, which is generally greater than the market
mitigation potential, can only be achieved when adequate polices are in place
and barriers removed.” The economic potentials are based on the market price
of CO2  and have a ring of unreality to them. For one thing,
they are based on outdated prices for fossil fuels (crude oil at US$ 25/ barrel),
and have not factored in the strong demand for oil from China
in recent years (see later).
It mentions a wide variety of polices and instruments
available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action: higher
taxes on emissions, regulations, tradeable permits and research.
Perhaps the most important message
is that the costs of fighting global warming will range from less than 0.12
percent of Global GDP per year for the most stringent scenarios (stabilization
of atmospheric GHG at 445-535 ppm CO2e) until 2030 to less than
0.06 percent for a less tough goal (590-710 ppm CO2e). In the most
costly cases, a loss of GPD by 2030 is less than 3 percent.
The discussion on the long-term
perspective was the most controversial, given its particular importance for
framing the findings in the rest of the report, and hence its influence it
is likely to have at the UNFCCC negotiations . A Contact Group was formed
early in the week in Valencia to resolve this issue, and discussions
were mainly addressed through the Contact Group.
The objective of
the UNFCCC is “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere
at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the
climate system”. Such a level is to be achieved “within a time-frame sufficient
to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change”.
The Summary  concludes
that determining what constitutes “dangerous anthropogenic interference” involves
value judgements by policy-makers. But science can support informed decisions
on this issue, by providing criteria for judging which vulnerabilities might
be labelled “key”.
The bone of contention
at the Valencia meeting was the five “reasons for concern”:
risks to unique and threatened systems, risks of extreme weather events, distribution
of impacts and vulnerabilities, aggregate impacts, and risks of large-scale
singularities - which are considered a viable framework for considering key
vulnerabilities (see Box 2).
IPCC’s five “reasons for
concern” identifies key vulnerabilities for UNFCCC negotiations 
Risks to unique and threatened
There is “new and stronger
evidence of observed impacts of climate change on unique and vulnerable
systems (such as polar and high mountain communities and ecosystems) with
increasing levels of adverse impacts as temperatures increase further”.
An increasing risk
of species extinction and coral reef damage is projected with higher confidence
than in the last Assessment Report. There is increased confidence that a
1-2 oC increase in global mean temperature above 1990 levels
(about 1.5-2.5oC above pre-industrial) poses significant risks
to many unique and threatened systems including many biodiversity hotspots.
Increases in sea
surface temperature of about 1-3 oC are expected to result in
more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread coral mortality. Increasing
vulnerability of indigenous communities in the Arctic and
small island communities is also projected.
Risks of extreme weather
There is “higher confidence
in the projected increases in droughts, heatwaves, and floods as well as
their adverse impacts” and that there are higher levels of vulnerabilities
than that concluded in the last Assessment Report.
Distribution of impacts
According to the Summary,
“there are sharp differences across regions and those in the weakest economic
position are often the most vulnerable to climate change”.
There is also increasing
evidence of greater vulnerability of specific groups such as the poor and
elderly in developing and developed countries. There is increased evidence
that low-latitude and less-developed areas generally face greater risk,
for example in dry areas and mega-deltas.
Initial net market-based
benefits from climate change are projected in the Summary to peak at a lower
magnitude of warming, while damages would be higher for larger magnitudes
of warming. The net costs of impacts of increased warming are projected
to increase over time.
Risks of large-scale singularities
The Summary states that
“there is high confidence
that global warming over many centuries would lead to a sea level rise contribution
from thermal expansion alone which is projected to be much larger than observed
over the 20th century, with loss of coastal area and associated
had proposed that the section and the five reasons for concern should be deleted;
but in the end, they remained after extensive discussion and amendment. This
section helps to actively link the conclusion in the Summary with the UNFCCC’s
goal of avoiding “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
According to the
Summary , “key vulnerabilities” can be identified based on a number of
criteria in the literature including magnitude, timing, persistence/reversibility,
potential for adaptation, distributional aspects, likelihood and ‘importance’
of the impacts. These may be associated with many climate sensitive systems
such as food supply, infrastructure, health, water resources, coastal systems,
ecosystems, global biogeochemical cycles, ice sheets, and modes of oceanic
and atmospheric circulation.
The reasons for concern
were already reflected in the IPCC Third Assessment Report, but are considered
to be stronger now in the current IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, as many of
the risks are identified with higher confidence and some risks are projected
to be larger or to occur at lower increases of temperature. In addition, the
understanding about the relationship between impacts and vulnerability has
The Summary  reflected
the hard fought interest of the countries that discussed and finalised the
document, says Martin Khor . The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC and
its Summary will be the scientific basis on which important policy decisions
for future emissions reduction and other commitments will be taken by the
The US is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol and
is therefore not bound to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, although it
is still the largest (absolute and per capita) emitter in the world. The US was very active during the Valencia meetings and had made extensive
written proposals to essentially weaken the document, such as by downplaying
the likelihood of future global warming and by weakening the links between
the causes and effects of climate change. Part of the US’ submissions seemed to be aimed at attempting to divert the focus
from the developed countries’ responsibility onto other developing countries
with large emissions (but much smaller per capita emissions).
often sought to introduce language on “spillover effects”, meaning the effects
of climate change on countries whose economies are dependent on oil, which
may suffer declining demand for oil as countries shift towards energy efficiency
and renewable energies.
The majority of countries
were mainly concerned with finalising a document that reflected the findings
and conclusions of the IPCC scientists. Of the developing countries, the
small island states were among the main advocates for conclusions supporting
The IPCC reports
are consensus scientific documents that consist of mainstream climate change
findings, and have been widely criticized as being on the conservative side.
As pointed out
in The New York Times , the
process of producing an assessment report takes five years of study
and writing and cannot take into account the very latest data on climate change
or economic trends, which show larger than predicted development and energy
use in China.
Gernot Klepper at the Kiel Institute for World Economy in
Germany points out that the world is already at or above the
worst-case scenario in terms of emissions. In 2006, 8.5 Gt of C (31.17 Gt
CO2) were released into the atmosphere from fossil fuels, which
is almost identical to the IPCC’s worst-case prediction for that year.
The same goes for the future melting of ice sheets in Greenland
and western Antarctica. In earlier reports, the panel’s scientists acknowledged
that their computer models were poor at such predictions, and did not reflect
the rapid melting recently observed. If these areas melt entirely, sea level
would rise by 40 feet (12.2 metres). There is now evidence this could happen
much faster, perhaps over centuries instead of millennia.
thread of discussion that will be an important component in the UNFCCC negotiations
is the issue of technology and financing for mitigation and adaptation, and
the barriers to developing countries in successfully realizing them. The Summary
 acknowledges these barriers but does not specify them and constantly suggests
that they are “not fully understood”.
the cost of fighting climate change through combined adaptation and mitigation
to keep atmospheric CO2 at the lowest levels is as cheap as 0.12
percent of global GDP per year as estimated , then these unspecified barriers
could hardly be insurmountable. That’s perhaps the best message to take forward