Last Saturday night it was time for clocks to fall back an hour to Standard Time. When I woke up the next morning, the level of daylight was at odds with the wet grey morning. I emerged from sleep with a CBC Radio National News reporter announcing the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report: Synthesis Report. As I listened, I watched clouds transforming in the river valley—wisps of river fog merging with patches of hanging cloud merging with a blanket of steel grey cloud above: visual clues to processes in the atmosphere. Statements and quotes from the synthesis report drifted from the radio and then hung too.
Pushing these thoughts aside, I crawled out of bed; I bee-lined it straight for coffee; I snuggled into my favourite chair, but not for long. Despite my resolve not to: I turned on my computer and downloaded the Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report: Approved Summary for Policy Makers. At 40 pages, the report was a relatively fast read. In particular, considering that it distills reports from three working groups with over 1000 contributing authors—drawing on the insights of approximately 2,000 expert reviewers and assessing over 30,000 scientific papers—to produce 4,855 pages of reporting in Climate Change 2014: The Physical Science Basis (Working Group I), Climate Change 2014: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Working Group II), and Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group III). When I reached the end, I went back to the beginning and re-read the summary texts, in boxes and in bold, for each section (in the quotes following) and sub-section: an even shorter summary within a summary.
Post Update (11 March 2020): you can now find the IPCC Climate Change 2015 Synthesis Summary for Policy Makers report here.
Section Summaries from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: Synthesis Report
1. Observed Changes and their Causes
“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.“ (IPCC 2014b, p. 3)
2. Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.” (IPCC 2014b, p. 7)
3. Future Pathways for Adaptation, Mitigation and Sustainable Development
“Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.” (IPCC 2014b, p. 12)
4. Adaptation and Mitigation
“Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives. “ (IPCC 2014b, p. 18)
By this point, my philosophical and pensive mood was befitting of the weather, despite daylight’s advance on the day. I was grateful when the clouds finally broke to reveal a glorious fall day. With some nudging, Lothar convinced me to change my plans for the afternoon to go for a canoe paddle around Lake Kathlyn, perhaps the last of the season. (It’s snowing outside as I write.) I took the report with me—or rather the spirit and implications of it. I reflected on what I had read and we discussed and debated some of what we have learned about climate change and related topics. Mostly, I wondered if this time the world, various levels of governments and communities, families, and individuals, will finally take bold collaborative steps—commensurate with the messages that dedicated IPCC scientists have delivered in the Fifth Assessment Report—to reduce and manage the risks of climate change through mitigation and adaptation. The IPCC has done their job, now it’s up to humanity to carry it forward.
We live in an era of unprecedented change in the world.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists tell us about changes that have been unprecedented in at least 800,000 years including
- Warming atmosphere and ocean
- Diminishing snow and ice
- Rising sea level
- Concentrating carbon dioxide
Since reading the report, I’ve thought about how much the world has changed, politically, scientifically, socially, and technologically, since the first IPCC session was held in 1988. I also went back to summaries for the first (1990), second (1995), third (2001), and forth (2007) assessment reports to glean the evolution of their messages (in content, in style, in tone) to the fifth assessment report, 26 years later. The gist that I get, from my armchair amateur climate science perspective, is that climate change remains a grave concern for climate scientists. Risks are increasing and uncertainties about these risks—including uncertainties about influencing factors and their effects—are decreasing. If we want to, we can reduce risks. I think it would be wise to pay attention to what these experts have to say, make informed choices (at all levels of decision-making) about how to move forward, and take action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
There’s an important message of hope in this story.
The IPCC Press Release:
“Concluding installment of the Fifth Assessment Report: Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts, but options do exit to limit it’s effects”
“Human influence on the climate system is clear and growing, with impacts observed on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. However, options are available to adapt to climate change and implementing stringent mitigation activities can ensure that the impacts of climate change remain within a manageable range, creating a brighter and more sustainable future. These are among the key findings of the Synthesis Report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Sunday. The Synthesis Report distils and integrates the findings of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report produced by over 800 scientists and released over the past 13 months–the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever undertaken.” (IPCC 2014c)
I want to thank IPCC contributors too.
And then I wonder what it must be like for these scientists to do this work? I can only imagine. For their dedication, sacrifices and contributions, I am grateful.