Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

IPCC SREX released

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The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) for the IPCC Special Report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) was released late last night our time. The final plenary was held in Kampala Uganda, finishing on the 17th before the release yesterday. As usual, it is gone through line by line by IPCC country member representatives and the co-ordinating lead authors to craft a document that contains key policy messages while retaining true to the science in the report.

The SPM is complex and has already been given a number of interpretations in the press. The ABC news says extreme weather to worsen with climate change. The Australian focuses on the uncertainty Climate change effects unknown: IPCC report. A quick survey of Google news suggests that most outlets are focusing on extremes to worsen, or the qualified some extremes to worsen.

The Australian is different. Its header says:

GREAT uncertainty remains about how much of an impact climate change will have on future extreme weather events, the world’s leading climate scientists have found.

While there has been an increase in warm days and a decrease in cold nights, the likely impact on future weather events would not be evident for decades because of natural variability, the scientists say in a key review prepared for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This completely ignores the thrust of the report, which is to address the risks of extreme climate-related events and disasters and manage changing risk through adaptation. The great value of the report is not so much in its headline findings, which are complex but are in bringing the climate, adaptation and disaster communities together. These two communities had a hard time of it in the writing of the report bringing together different language, concepts, views of risk and methods of assessing vulnerability and adaptation.

That they have completed the report and had it approved by the IPCC members says a lot for the efforts of the authors to create a comprehensive report put together by two different research communities.  Most climate impacts are felt through extremes, so these ties are extremely valuable and continue to build into the future. That is the key message from this report.

The report did not address the question of attribution to human causes at all save to report what was in the literature.  Their definition of climate change included all causes (sensibly) and they were much more concerned about how climate extremes, exposure and vulnerability combined to results in harm being caused to places and communities.

For example:

Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters have increased, but with large spatial and interannual variability (high confidence, based on high agreement, medium evidence).

Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of the long term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement).

Trends in exposure and vulnerability are major drivers of changes in disaster risk (high confidence).

Development practice, policy, and outcomes are critical to shaping disaster risk, which may be increased by shortcomings in development (high confidence).

Data on disasters and disaster risk reduction are lacking at the local level, which can constrain improvements in local vulnerability reduction (high agreement, medium evidence).

Inequalities influence local coping and adaptive capacity, and pose disaster risk management and adaptation challenges from the local to national levels (high agreement, robust evidence).

Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction provide an opportunity for reducing weather and climate-related disaster risk and for improving adaptive capacity (high agreement, robust evidence).

These are the important findings. Media and blogs who emphasise future uncertainties while ignoring these robust and important findings can go stick their heads where the sun don’t shine.

More tomorrow.

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Written by Roger Jones

November 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

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