Is the IPCC still relevant to UNFCCC?

In a recent post on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] post-Durban quarter-backing, Dr. Judith Curry asks:

My main question at this point is whether the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC is relevant to what is going on at this point with the UNFCCC? If the AR5 has higher confidence in its findings, does that matter? Does it matter whether the sensitivity estimates move up or down? I suspect that the answer is no.

My short answer, Dr. Curry, is that I’m not at all convinced that – from the UNFCCC’s perspective – the answer to either of these questions ever mattered! And here’s my (somewhat) longer answer …

A few days ago, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I had observed:

I’ve often wondered why it is – since “the science” on which the UNFCCC claims to rely has determined that “unprecedented” global warming is “unequivocal” and that human-generated CO2 is the primary “cause” (so the “experts” and media mavens keep telling us ad nauseam) – that the UNFCCC has not said, “Thank you very much, IPCC, you’ve given us everything we asked for. Now you can retire … or move on to the next scare”.

Maybe the IPCC and the UNFCCC long ago lapsed – well-past a tipping-point – into an irremediable state of co-dependency.

The IPCC seems to need the UNFCCC for its “make work” projects, while the UNFCCC seems to need the IPCC (as I had noted) so that it can claim to be depending on (or “informed by” which seems to be the current phrasing of choice) “science”.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to spring a surprise quiz on all the delegates in order to determine how many of them had actually read (and understood!) even the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Fourth Assessment Report (not to mention any of the “science” on which it was based).

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) “A Reporting Service for Environment and Development Negotiations” is produced by a group called IISD – which does have its own biases, and needless to say they are on the “green” side. They have provided an extensive summary of the Durban deliberations.

In this 34 page, 30,000+ word summary, the IPCC rates six mentions. From their PDF version of this webpage, here they are.

Please note: Headings following page numbers are those I’ve tracked back within the document and have inserted for the purpose of context and all emphases are mine.

The first mention of the IPCC to my mind, doesn’t really count, because the context is merely part of the the history and background, but which I’m citing in full for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the outcomes from last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP):

P. 2 [CANCUN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE]

Following four preparatory meetings in 2010, the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, took place from 29 November to 11 December 2010. By the end of the conference, parties had finalized the Cancun Agreements, which include decisions under both negotiating tracks. Under the Convention track, Decision 1/CP.16 recognized the need for deep cuts in global emissions in order to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C. Parties also agreed to consider strengthening the global long-term goal during a review by 2015, including in relation to a proposed 1.5°C target. They took note of emission reduction targets and nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) communicated by developed and developing countries, respectively (FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1/Rev.1 and FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/INF.1, both issued after Cancun). Decision 1/CP.16 also addressed other aspects of mitigation, such as measuring, reporting and verification (MRV); reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+).

Parties also agreed to establish several new institutions and processes, such as the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Committee, as well as the Technology Mechanism, which includes the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). On finance, Decision 1/CP.16 created the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was designated to be the new operating entity of the Convention’s financial mechanism and is to be governed by a board of 24 members. Parties agreed to set up a Transitional Committee tasked with the Fund’s detailed design, and established a Standing Committee to assist the COP with respect to the financial mechanism. They also recognized the commitment by developed countries to provide US$30 billion of fast-start finance in 2010-2012, and to jointly mobilize US$100 billion per year by 2020.

Under the Protocol track, Decision 1/CMP.6 included agreement to complete the work of the AWG-KP and have the results adopted by the CMP as soon as possible and in time to ensure there will be no gap between the first and second commitment periods. The CMP urged Annex I parties to raise the level of ambition of their emission reduction targets with a view to achieving aggregate emission reductions consistent with the range identified in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Parties also adopted Decision 2/CMP.6 on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).

The mandates of the two AWGs were extended to the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban.

As you read through the “official mentions” in this quasi-official record, see if you can guess two particular mentions that – IMHO, based on activities during the past year – one would have expected to find but are somewhat conspicuous by their absence!

P. 9 [OTHER MATTERS REFERRED BY THE SUBSIDIARY BODIES (TO COP)]

RESEARCH AND SYSTEMATIC OBSERVATION

This agenda item (FCCC/SBSTA/2011/MISC.8, FCCC/SBSTA/2011/MISC.8/Add.1 and FCCC/SBSTA/2011/MISC.14) was taken up in the SBSTA plenary on 29 November. SBSTA [UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice -hro] conclusions and a draft COP decision were adopted on 3 December. The COP adopted the decision on 9 December.

SBSTA Conclusions: In its conclusions (FCCC/SBSTA/2011/ L.27), the SBSTA welcomes the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Weather Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation and invites parties and international and regional research programmes to provide information on technical and scientific aspects of, inter alia, emissions by sources and removals by sinks.

COP Decision: In the decision (FCCC/SBSTA/2011/L.27/Add.1), the COP urges parties and invites regional and international research programmes to discuss needs, and convey findings from, climate change research.

The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Weather Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation seems to have made its way through the maze to become incorporated in a “COP Decision” via:

P. 10 [OTHER MATTERS REFERRED BY THE SUBSIDIARY BODIES (TO COP)]

[…]

NAIROBI WORK PROGRAMME:

This issue was first addressed in the opening SBSTA plenary on 28 November. The EU supported making the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) more relevant for practitioners. Delegates were briefed on the recent IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.

This November 28 “briefing” appears to be a reference to a Statement by Renate Christ. Here are some excerpts:

SBSTA-35, Agenda Item 3
Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change (NWP)
Statement by Ms. Renate Christ, Secretary of the IPCC
Durban, South Africa, 28 November 2011

Completion of the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation
[…]
Allow me to highlight a few key findings of the assessment that are relevant for the NWP:

A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.

There is evidence from observations gathered since 1950 of change in some extremes particularly daily temperature extremes, and heat waves.

Confidence in projecting future changes in the direction and magnitude of climate extremes depends on many factors, including the type of extreme, the region and season, the amount and quality of observational data and the level of understanding of the underlying processes.
[…]
– It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe.

– Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, although not in all ocean basins. However, it is also likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged.

– There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st century in some seasons and areas.

– It is very likely that mean sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme coastal high water levels.

– There is high confidence that changes in heat waves, glacial retreat and permafrost degradation will affect high mountain phenomena such as slope instabilities and glacial lake outburst floods.

[Ms. Christ concludes:]

Opportunities exist to create synergies in international finance for disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change. Integration of local knowledge with additional scientific and technical knowledge can improve disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

To conclude – interactions among climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management may have a major influence on resilient and sustainable pathways.

I cannot imagine why – on the strength of the above – the delegates to the COP weren’t on their feet unanimously declaiming that ‘it’s worse than we thought, and we must act now!’ You don’t suppose it’s because “the science” has given them absolutely no reason to do so? Nah, couldn’t be!

P. 16 [14th Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA)]

ENHANCED ACTION ON MITIGATION DEVELOPED COUNTRY MITIGATION:

This item was considered during informal consultations co-facilitated by Karine Hertzberg (Norway) and José Alberto Garibaldi Fernandez (Dominican Republic). The issues discussed were: the level of ambition, biennial reports, and international assessment and review (IAR). Many parties expressed willingness to begin drafting on the basis of the non-papers from Panama. The EU suggested that the decision focus on: recognizing and establishing a process to narrow the ambition gap; an international, common rules-based accounting system; and a process to understand the assumptions underlying current pledges.
[…]
On accounting, Australia supported a common accounting framework for all parties. The EU said common accounting rules are key to increasing ambition and ensuring transparency. The US said the development of such rules was not mandated by the Cancun Agreements and suggested they be based on IPCC methodologies.

I’m not sure quite what to make of the above, except perhaps that the UNFCCC might have a fixed quota of IPCC mentions that must be adhered to in quasi-official reports of the deliberations of this body and its numerous committees and sub-groups.

P. 24 [Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)]

Parties met in diverse fora to address outstanding text, and on 11 December the CMP closing plenary adopted a decision. CMP Decision: In its decision (FCCC/KP/AWG/2011/L.3/Add.2) the CMP, inter alia:

• decides that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks shall be accounted with the principles and definitions referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Decision 2/CMP.6 and in accordance with the annex to the decision;

invites the IPCC to review and, if necessary, update supplementary methodologies for estimating anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions; and

• agrees to consider the need to revise decisions of the CMP relevant to the annex contained, including those related to reporting and review.

P. 28 [Durban Outcome]

This decision (FCCC/CP/2011/L.10) on the Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, is part of the Durban Package, and launches a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties, through a new subsidiary body under the Convention known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, starting its work in the first half of 2012.The decision also, inter alia:
[…]
decides that the process shall raise the level of ambition and shall be informed, inter alia, by the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the outcomes of the 2013-2015 Review and the work of the subsidiary bodies;

In case you were wondering, The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action appears to be the latest and greatest in the UN stable of acronymic offspring – although it hasn’t yet officially landed in the “Glossary” [As a public service, I offer this cheat-sheet screen capture of this Glossary]. But I digress …

Some excerpts from the IPCC’s chosen spin on the Durban Outcome:

Statement by the IPCC
13 December 2011

Action must be taken swiftly to cut emissions to prevent a damaging rise in world temperatures, Climate Panel findings show

Governments meeting at the annual climate conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015, to be adopted and come into force from 2020. At the same time they recognized the need to raise their collective level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been asked what impact these agreements will have on global warming.
[…]
But already in its fourth assessment report published in 2007, the IPCC showed that a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius could have a damaging effect on water supplies, biodiversity, food supplies, coastal flooding and storms and health.

[And to the surprise of very few, I would imagine, the IPCC concluded (in its inimitable “non-policy-prescriptive” way)]

This must be borne in mind in the package. The earlier action is taken, the cheaper and more effective it will be.

One thing that struck me as I was reading through this summary was the apparent phasing out of the previously ubiquitous “target(s)” [only 22 instances] in favour of the evidently new, improved buzzword/buzzphrase “ambition / level(s) of ambition” [47 instances].

“Mechanism(s)” are still very much in favour [50 instances] – as is “finance/financial” [80 instances].

This tsunami of mechanisms and finance/financial almost drowns out “science” – which [at a lowly 4 instances] rates even fewer mentions than the IPCC!

As for the conspicuous absences I mentioned earlier … Let me preface my observations by noting that both of these could be innocent oversights – and they may well have been mentioned in the ENB reports on the days on which they occurred. But those IISD folks are fairly thorough in their reporting, so at the very least such absences in the summary are somewhat puzzling!

The first is that there is no mention of the IPCC’s Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) which was introduced to the world with much fanfare and many errors) earlier this year.

The second of these conspicuous absences is the fact that there is no mention of IPCC Chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri – who once declared that the UNFCCC is the IPCC’s ‘primary customer’. He did have a “Statement” prepared, evidently for delivery on November 30, which he began as follows:

Madame Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, Members of Civil Society, Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity!

When I had the privilege of addressing this august gathering at the opening session of COP 16, as indeed I did at the opening sessions of previous COPs, I highlighted some of the projected and possible impacts of climate change. Based on the findings of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), I had mentioned, for instance, that “approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperatures exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius”, and also that “anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change. Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply meters of sea level rise, major changes in coast lines and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands”.

Could it be that the UNFCCC has decided that its dependency on the “science” produced by this, well, Delinquent Teenager who was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert is no longer appropriate – or required?!

Perhaps the UNFCCC is in the process of throwing the IPCC under the proverbial bus – in the hopes of saving its own skin? And don’t forget that the IPCC’s younger sibling, the IPBES, is still waiting in the wings.

This might be why, in the US, NASA appears to have jumped onto the biodiversity bandwagon, already [h/t Peter Walsh via Bishop Hill]

This might also be why Joseph Alcamo, the UNEP’s Chief Scientist, and former climate consensus coordinator par excellence was heard on CBC radio’s The Current giving us the Next chorus, next verse … a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

In the meantime, I don’t know about you, but I’d really like to take a much closer look before leaping – as these “experts” (along with their acolytes and lesser lights) are perennially exhorting us to do.

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