IPCC’s new narrative and Future Earth, new kid on the “transformational” block

So, while Richard Betts of the U.K. Met Office, aka a “jewel in the crown” of U.K. and global science, continues to generate diversionary and dismissive fog, other prophets of doom from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), led by the math-challenged modeller and message manipulator in chief, Thomas Stocker, current Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I (WG1) have been holding forth on the IPCC’s “three main messages” for its “primary customer“, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Here’s a screen capture of Stocker and some of his colleagues spreading the gospel at an AGU press conference:


You can watch the video here [registration may be required]. It is interesting that at approx. 29:36, Stocker expresses his satisfaction that some of their “headline” (although he calls them “highlights”) messages made it into the UNFCCC’s report! It was also amusing, IMHO, to hear Stocker weave the word “risk” into one of his responses – almost as if he’d forgotten that he’s supposed to talk about “the new narrative”.

UPDATE: Alex Cull has now posted a partial transcript of this session; and as he notes in a comment below, the video has also been posted to YouTube.

Stocker struck me as being mostly stuck on the “old narrative” – and his “three main messages”. As for the “new narrative”, this was perhaps “revealed” by WGII Co-Chair, Chris Field during a recent interview on Australia’s ABC. As noted in one of Alex Cull’s awesome transcripts, Field floated this new, improved narrative:

[…] I think it’s really important that we view climate change as a problem in managing risk and not as a political issue or an environmental issue. It’s a risk issue.


The science is really clear on climate change, and there are real opportunities to be forward-looking in the area of adaptation and the area of mitigation. My sense is that what we really lack on the international scene is an appreciation of where the opportunities are to be smart and effective and ambitious. In some ways it’s a gap in leadership, and in other ways, I think it’s really just people not getting their arms around the essence of the problem and the opportunities for making progress. [emphasis added -hro]

The recently leaked pre-First Order Draft (FOD) of the “IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report” strongly suggests that “risk” is the new black, so to speak! Here’s an interesting – and perhaps telling – word-count from this pre-FOD:

Environment: 34
Political: 17
Uncertain*: 69
Risk: 216

This “Synthesis Report”, btw, is the “official” summary of the “contributions” from all three of the IPCC’s WGs. At this point, only the “contribution” from WGI has been published (well, sort of!) Contributions from the other two WGs are not due until 2014. So I thought it was rather curious that this 92 page (pre-fabricated?!) pre-FOD includes many references to reports that are supposedly not yet written ooops, sorry … finalized, “approved” by their respective WG and “accepted” by the IPCC plenary:

WGI: 128
WGII: 143
WGIII: 102

Must be the magic of climate science that enables the authors to summarize that which has yet to be written! Perhaps it is this same “magic” which the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary (i.e. head honcho) invokes each year when she succeeds in flipping each COP flop into a “success” story. On December 5, Figueres was in finance fantasyland (pdf):

Climate Finance and the Private Sector: Investing in New Opportunities
We are at a crucial moment, a climate finance crossroad where our choices today determine our world of tomorrow.

There is no doubt that the basis of predictable, reliable climate finance must come from public sources. However, we all know that climate change cannot be solved by governments alone and that public sources of finance will not suffice.

So today, I want to focus on three climate finance truths:
The first truth is that we have the strongest business case for climate change action in history, both on the side of risks to business as well as on the side of opportunity.

On the side of risks, climate change multiplies and amplifies almost every threat to development and climate change impacts are already being felt across the globe. This existential threat, proven by increasingly robust science, presents a daunting risk to all business.

Extreme weather is perhaps the most obvious risk example. We see so-called “superstorms” force costly rebuilding across Asia and the US. We see floods in Thailand close hundreds of factories and wreak havoc on auto and electronics supply chains. We see wildfires and floods severely impact communities and economies every year. [emphasis added -hro]

Notice her use of the “extreme” meme … and “risk“. But a mere seven days later Figueres was expounding joyously in a 954 word piece for the U.K. HuffPo, and risk had magically disappeared from her vocabulary.

Some excerpts (perhaps ghost-written for her by the PR folks who, in early September, had so nobly volunteered to reset the (rather moribund) Momentum for Change button):

Why COP 19 Rocked

Present global ambition to fight climate change is thoroughly insufficient and much remains to be done. However, the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw (COP 19) was a meeting that broke new ground, and we should not lose sight of what this meeting helped demonstrate to negotiators and the world.

I am pleased that the conference achieved what it set out to do. Governments remain on track towards a new, universal climate agreement in 2015, communicating their respective contributions well in advance of the meeting in Paris that year. The required monitoring and reporting arrangements are ready for roll out in 2014. The Green Climate Fund will be ready for capitalization in the second half of 2014. And the rule book for preserving the world’s forests was agreed, as well as a way to address loss and damage caused by climate change impacts.

In addition […] this COP was a true showcase of climate action being pursued around the world. Never before at a UN Climate Change Conference have so many examples of possible action to combat climate change been brought forward. Never before at a UN climate change conference has it been so apparent that a groundswell for real climate action is building. […]
Possibly the most vocal “special interest” group at COP 19 was the group of activist women, highlighting the issue of gender equality and women’s power to fight climate change. Women quite literally rocked COP 19 with moving testimonials of what they are doing and a vision of the safe world they see for themselves and their children.

Women play a key role in the UNFCCC secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative. In Warsaw, our initiative celebrated the 2013 Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities to recognize climate actions that demonstrate positive results through innovative finance, women’s leadership and action by and for the urban poor.
[Figueres concludes her song of joy:]

We all need to make full use of these and many other promising opportunities that will arise in the course of 2014, as we did at COP 19 in Warsaw. Only then can we make sure that 2015 and all subsequent years rock in the way we want them to – low carbon, resilient and sustainable. [emphasis added -hro]

YMMV, but it seems to me that Figueres hasn’t quite got the “new narrative” down pat, yet.

Enter Robert Watson, former Chair of the IPCC, midwife at the birth of (and now a Vice-Chair of) the IPCC’s younger sibling, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES currently holding its second plenary session somewhere in Turkey). His current “day job” is that of Director of Strategic Development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

But Watson’s latest “baby” is an organization called Future Earth:

Future Earth will empower the scientific community to provide knowledge through open and collaborative processes for society to define pathways towards sustainability and respond effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change.

Future Earth will provide a global knowledge and collaboration platform and deliver a step-change in the way science for sustainability is produced and used. The need for knowledge to achieve global sustainability is twofold:

Firstly, we need to pursue longstanding efforts to understand how the Earth system works and how its many natural and social components interact. This calls for increased collaboration between disciplines and knowledge domains to integrate disciplinary strengths, and to develop research themes and processes that are better suited to addressing interconnected and multi-faceted problems.

Secondly, the scale and magnitude of global environmental change and the risk posed to ecosystems and societies requires a bridging of the gap between science, policy and practice, to deliver knowledge that will effectively support decisions and actions towards sustainability. This will be achieved through effective cooperation with funders and research users, including decision makers and the private sector, to identify research priorities and deliver knowledge for solutions.

Future Earth is a “child” of the “Assembly” of the International Council for Science (ICSU), whose membership includes a who’s who of such “prestigious” bodies as the U.K. Royal Society. While many of the links still go back to the “parent”, Future Earth now has its very own website, a logo and a blog. (And soon it will have its very own Secretariat.) Here’s a screen capture from their entry of Nov. 19:


This video, btw, is the one I had stumbled across on Nov. 29. But I digress …

Future Earth reminds readers of the “new narrative”:

A new data visualization released today on the first day of the plenary negotiations at the UNFCCC’s COP-19 in Warsaw pushes policymakers to respond to a new narrative on climate change.

The question of how the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments are used at the UNFCCC climate negotiations is at the heart of how we as a society confront the implications of climate change.

Produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia, and funded by the UN Foundation, the 3-minute film uses stunning visuals to unravel exactly what the IPCC’s climate probability ranges mean for societies. […]

“We wanted to communicate the scale humanity is now operating on. This brings new risks,” said Owen Gaffney, IGBP’s director of communications and producer of the data visualization. [emphasis added -hro]

And I’m sure you’ll be as fascinated as I was with Watson’s articulation of Future Earth’s need for an “Engagement Committee“. Currently, this is an “interim” committee of seven, chaired by Watson; one of the other six is no less a luminary than Andrew Revkin.

They’ve already established a Science Committee (no need for any “interim” in this case, evidently), chaired by Mark Stafford Smith, who hails from Australia’s CSIRO and:

He was an ICSU-appointed member then vice-chair of IGBP’s Scientific Committee during 2003-2009; and co-chair of the Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions conference on global environmental change in the lead up to Rio+20 in 2012.

If his name rings a familiar bell, it might be because I wrote about him, after reading his pre-Planet Under Pressure piece in Nature.

Smith also co-authored the State of the Planet Declaration (pdf) in which one can find “the key messages emerging from the proceedings”. These key messages include:

1. Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk. Without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources: these threats risk intensifying economic, ecological and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.

2. In one lifetime our increasingly interconnected and interdependent economic, social, cultural and political systems have come to place pressures on the environment that may cause fundamental changes in the Earth system and move us beyond safe natural boundaries. But the same interconnectedness provides the potential for solutions: new ideas can form and spread quickly, creating the momentum for the major transformation required for a truly sustainable planet.
8. These insights from recent research demand a new perception of responsibilities and accountabilities of nation states to support planetary stewardship. This requires goals aimed at global sustainability in order to achieve universal sustainable development. A crucial transformation is to move away from income as the key constituent of well-being and to develop new indicators that measure actual improvements in well-being at all scales.
[12] C1. Fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions is required to overcome barriers to progress and to move to effective Earth-system governance. Governments must take action …

13. The international scientific community must rapidly reorganize to focus on global sustainability solutions. We must develop a new strategy for creating and rapidly translating knowledge into action, which will form part of a new contract between science and society, with commitments from both sides.

14. Society is taking substantial risks by delaying urgent and large-scale action. We must show leadership at all levels. […] (emphasis added -hro)

Fancy that! They want to “create knowledge” then “translate” their “creations” into “action”. How charmingly alarming, eh?!

11 thoughts on “IPCC’s new narrative and Future Earth, new kid on the “transformational” block

  1. “They who build their houses on sand …”. No matter how much verbiage these overpaid clowns and cretins spew, they have no foundations on which to stand. Crumbling will progress at its own pace, and the more superstructure piled up on the sand, the more destructive will be the collapse. A corner here, a country there, it’s in progress.

    • “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” – Shakespeare

    • The Aztec empire had to sacrifice a human a day to make the sun rise. Now that’s a risk management!

  2. Oh Gawd, here we go again!

    “It’s worse than we thought! Doom! Doom! The end of the World is nigh! Women, Gays to be worst hit.”


  3. I’m putting together a transcript of the press conference and have already covered the three presentations by Hartmann, Ciais and Boucher (now up to the start of the Q&A session):

    Also realised earlier that the video has also been uploaded to YouTube:

    Re Future Earth, there’s something happening next summer at the UEA:

    Apparently one transformative pathway to sustainability will involve “new forms of localism and collective self-reliance at the scale of community across the whole planet”. No idea what this means, exactly. What is “collective self-reliance”, anyway?

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